Aspen Ditches Its Sustainability Ranking

by on October 5th, 2012

Six months after five top business schools declined to cooperate with the Aspen Institute’s Beyond Grey Pinstripes ranking, the organization has apparently decided to puts its ranking on hold.

The institute’s decision to “shift gears and pursue new ways to influence business education” was apparently made earlier this year and announced in March to participating schools in a letter obtained by Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

The Beyond Pinstripes rankings, published since 1999, purport to measure a business school’s commitment to sustainability. But many prominent schools, including Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, Duke University’s Fuqua School and the University of Chicago’s Booth School declined to cooperate with it last year (see Why Schools Are Saying No To Aspen).

In all, five of the top ten U.S. business schools dropped out, along with a large number of major business school players that include UCLA, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue, Southern Methodist University, Brigham Young University, the University of Washington, Michigan State, and the University of Rochester.

Many schools don’t believe the ranking accurately reflects a school’s ‘green’ commitment

For most schools that opt out, it comes down to two basic objections. First, some B-school deans don’t believe the ranking accurately reflects a school’s commitment to social and environmental issues. That’s largely because the ranking fails to take into account a school’s extracurricular activities, institutes and centers, joint degrees and specializations in the environment, sustainability, ethics, or social issues. Aspen gathers this information but doesn’t factor it into the rankings.

Secondly, the Aspen survey requires a tremendous amount of data gathering and reporting. At Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, for example, it used to take three full-time staffers nearly the entire month of December to gather and report all the information required by Aspen for its survey.

“There has been a huge growth in the number of surveys we receive – to the point where we have to triage them in order to respond with the attention to detail they require,” said James Aisner, a spokesperson for Harvard Business School, last year. “The Aspen survey is extremely time-consuming, and having examined it closely, we also have concerns about the effectiveness of its methodology and what it is trying to measure. Rather than focusing on the Aspen questionnaire, we are committed to incorporating topics relating to business and society, social impact, and environmental sustainability, and finding meaningful methods to evaluate our own progress toward those goals.”

Last year’s drop out rate likely would have led to more withdrawals this year

The withdrawal by so many business schools dealt a serious credibility blow to the ranking and likely led to a larger number of schools deciding not to cooperate with the ranking this year. In an email response to BusinessWeek, an Aspen official maintained that the decision by business schools to opt out of the ranking was not a major factor in the organization’s decision to shut its ranking down.

“In making our decision, we spoke with many constituents at participating schools and others and took multiple inputs into account,” Nancy McGaw, deputy director of the institute’s Business & Society Program, told BusinessWeek. “We have extensive and ongoing relationships with business schools around the world, including many that have elected over the years not to participate in the Beyond Grey Pinstripes data-collection and ranking. I would say that schools that opted out were not a major factor in our final decision.”


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