Passion for Climate Change Issues Propels M.S. Student's Career
Current M.S. in Sustainability Management student Megan Farrell works in the Sustainable Business Solutions division at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where she focuses on developing strategic solutions to best address the challenges facing her clients, including those related to social, environmental, and economic factors. As a part-time student, Megan has developed a strong rapport with her classmates and faculty, and recognizes that this network will far outlast the program, allowing for continued and robust sharing of ideas between sustainability professionals in years to come.
1. What is your current job and what are the responsibilities associated with your position?
As a senior associate in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ U.S. Sustainable Business Solutions practice, I help companies across a number of sectors to manage sustainability risks and realize opportunities that increase value for shareholders.
2. What drew you to the Master of Science in Sustainability Management program?
I was looking to develop my career and knew that I needed further academic credentials that would facilitate my transition to a new field and enable me to be successful in the long run. I was interested in finding a program in the New York City area that would provide me with a good foundation of skills across multiple disciplines that would be flexible enough so that I could continue to work full-time.
3. What inspired you to work in sustainability?
An overwhelming sense of fear about the future of the planet and the human race. It’s hard not to feel this way when looking at various climate models or reading literature from the United Nations and leading economists like Jeffrey Sachs. I care immensely about the world in which our future children and grandchildren will live in, and I want be among those who are working to address the challenges of climate change.
4. What has been your biggest challenge associated with sustainability in your current position?
Making the case for sustainability to a business — whether related to the creation of an overall strategy or the implementation of related projects. While it may seem like common sense to you or your colleagues, you need to think in terms of the company’s priorities and understand their challenges. However, framing sustainability in terms of a cost savings or risk reduction exercise, you can often gain the attention of management. Ultimately, more executives need to see that organizations can achieve outstanding financial, social and environmental results.
5. What has been your biggest accomplishment associated with sustainability in your current position?
I feel a great sense of satisfaction and pride in helping businesses address climate change issues and am thankful to have the opportunity to work with individuals who feel as passionately as I do about the subject area.
6. What is an example of how you have applied something specific you have learned in the program thus far to your job?
I typically perform site visits at client facilities (such as manufacturing plants, etc.) in order to assess the various emissions sources they are reporting in their sustainability reports. Though I am seasoned in performing these visits, I am no engineer, and in the past I have struggled with identifying additional opportunities for energy savings within the facility. I did, however, gain additional insight into identifying such opportunities through the course Energy Analysis for Energy Efficiency taught by Luke Falk. I now feel more comfortable speaking to facility managers during site visits about opportunities for cost savings from alternative lighting fixtures, fixed asset maintenance/replacement, and much more.
7. What is your favorite class in the MSSM program so far and why?
Definitely Earth’s Climate Systems taught by Kevin Anchukaitis. With so much misinformation floating around regarding climate change, it is essential for any sustainability practitioner to understand and articulate to others why the climate is changing and the impacts of such changes. This class is really a crash course in the principles of thermodynamics, radiation, fluid movement, paleoclimatology, and much more.
8. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MSSM program in furthering your career?
One of the biggest benefits of graduate school is the network that you develop. It is my hope that I can continue to foster the relationships I have built with my fellow students and professors as I further my professional career.
9. What tips do you have for your fellow students who are looking for a job in sustainability?
The job market is difficult at the moment, but there are number of great opportunities both in the private and public sector that I see opening up on a regular basis. Some general tips:
- Be open: Sustainability is very broad, and the jobs related to sustainability are often not labeled as such.
- Network: There are so many informal “green” groups that meet on a regular basis. Join these groups to expand your network and meet professionals currently working in the field.
- Stay relevant and abreast of issues: Climate change issues, both regulatory and non-regulatory, are constantly changing. I actually heard that in 2014 we won’t be talking about sustainability anymore; we will be taking about resiliency! Make sure you are aware of the issues, this will be extremely helpful in identifying job opportunities and when preparing for an interview.
- Focus on core skills: Don’t underestimate the value of core skills that employers are looking for, such as communication, business writing, issue-based problem solving, etc.
10. What do you think is the most beneficial aspect of the MSSM program with regard to your career?
The knowledge I have gained from the courses and the relationships I have made with fellow students and professors. I feel that the program has provided me with the confidence required tackle the wide range of challenges related to sustainability, which is invaluable for my long-term career growth.
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.