Consulting for the Built Environment
M.S. in Sustainability Management (MSSM) alum Eileen Quigley (’12) never imagined herself as a consultant when she joined the program in fall 2010. Since she started working at Closed Loop Advisors, a sustainability consulting firm started by fellow MSSM alums, JD Capuano and Sami Abbay, Eileen came to realize that it was a great fit which allows her to draw upon her prior experience as a structural engineer. Currently, Eileen is working with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to assist with the sustainable construction of the organization’s Chicago office.
1. What is your current job?
I’m working as an independent sustainability consultant with Closed Loop Advisors (CLA), a sustainability consulting firm started by MSSM’s very own JD Capuano and Sami Abbay. My client is the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and I act as project manager for some of their large construction efforts. The project that I spend most of my time on is the build-out and move of the NRDC’s Chicago office. I communicate and coordinate among the client, architect, contractor, and office building management to ensure that the process goes smoothly and that every possible sustainability technique has at least been considered.
2. Do your current job responsibilities align with the professional goals that you originally had when you began the MSSM program?
My responsibilities don’t exactly match what I envisioned I would be doing but I’m finding that it’s a great fit for me regardless. I have a background in structural engineering, an industry that has barely heard the word “sustainability” mentioned, so I struggled to figure out how I would bring my skills into that world. What I’m doing now is the perfect combination of my MSSM skills built on my previous knowledge about buildings and the construction world. I always knew that I wanted green buildings to have a presence in my career and I definitely haven’t strayed from that goal.
3. What skills has the MSSM program taught you that you think have proven useful to your current position?
One of the most valuable courses I took at Columbia was Davidson Norris’ course, Architecture and the Sustainable Built Environment. I took away a wealth of knowledge about passive and active strategies for designing an environmentally friendly building. The techniques he taught are the backbone for many points in LEED and other green building certifications, which is incredibly useful in understanding my work. The other most valuable skill I acquired was communicating through writing. I took Claudia Dreifus’ course, Writing about Global Science for the International Media. This class not only made me a better communicator, but also pushed me to try things that I was not previously comfortable with.
4. What skills and tools do you hope to acquire through this job?
I hope to be able to keep building on the skill of being flexible and creative in how I approach a sustainability problem. Outside of the classroom, there are fewer guidelines and it is important to be adaptable. I’m learning how to do that while making sure to listen to the client’s needs.
5. How has collaborating with your fellow students in class projects benefitted you professionally and personally?
I worked with both Sami and JD in courses throughout my time in the program, so that really helped us all to learn about each other’s work styles and professional skills. Late in the program, like all other MSSM students, I went through the rite of passage of the Capstone Workshop and was the project manager for my team. In my Capstone group, I worked alongside Anthony Guerrero asking him to complete tasks for me. Now the roles are reversed as I work with him almost daily at NRDC. The relationships I started in the MSSM program have benefited me in multiple ways as I continue them in my professional life.
6. What kinds of environmental initiatives do you hope to start in your new position?
In the sustainability world, green buildings are very prevalent but most people only associate them with LEED. There are other certifications that don’t get as much publicity. In my current project I am helping NRDC explore the option of Living Building Challenge, another more holistic green building certification. I hope to work with other clients in the future to realize that LEED is not their only solution to guaranteeing an environmentally friendly space.
7. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MSSM program to further your career?
Throughout my career, I plan to reference the skills that I learned in the MSSM program so that I can continue to move my clients forward in the world of sustainability. However, since the “industry” is in its nascent stages, I know that I’m going to have to continue harnessing my desire to learn in order to make sure that my consulting services are relevant to the time period in which I am working. The people I met through the MSSM program are also a huge part of my degree and I plan on being in touch with them for years to come.
The M.S. 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 M.S. 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.