Improving Buildings to Reduce Energy Demand
Master of Science in Sustainability Management student Maya Ezzeddine has always had an interest in environmental science and sustainable cities. After completing her B.S. in environmental science and policy at the University of California, Davis, Maya worked as an environmental consultant for five years, preparing environmental site assessments for a wide variety of commercial, residential and agricultural properties. Through her work, she was reminded time and again that better sustainability management would eliminate the need to go back and remedy environmental catastrophes later on. Her quest for better environmental planning brought her to the sustainability management program at Columbia University, and she couldn’t be happier about that decision.
1. What is your current job and what are the responsibilities associated with your position?
I am the manager of New York Passive House, a local non-profit dedicated to promoting the international Passive House standard. Passive House is a building standard which results in a 90 percent reduction in building energy demand for heating and cooling. Since buildings make up a third of the world’s energy consumption, focusing on improving our buildings can have a significant effect on our global energy demand. This is especially relevant in New York City, where buildings contribute to 71 percent of the city’s carbon emissions and 94 percent of the city’s energy consumption. Most importantly, Passive House is a bridge to net-zero buildings. When you reduce your energy needs so significantly, the use of renewable energy sources becomes much easier and more attainable.
2. What inspired you to work in sustainability?
Prior to joining the sustainability management program, I worked as an environmental consultant, taking on environmental remediation projects and cleaning up pollution. With every project I took on as a consultant, I saw firsthand the environmental degradation and human health risks that resulted from various human activities. While cleaning up the environmental messes was rewarding in its own way, what I really wanted to do was prevent the environmental catastrophes from occurring in the first place. After all, with proper planning, unfavorable consequences can often be avoided. My quest for better environmental planning brought me to the field of sustainability, and I’m here to stay!
3. What drew you to the Master of Science in Sustainability Management program?
As I planned to transition from remediation to sustainability, I knew that I needed to show that I had the right experience as a competitive candidate. Nothing could show that better than an MS in Sustainability Management from one of the world’s leading institutions. The moment I watched the seven-minute introductory video on the MSSM website, I knew that the program was going to be the perfect catalyst for my career goals and ambitions.
4. What has been your biggest challenge associated with sustainability in your current position?
The hardest thing about being in the sustainability field is having to repeatedly explain to people what “sustainability” even means. But rather than get frustrated, I turn my response into a teaching moment, bringing in funny anecdotes or tidbits of information. By stressing just how important sustainability is and just how exciting it is to be in a field so broad and yet so relevant, it’s easy to capture your audience’s attention.
5. What has been your biggest accomplishment associated with sustainability in your current position?
Through hard work and dedication, New York Passive House is growing rapidly, and so I’m currently in the process of hiring two interns to help me with the workload. So exciting! Our new communications and design intern and business development intern will be starting this February. Additionally, through my supervisor, I was connected with the director of the Urban Future Lab, housed at New York University and home to the NYC ACRE Clean Tech start-up incubator program. I was just brought on board at Urban Future Lab as their new operations coordinator, a role which will nicely complement my New York Passive House duties.
6. What is an example of how you have applied something specific you have learned in the program to your job?
While I have always had an interest in sustainable cities and passive building design, it wasn’t until Professor Luke Falk’s Analysis for Energy Efficiency class that I was first introduced to the German Passive House concept. That was during my first semester at Columbia, and that class is what inspired me to explore Passive House further. It started with motivating me to attend a one-hour introductory lecture called Passive House 101. Then, I decided to take the one-day Passive House Primer training. Never getting enough of this German engineering, I then registered for the week-long Certified Passive House Tradesperson course, where I got to practice Passive House concepts in a hands-on setting. Insatiable, I finally took the two-week Certified Passive House Consultant class. From a lecture room in Columbia’s Hamilton Hall to Managing New York Passive House in Brooklyn, I’m now ready to talk energy efficiency with anyone who’ll listen.
7. What was your favorite class?
Although there are so many great classes that come to mind, I really enjoyed Energy Markets and Innovation with Professor Travis Bradford, despite it being one of the tougher classes in the program. I really liked how the class was set up, first teaching us about how the energy grid became what it is today, and then helping to identify the changes which can redirect the energy industry’s trajectory of growth. Central to the class was the notion of systems thinking, a concept applicable to almost any aspect of life.
8. How do you intend to utilize your degree in furthering your career?
I would like to continue to grow as a sustainability manager and consultant, and the skills and information I learned in the program will be carried with me throughout my career. From the eye-opening insights presented by my professors to the intuitive discussions I shared with my peers, the program has had a profound impact on me and my career. I am certain that I will continue to revisit these experiences time and again as I go further into my professional life, and I’m excited to see the technological, social and legislative advancements that are expected to arise as sustainability becomes more mainstream.
9. What tips do you have for your fellow students who are looking for a job in sustainability?
Read everything you can about sustainability, familiarizing yourself with the concepts, benefits and new industry advancements. Probably one of the most amazing things about this field is the rate at which it is growing and the ability for us to take part in shaping its future. Don’t be shy about striking up sustainability conversations with random people, whether environmental professionals or not. Every time you introduce the notion of sustainability to someone who doesn’t already know about it, you plant a seed. While not all seeds turn into saplings, we are currently building the foundation of an old growth forest! Speak passionately—you never know whom you will inspire through your words and actions.
The M.S. in Sustainability Management, co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of Professional Studies, 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.