Students Apply Classroom Skills as Sustainability Consultants

by | 10.28.2011 at 2:14pm
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The Capstone Workshop is one of two required courses in the Sustainability Management program. While the other, Sustainability Management, introduces students to the program by clearly defining sustainability management and determining if a sustainable economy is actually feasible, the Capstone Workshop serves as the culminating educational experience for students, enabling them to apply the practical skills and analytical knowledge learned through the Sustainability Management curriculum into an applied real world project. Students work in teams and undertake special analytic projects as consultants for public and nonprofit agencies, increasing their understanding of the real-world constraints under which sustainability managers operate. The workshop program is specially designed to integrate the distinct fields introduced in the program as students and faculty work to address critical sustainability management issues.

Halfway into the semester, the student workshop groups presented midterm briefings to their fellow students and faculty advisors on Tuesday, October 18. The students took the opportunity to present initial findings and discuss the challenges they have identified for the City of Philadelphia, GreenBlue, New York and Connecticut Sustainable Communities, and the City of Albany. They will reconvene on December 6 to present their final solutions to these challenges.

The 36 credit Master of Science in Sustainability Management program, jointly offered by the Earth Institute and the School of Continuing Education, is designed to meet the growing demand for sustainability managers and train leaders to bridge the gap between the principle of sustainable development and its practice. This program is ideal for practitioners and aspiring professionals eager to learn practical management techniques and sophisticated environmental measurement tools.

Workshop Projects

Client: Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, City of Philadelphia
Project Overview: The City of Philadelphia is seeking to better manage the risks associated with climate change. The student team, in consultation with Philadelphia’s Sustainability Director, will identify best practices in using climate risk assessment information and using it to develop a comprehensive adaptation plan at the urban scale. In addition, the student team will seek to understand Philadelphia’s unique planning context so that it can recommend how the city could best apply these best practices. The project’s Faculty Advisor, George Sarrinikolaou, explains the goals of the students’ work: “Students will look at leading North American cities in climate change adaptation planning to identify promising practices that the City of Philadelphia could learn from at it seeks to boost its resilience to climate disruption.” The final report will help advance adaptation planning in Philadelphia.
Faculty Advisor: George Sarrinikolaou joined the Columbia University Earth Institute in July, 2011 as Associate Director of the Office of Academic and Research programs. Previously he has worked as a Sustainability Manager at the Institute for Sustainable Communities, and at The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. He is the author of “Facing Athens: Encounters with the Modern City,” and has written for The New York Times and reported for CNN and Public Radio International.

Clients: GreenBlue
Project Overview: GreenBlue is a nonprofit that equips business with the science and resources to make products more sustainable. GreenBlue is interested in gaining a better understanding of the current landscape of corporate sustainability initiatives that relate to sustainable forest management. In order to recommend ways to increase the market share of sustainably managed forest products, GreenBlue wants the student team to evaluate corporate strategies for buying sustainably managed forest products by the largest consumers (or buyers) of forest products in the United States. The project’s Faculty Advisor, Amy Hill, describes how her team will benefit from their consulting work: “There can be many barriers to implementing sustainable procurement policies, from understanding the value added to a business to identifying the right suppliers and to working with the total supply chain to implement a policy. What students will learn from this project can be applied to any sector or company, and more importantly, their recommendations to the client will have real impacts on the environment and business.”
Faculty Advisor: Amy Hill joined Columbia University’s Earth Institute in July 2011, as the Director of Academic Initiatives. Previously, she worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) coordinating WasteWise Program staff activities across the country and developing hazardous waste recycling policy. Hill had also worked overseas at the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water in Sydney, Australia, doing ministerial communications and managing projects for the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS). She also taught business classes at a community college in Armenia as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Client: Regional Plan Association New York & Connecticut Sustainable Communities
Project Overview: For the first time, a consortium of cities and counties and regional organizations in New York and Connecticut are forging a regional partnership to pursue a sustainable communities strategy. The strategy involves the creation of sustainable communities by pursuing transit-oriented development (TOD) in select areas along the MTA Metro-North Railroad and MTA Long Island Rail Road. The effort will require the integration of environmental planning, housing, economic development, and transportation. The student team will identify the best practices in building energy efficient, sustainable infrastructure and distributed energy generation as they have been applied to TOD or similar district level development projects. The study will encompass both best practices for new districts as well as the retrofitting of existing mixed use centers. The group’s Faculty Advisor, Susanne Desroches, says of the project, “This is a unique opportunity to investigate sustainability on a district development scale, with multiple stakeholders and governance structures to be considered. The team will be providing recommendations for project-based sustainability strategies using a variety of resources and analysis methods.”
Faculty Advisor: Susanne DesRoches is the Sustainable Design Manager for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where she is responsible for agency-wide sustainable design efforts and technical reviews for sustainable design efforts including the World Trade Center and LaGuardia Airport. She also serves as the Port Authority engineering department’s representative on New York State Climate Action Council and New York City Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability’s Climate Change Adaptation Task Force.

Client: City of Albany
Project Overview: The City of Albany is seeking help from the student team as it sets targets and measures performance related to its sustainable development goals, which are outlined in “Albany 2030: Your City, Your Future,” the city’s first comprehensive plan in its 400-year history. The plan, with its 20-year planning horizon, is intended to set Albany on a path toward a more sustainable and prosperous future. The student team in consultation with the Director of Planning, City of Albany, will identify a set of sustainability goals in the plan and undertake a benchmarking study to determine appropriate targets and performance measures.
Faculty Advisor: Kizzy Charles-Guzman is the Director of the Climate Change and Public Health Program at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), where she leads efforts to develop effective interventions to reduce the anticipated adverse health impacts associated with a changing climate. She has substantial experience in politics and government regulations, given her involvement in the passage of City and State legislation to reduce air emissions. Charles-Guzman was selected by City Hall News as one of 40 “Rising Stars: the next generation of political leaders in New York” and by Glamour Magazine as one of “70 Eco Heroes in the U.S.”


Learn more about our Master of Science in Sustainability Management Program.


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