State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Sustainability Management Students Showcase Research Results at Midterm Presentations

MS in Sustainability Management student Anthony Guerrero presents his group's initial findings for The Nature Conservancy's Mashomack Preserve.

On Tuesday, March 6, students in the Master of Science in Sustainability Management program (MSSM) presented their mid-term Workshop presentations for fellow students, staff, and invited guests at the School of International and Public Affairs. This spring’s Workshop projects help integrate students’ studies while working with faculty to address clients’ diverse sustainability needs, ranging from transforming the Freshkills landfill into a public park to creating new award metrics for sustainability for Jordan’s King Abdullah II Center for Excellence (KACFE).

“I particularly liked the student cooperation within each team since collaboration and team work has become an increasingly important part of success in the professional world,” said Anthony Guerrero, the presenter for the Workshop project “Mashomack Preserve: Sustainability strategies for renovating in a sensitive ecosystem.” “With something as complex as sustainability that touches so many different areas, it is impossible for one person, or even a pair of people, to know everything. Learning the skill or working in a large team is important.”

The Capstone Workshop is one of two required courses in the Sustainability Management program, serving as the culminating educational experience for students by enabling them to apply the practical skills and analytical knowledge learned through the Sustainability Management curriculum into an applied real world project. Students work in teams and undertake special analytic projects as consultants for public and nonprofit agencies, increasing their understanding of the real-world constraints under which sustainability managers operate.

“I thought the students provided excellent overviews of their projects and the challenges they are facing.  The professionalism of the presentations and obvious preparation by the presenters made for a very enjoyable and educational evening,” stated Grant Goodrich, who is the Faculty Advisor for the Workshop project “New Award Metrics for Sustainability.”  “I’m happy to see the diversity in projects and learning opportunities, as it highlights the dynamic nature of the field of sustainability management, and places this program at the forefront of addressing evolving issues in sustainability.”

You can read more about current Workshop projects below. The students will present the rest of their findings at their final briefings on Tuesday, April 24. If you are interested in attending the briefings, please contact Alyssa Dubov, Program Coordinator, at

The 36 credit Master of Science in Sustainability Management program, jointly offered by the Earth Institute and the School of Continuing Education, is designed to meet the growing demand for sustainability managers and train leaders to bridge the gap between the principle of sustainable development and its practice. This program is ideal for practitioners and aspiring professionals eager to learn practical management techniques and sophisticated environmental measurement tools.

Insurance, Climate Change and Flood Resilience in New York City

Faculty Advisor: George Sarrinikolaou

The NYC Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability (OLTPS) seeks to determine ways in which the City of New York and the insurance industry can collaborate in developing strategies to increase New York’s resilience to current and future flood risks. OLTPS is particularly interested in engaging the insurance industry to promote flood protection in areas that may be vulnerable to flooding based on climate forecasts that pertain to sea-level rise, storm surge, and storms. Flood insurance premiums offer a price signal to policyholders about the risk that they face, providing an incentive to undertake flood protection. Currently, there are more than 200,000 New Yorkers who live within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)–designated 1-in-100 year flood zone, where flood insurance is required. An important starting point in New York’s effort will be to understand the extent of flood insurance coverage within both the 1-in-100 year and 1-in-500 year flood zones. To conduct this analysis, the student team will seek to determine the number of residential and commercial properties in these zones; the extent to which property owners comply with the flood insurance requirement in the 1-in-100 year flood zone; and the availability of flood insurance products and actual flood insurance coverage of properties in the 1-in-500 year flood zone.

Identification of Pervious Pavement Opportunities in NYC

Faculty Advisor: Kizzy Charles-Guzman

New York City is currently developing a pervious pavement program to design and construct pervious pavements in the urban environment.  The recent release of the New York City Green Infrastructure Plan has reignited the push to install pervious pavement in Combined Sewer Overflow areas in the City.  The goal is to reduce CSO volume by capturing rainfall from 10% of impervious surfaces in CSO areas.  NYC DOT is interested in installing pervious pavements to mitigate the impacts of stormwater runoff. We would like to identify the most appropriate locations for the application of pervious pavements (pervious asphalt and pervious concrete) to maximize both the operational and environmental benefits. Currently, there are relatively few applications of pervious pavement in highly urban conditions similar to those in NYC. The group will use Global Information Systems (GIS) data, site visits, traffic and classification counts, and adjacent property data to propose locations most suitable for the installation of pervious pavements.

Mashomack Preserve: Sustainability strategies for renovating in a sensitive ecosystem

Faculty Advisor: Susanne DesRoches

The Nature Conservancy’s Mashomack Preserve is located on Shelter Island, ninety miles from New York City on Long Island. The 2,100-acre preserve is a sensitive ecosystem that provides nesting grounds for migrating birds and includes interlacing tidal creeks, woodlands, fields, salt marshes and coastline that makes it a superb wildlife habitat. Also located on this preserve are seven building facilities (residential, administrative and maintenance), which are frequently used for meetings, fundraisers, and educational events, and to house visiting scientists and researchers. The buildings were built in the late-1800s and early 1900s and are in need of restoration. The team will research and provide best practices and recommendations for implementing sustainability strategies in an environmentally sensitive location. The strategies to be researched are energy efficiency including alternative energy systems and wastewater treatment strategies. The workshop’s final recommendations will be incorporated into a restoration plan this year, which will then be used by Nature Conservancy headquarters to determine priority and budgeting for the projects.

New Award Metrics for Sustainability

Faculty Advisor: Grant Goodrich

The King Abdullah II Center for Excellence (KACFE) was founded in January, 2006 to manage the King Abdullah II Award for Excellence. The Center aims at promoting a culture of excellence in Jordan and the Region through developing excellence frameworks and assessment criteria based on international best practices, assessing organizations’ performance, managing King Abdullah II awards for excellence and promoting excellence to public sector, private sector, not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations. KACFE is currently considering adding a new and separate award theme under “sustainability.”  In this endeavor, the Center is seeking the support of a student team to develop new award metrics or criteria for sustainability that will be adapted in the award cycle for 2014/2015.  The student team, in consultation with the Director, and with the liaison support of staff of Columbia University’s Middle East Research Center, would identify best practices in measuring tangible achievements in more sustainable operations.  The students will “test” the developed criteria through case studies of regional organizations who match the profile of likely award candidates.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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