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.
Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.
By Betsy Mason
For decades, climate scientist David Keith of Harvard University has been trying to get people to take his research seriously. He's a pioneer in the field of geoengineering, which aims to combat climate change through a range of technological fixes. Over the years, ideas have included sprinkling iron in the ocean to stimulate plankton to suck up more carbon from the atmosphere or capturing carbon straight out of the air.
Solar geoengineering would involve injecting reflective aerosols from high-altitude planes into the layer of the upper atmosphere known as the stratosphere, which stretches between 10 to 50 kilometers (6 to 31 miles) above Earth's surface. The idea is that the aerosol particles would reflect a small amount of sunlight away from the planet, reducing the amount of heat trapped by greenhouse gases and mitigating some of the effects of climate change.
The planned Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment will send a balloon carrying scientific instruments in a gondola into the stratosphere. The instruments will release a small amount of material — likely ice or mineral dust — to form a kilometer-long plume of aerosol particles (left). Modified airboat propellers will allow the gondola to maneuver above the plume (middle) and lower instruments into the plume to take repeated measurements of how the particles spread through the stratosphere (right). ADAPTED FROM J.A. DYKEMA ET AL / PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSACTIONS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY A 2014
David Keith envisions using multiple approaches to combat climate change. The red line shows how the impacts of climate change would worsen with a business-as-usual scenario of unabated burning of fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas emissions. Aggressively cutting emissions bends that curve, and removing carbon from the atmosphere offers further cuts, but there are still consequences from the already high levels of carbon dioxide. In this scenario, solar geoengineering would lessen the impact from existing atmospheric carbon dioxide, effectively carving the top off the curve.<p>Some people think we should use it only as a get-out-of-jail card in an emergency. Some people think we should use it to quickly try to get back to a preindustrial climate. I'm arguing we use solar geoengineering to cut the top off the curve by gradually starting it and gradually ending it.</p><p><strong>Do you feel optimistic about the chances that solar geoengineering will happen and can make a difference in the climate crisis?</strong></p><p>I'm not all that optimistic right now because we seem to be so much further away from an international environment that's going to allow sensible policy. And that's not just in the US. It's a whole bunch of European countries with more populist regimes. It's Brazil. It's the more authoritarian India and China. It's a more nationalistic world, right? It's a little hard to see a global, coordinated effort in the near term. But I hope those things will change.</p>
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