M.S. in Sustainability Management (MSSM) professor Judy Sandford is Senior Strategist of Sustainability Communications, at Addison – a brand strategy and communications design firm. She founded Addison’s sustainability practice in 2007, and consults with some of the world’s largest corporations on best practices in sustainability reporting and related communications. She has run corporate responsibility reporting workshops and webinars, and has co-presented on sustainability issues with SustainAbility, Pace Global, and CSE. Judy holds a BA degree in English from Trinity College in Hartford, and an MBA in Marketing with a focus on Corporate Social Responsibility from NYU Stern School of Business. This semester, Judy will be teaching Sustainability Communication Strategy and Reporting.
1. Why did you choose to teach at Columbia in the MSSM program?
The Earth Institute is a prestigious institution, with high-caliber students who are destined to have significant influence on sustainability management. I am excited to teach them how to develop transparent communications that support sustainable behaviors and operations. Benefits of transparent communications range from building trust with stakeholders, and uncovering risks and opportunities; to contributing to stronger long-term business strategy, and creating new products and services.
2. What is new in your area of expertise, sustainability communications?
In recent years, more U.S. companies have issued Global Reporting Initiative-based sustainability reports (187 in 2010, to 273 in 2011), which can contribute to better results in the growing number of ranking and rating systems by financial analysts and the media. Companies also see the need to communicate in real-time, especially through social media, as opposed to waiting for their annual sustainability reports to be issued. Furthermore, some companies are starting to see the value of integrating the discussion of financial performance with strong sustainability planning, not only in sustainability reports, but also in their financial communications. In 2011, about 350 companies issued integrated reports globally.
3. What course do you teach and why do you think that it is important to the field of sustainability?
Sustainability Communications Strategy and Reporting is designed for those who hold/will hold positions with responsibilities for communicating the sustainability goals, challenges and achievements, as well as accurately and honestly communicating the environmental aspects of an organization’s products and services. Increasingly, large corporations are creating c-suite roles or dedicated departments to oversee this function. More typically, multiple functions contribute information such as: Corporate Communications, Marketing, Community Affairs, Public Policy, Environmental Health & Safety, R&D, Facilities, Operations and Legal. Being able to communicate on sustainability issues in a concise, visual and memorable way is critical for any manager to make the business case for sustainability activities.
4. What is your favorite part of your job as a professor?
I really enjoy the enthusiasm and inquisitiveness of the students. They remind me of the importance of the work I do, and they help me to think critically about my day-to-day interactions with clients. I’m also impressed with the depth of knowledge they bring to discussions stemming from the diversity of their educations, career experiences and interests.
5. What do you think that your students need to know about sustainability that they are not learning already in the classroom?
Students should know reporting is not just about producing a report, it is about conducting analysis that can lead to better integrated business strategy and decisions, and engaging with stakeholders to understand the issues of greatest importance. What students may not know about green marketing is that a product or service has to communicate more than being “less bad” for the environment—it has to offer immediate benefits such as better customer experience, resource efficiency or cost savings.
6. What do you believe is the greatest benefit that the MS in Sustainability Management program has to offer its students?
My course requires students to work in teams to produce a sustainability report for a small business or non-profit organization. This real-life experience is essential in understanding how to overcome the sustainability communications roadblocks graduates will encounter in their careers. Likewise the MSSM program culminates in a capstone course, in which students consult on real sustainability projects. These experiences give students the competence and confidence to be strong sustainability management leaders.
7. What advice would you give to your sustainability management students who are not already working in the field of sustainability?
Students should understand that even if the word “sustainability” is not in their title or job description, it should be part of their everyday responsibilities. Sustainability management is not separate from overall business strategy; rather it is smart business. Every employee can use their expertise to uncover opportunities for greater sustainability—from their direct area of management to engaging other employees in initiatives.
8. What kind of research are you doing now related to sustainability communications?
I am closely tracking recent studies demonstrating a correlation between companies with strong sustainability strategies/activities and financial outperformance. When sustainability managers are armed with information on the Return on Investment of their activities, they can make the business case for increased investment in their activities. Intangible returns include stronger brand perception and employee engagement; tangible returns include increased revenue generation, cost savings, and protection of the license to operate.
The Master of Science in Sustainability Management (MSSM) program, 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.