MS Student Sails into Sustainability

by |January 10, 2014
M.S. in Sustainability Management student Martin Garcia Urtiaga

M.S. in Sustainability Management student Martin Garcia Urtiaga

M.S. in Sustainability Management student Martin Garcia Urtiaga first became interested in sustainability five years ago as a passenger on a transatlantic sailboat voyage. After living in a confined space with limited supplies for a prolonged period of time, Martin became more interested in sustainability, particularly developing methods for more efficient use of earth’s natural resources. After his voyage and utilizing his construction background, Martin went on to work for Starbucks under the Architectural Standards and Sustainable Construction team, where he supported the Starbucks LEED Volume Build Certification program for the Latin America market.

1. What drew you to the Master of Science in Sustainability Management?

I was looking into expanding my knowledge in sustainability and decided to apply to a masters program, but I was conflicted between urban planning, renewable energies, and an MBA. When I found the M.S. in Sustainability Management program I was excited, because I could pursue all my interests in one program with sustainability as the common thread. The structure of the program allowed me to take classes in the areas of my interest and focus on renewable energies and the energy industry.

2. What where you doing before joining the MSSM?

I was working for Starbucks under the Architectural Standards and Sustainable Construction team. My primary focus was supporting the Starbucks LEED Volume Build Certification program for the Latin America market. I participated in the development of Starbucks LEED Volume Build program in conjunction with the US Green Building Council and Green Building Certification Institute. I worked with and trained cross-functional teams conformed by design, construction and architectural teams, providing end-user support on store documentation and program quality assurance.

3. What inspired you to work in sustainability? 

About five years ago I was presented with a once in a lifetime experience, a transatlantic crossing on a sailboat. By that time, I was already interested in solar panels and green building, but the trip allowed me to realize how little we can live on if we really try. By living in a confined space with limited supplies, you’re constantly trying to maximize their use. I made the connection with the earth, but on a larger scale. We need to be aware of the natural resources and their limitations.

4. What do you think is the most important sustainability challenge?

The biggest challenge we face today is showing people that living sustainably isn’t anything out of the ordinary; it’s all about living intelligently.

5. What skills and tools have you acquired through the program so far?

I’ve learned how to create a greenhouse gas Inventory report, how to perform a cost-benefit analysis, and how to design a solar photovoltaic system. I’ve gained a better understanding of the energy industry and studied practical cases on energy project implementation in developing countries.

6. How have you applied what you’ve learned in the program so far?

Last semester I had the opportunity to work with a company in Mexico called Siempre Verde. They have a program in which you buy a Christmas tree in a pot, they deliver it to your home, and at the end of the holidays they pick it up and donate for reforestation. We worked together to develop a greenhouse gas inventory report for Siempre Verde.

7. Beyond the classroom, what sustainability-related activity have you engaged in with your fellow sustainability management students?

One of the biggest benefits of Columbia University is the conferences and lectures happening around campus. I’ve assisted amazing events about climate change and diverse subjects hosted by different programs. There are also workshops during the weekends, such as on composting. The sustainability management student group is really engaged and passionate.

8. What is your favorite class in the MSSM program so far and why?

Travis Bradford’s Energy Markets and Innovation expanded my perspective on the global energy industry. Before taking the class I had the perception that the future of the energy industry depended exclusively on renewable energies. After taking the class I learned about the different energy sources available, what are their limitations, how they interact with each other and the infrastructure used to deliver them. Renewable energies will play a huge role in the future, but it’s important to understand how we can use them to contribute to the energy sector.

9. What do you intend to do professionally once you achieve your degree?

I’m in the process of defining what I want to do after I graduate. I know I want to stay in New York City and work either in renewable energy projects or sustainability consulting.

10. How has collaborating with your fellow students in projects in the classroom benefited you professionally and personally?

The students from the program have such a diverse background. Getting to know them has allowed me to learn about different subjects within sustainability that I didn’t know much of, such as food poverty or carbon markets. We’ve created a network of friendships that will have an impact in preserving the world. I believe that I’ll be working with some of the students in the 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 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. Visit our website to learn more.    


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