7 Reasons to Consider a Sustainability Management Degree
Current Master of Science in Sustainability Management (MSSM) student Divya Bendre had just completed postgraduate work in Policy Studies and was working in management consulting in Singapore when she stumbled upon an article by Steve Cohen, executive director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, entitled “Educating Sustainability Professionals" that changed the trajectory of her career path. Divya joined the program because she felt the flexible curriculum would help her to combine her interest in sustainability with her academic and professional experiences. After the program, Divya hopes to continue her work in ESG measurement, disclosure and investment space.
1. What drew you to the Master of Science in Sustainability Management (MSSM)?
Volunteer research-work for a local environmental non-profit brought me to Prof. Cohen's article entitled “Educating Sustainability Professionals" and something just clicked for me—the MSSM program was exactly what I needed to bring together my academic background in engineering and policy, professional experience in the corporate world, and my interests in sustainability. The funny thing is that I was not actually looking for a master's program when I first learned about the MSSM program. At the time, I had just completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Policy Studies and was working full-time in management consulting in Singapore.
2. What do you think is the most important sustainability challenge?
I think the biggest challenge is that sustainability risks and opportunities play out over generations, while planning and accountability processes at governments and corporations usually have short-term horizons—often less than 5 years. It is really important for sustainability professionals to acknowledge this mismatch and paint a realistic picture of the short-, medium- and long-term implications when they are building a case for change. Obviously, this is easier said than done because sustainability issues are so complex and inter-connected.
3. What do you intend to do professionally once you achieve your degree?
I'd like to continue working in the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) measurement, disclosure, and investment space. I see this career path as a natural progression of my past work experience. Before coming to Columbia University, I helped companies quantify and strategize about critical-yet-hard-to-measure issues such as compliance culture, talent retention, and manager quality. It might be a cliché to say 'what gets measured, gets managed,' but I really believe that better measurement and disclosure is necessary for unlocking sustainability innovation in the corporate and public sector.
4. What is your favorite class in the MSSM program so far and why?
My favorite course was Sustainable Finance with Professor Bruce Kahn. Much of the coursework is about framing and quantifying ESG issues in terms of financial risk and returns. Most students in the class had no background in finance, but by the end of the semester we could all build valuation models that integrated companies' sustainability performance alongside traditional financial metrics.
Most of my friends (and my husband and mother) work in the financial services industry, but I'd never felt drawn to it until I took this course. The course showed me how critical the capital markets are for a transition to a sustainable economy and introduced me to some of the sustainability-focused innovation in this space. Ultimately, the course helped me connect the dots between the five curriculum areas in the MSSM program and understand where I my skills and interest fit in the sustainability arena.
5. What skills and tools have you acquired through the program so far?
MSSM professional development seminars on Microsoft Excel and Bloomberg ESG have helped me deepen by analytical toolkit. MSSM workshops have also helped me gain certifications in LEED and GRI Reporting. In my final semester, I am looking forward to adding on environmental data analysis skills in R programming and ArcGIS.
One of the best things about the MSSM program is that it gives students the flexibility to design a multi-disciplinary learning experience that draws on courses, seminars, and student groups across Columbia University. Taking courses in different schools has helped me see sustainability from the lens of different actors. For example, taking Environmental Issues in Business Transactions at Columbia Law School made me aware of the legal risks and liabilities posed by certain types of environmental disclosures in contracts and financial reports.
6. How have you applied what you've learned in the program so far?
I apply what I've learned everyday; the program has made me a more responsible consumer, investor, and citizen. I have also had two internships where I have directly applied my new sustainability analysis skills. Over the summer, I interned at Ceres—a leading sustainability non-profit organization. At Ceres, I applied and expanded my skills in corporate sustainability, stakeholder engagement, and ESG disclosure.
Since October 2014, I have been an intern at the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment Initiative (PRI). At PRI, I support the Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative and UN Global Compact teams on ESG disclosure projects. Our projects cover sustainability reporting as well as ESG communication through financial reports and investor calls. Everything that I have learned from MSSM's Sustainability Management, Sustainable Finance and Sustainability Communications Strategy and Reporting courses are directly relevant for my work at PRI.
7. Beyond the classroom, what extracurricular sustainability related activities have you engaged in with your fellow Sustainability Management students?
Going to conferences and meetings with my classmates has broadened my view of the professional opportunities in the sustainability space. MSSM alumni and the SUMASA (Sustainability Management Student Association) board do a great job of sharing relevant professional networking opportunities throughout the year.
In addition to external events around New York, I participate in workshops and networking events organized by student groups such as the SIPA Energy Association and Columbia Impact Investing Initiative (CI3). Through CI3, I have worked with students from MSSM and SIPA on pro bono consulting projects for social enterprises. My CI3 team designed metrics to help a Mexican rural solar energy company assess the impact of their financial education and community development programs. I also consulted for a wine start-up that helps small family-owned wineries in developing countries get access to American markets.
Students in the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program enroll in a year-long, 54-credit program offered at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, in partnership with the Earth Institute.
Since it began in 2002, the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program has given students the hands-on experience, and the analytical and decision-making tools to implement effective environmental and sustainable management policies. The program's 682 graduates have advanced to jobs in domestic and international environmental policy, working in government, private and non-profit sectors. Their work involves issues of sustainability, resource use and global change, in fields focused on air, water, climate, energy efficiency, food, agriculture, transportation and waste management. They work as consultants, advisers, project managers, program directors, policy analysts, teachers, researchers and environmental scientists and engineers.
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Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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