Architectural Background Provides Foundation for Student’s Goals
Current Master of Science in Sustainability Management student William Abi Abdallah has spent the past four years trying to implement sustainability into building practices in his home country of Lebanon. In his most recent position before joining the program, William worked as a Sustainable Design Engineer for EcoConsulting Ltd., working on the certification of LEED and BREEAM buildings, along with researching solutions that could make his hometown, the city of Byblos, Lebanon more resilient from environmental and social perspectives as part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities project. Since entering the professional world, William has been no stranger to the challenges that face sustainability professionals when it comes to driving change, but he believes that the courses he has taken have been exceptional preparation for facing those challenges, particularly with regard to being able to speak the language of stakeholders.
1. What is your current job and what are the responsibilities associated with your position?
I am currently working as a greening specialist at UNICEF, based at UNICEF headquarters in New York. My main responsibilities include preparing UNICEF’s 2014 organization-wide greenhouse gas inventory, offsetting the emissions that could not be reduced, developing GHG emissions/water use reduction plans for regional and country offices (141 offices worldwide), and recommending options for establishing a dedicated funding stream for sustainability initiatives. In addition, I also recommend options for systemizing data collection related to environmental footprint assessment.
2. What drew you to the Master of Science in Sustainability Management program?
Other than being at Columbia, the variety of the program’s courses and the backgrounds of the faculty members are what drew me the most to MSSM. I believe it is essential to have working professionals lecture about sustainability, since they provide us with the best insight on how it works in the real world.
3. What inspired you to work in sustainability?
Having a background in architecture and working in project management coming to New York, I was lucky to work on most of my country’s LEED projects. This allowed be to become my home country’s youngest LEED AP. I was then inspired to switch careers and work in sustainability consulting before joining the program.
4. What has been your biggest challenge associated with sustainability in your current position?
Dealing with different mindsets—not everyone believes in the work we do. However, after taking the Practicum in Innovative Sustainability Leadership with George Sarrinikolaou, I learned how professionals from different industries struggled with the same challenge but managed to overcome it through speaking the language of the different stakeholders. That’s what I intend to do.
5. What has been your biggest accomplishment associated with sustainability in your current position?
It is still too early to speak about accomplishments in my current job, as I just started. However, I can say that before graduate school and while working as a sustainability consultant, I managed to convince the board of one of the leading banks in my home country to LEED-certify their new multi-million dollar headquarters. That was quite an achievement.
6. What is an example of how you have applied something specific you have learned in the program thus far to your job?
As mentioned previously, learning to speak the language of the stakeholders is crucial. For instance, one cannot convince a bank’s board of trustees to LEED-certify their headquarters by just highlighting the environmental benefits. It is when the cost savings, payback periods and marketing benefits are put to light that you get people listening.
7. What is your favorite class in the program?
It is hard to pick one favorite. However, I would pick the Capstone with Thomas Abdallah, since I get the chance to use the knowledge I gained from the other various courses and apply it to a real-life project as a team. It does not get better than that.
8. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the program in furthering your career?
Having such a degree adds to the diversity of my skill set. I can use it to focus on one aspect of my career, or broaden it. Sustainability is becoming an indispensable constituent of most if not all of our world’s industries.
9. What tips do you have for your fellow students who are looking for a job in sustainability?
Columbia is one of the best places to study sustainability. One of the many advantages is its location. New York City is a place that has been taking a lot of initiatives regarding sustainability but also has a lot of work left to be done. NYC offers students the best exposure to this field along with countless networking opportunities.
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.