Faculty Profile: Ariane van Buren

by | 9.11.2012 at 4:10pm
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MS in Sustainability Management Professor Ariane van Buren

MS in Sustainability Management Professor Ariane van Buren is a newly appointed faculty member at Columbia University, with projected cross-appointments in Columbia’s School of International and Public AffairsSchool of Continuing Education, and the Earth Institute. She held the first-ever position in shareholder accountability for corporate sustainability management, and then recruited trustees of the largest institutional investor in the U.S. to address the investment risks posed by climate change. She has designed and will also be teaching Investor Roles in Corporate Sustainability Management for the fall 2012 semester.

1. What course do you teach for the M.S. in Sustainability Management program?

I teach Applied Economics: Investor Roles in Corporate Sustainability Management (Thursdays 6:10-8:00 pm, 963 Schermerhorn Hall), a course that I believe is fundamental for students interested in sustainability management by the corporate sector and in understanding the role of investors in this. The class will provide sustainability managers with the necessary tools, exposure to major players, and experience with legal, financial, and economic data, writings and practical application.

2. Can you describe the professional skills students learn in your course?

Applied Economics: Investor Roles in Corporate Sustainability Management will allow students to watch how investors stimulate corporations to manage their sustainability issues, like climate change and water scarcity. Students will learn how to assess the impact of investors and investor organizations on corporations’ handling of sustainability issues, as well as how to monitor and manage those issues to reduce a corporation’s resource usage and impact. Students will also be able to demonstrate a working knowledge of the processes through which sustainability rules, regulations, and practices in investor-corporate interaction are created by government and implemented by investor organizations or corporate departments that deal with investors and sustainability or environmental affairs.

Overall, the course will encourage viewpoints from both investor and corporate perspectives and force students to apply their understanding of basic principles and theories of sustainability management as a frame for strategic planning and the management of people, finances and operations toward the sustainability goals of investor-corporate interaction. Upon completion of this course, students will be prepared to work on sustainability issues for corporations, corporate lenders, regulators, stock exchanges, pension funds and endowments, as well as non-profit organizations which address corporations.

3. What is your professional background?

My academic training is in economics and political economy applied to national energy planning. Professionally speaking, I have led the field of shareowner engagement in environmental sustainability from its inception in the United States in 1990.  As Senior Advisor to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, I have consulted with institutional investors internationally. I was also the Director of Investor Engagement at Ceres, where I worked to build the Investor Network on Climate Risk by recruiting trustees of the largest U.S. public and labor pension funds, meeting at UN Summits representing assets over $22 trillion. I have also held positions as Director of Energy and Environment at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, UN Centre on Transnational Corporations, World Bank, International Institute of Environment and Development in the UK, and directed the Transnational Institute in the Netherlands.

4. What are the most significant trends in your industry and the field of sustainability management?

I would say that one of the most significant trends in my industry is that investors are motivating corporations to internalize the economic externalities from their operations and are at the forefront of identifying investment risks such as climate change. Investors’ engagement can become thus a two-way channel, giving to access corporations and, conversely, permitting companies to anticipate and respond to ESG (environmental, social, and governance) sustainability issues.

Students who are interested in taking Professor van Buren’s Applied Economics: Investor Roles in Corporate Sustainability Management course (Thursdays 6:10-8:00 pm, 963 Schermerhorn Hall) are still allowed to register until Friday, September 14. As mentioned previously, students will have the rare opportunity to delve into how corporations and investors handle sustainability and be able to watch how investors stimulate corporations to manage their sustainability issues. Other features of the class include:

  • Assessing the impact of investors on corporations’ handling of sustainability issues
  • Learning the mechanics of how investors engage with corporations
  • Knowing the institutions centrally involved, where you could work
  • Gaining skill in handling legal, financial, and economic writing
  • Using actual case studies

Students will also see investors at the cutting edge of investment risks such as climate change and water scarcity and will leave the course prepared to work on sustainability issues for corporations, corporate lenders, regulators, stock exchanges, pension funds and endowments, as well as non-profit organizations which address corporations.

The MS in Sustainability Management, co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of Continuing Education, trains students to tackle complex and pressing environmental and managerial challenges. The MS in Sustainability Management program requires the successful completion of 36 credit points. Those credit points are divided among five comprehensive content areas: integrative sustainability management, economics and quantitative analysis, the physical dimensions of sustainability, the public policy environment of sustainability management, and general and financial management. Please visit our website to learn more about the program.


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


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