State of the Planet

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MS Student Creates a Hospitable Environment for Sustainability

MS in Sustainability Management Student Diana Beltran is part of the Wyndham Worldwide Corporate Sustainability and Innovation team – a job that combines her passion for the environment with her professional experience in the hospitality industry.

MS in Sustainability Management student, Diana Beltran, recently discussed her experience in the program as someone already working in the sustainability field. Prior to her enrollment as a part-time graduate student, Diana earned a Bachelor’s Degree majoring in Travel and Tourism Management and minoring in Lodging Hotel operations from Florida International University. From December of 2008 until March of 2012, Diana was the Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at the Grand Hyatt New York – a position that was created specifically for her. With the grass roots experience gained from Hyatt, she moved to make a larger impact in the industry by joining the Wyndham Worldwide Corporate Sustainability and Innovation team in March 2012 and supporting over 7,000 business units. She is also active in the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s Energy and Environmental Committee, as well as the Hotel Association of New York City’s Sustainability Hospitality Committee. Diana entered the program in fall 2011.

1. What is your current job and what are the responsibilities associated with your position?

I am responsible for overseeing the implementation of the environmental and energy management systems, certification and sustainability programs for the Worldwide Wyndham Green program. I also manage Wyndham Hotel Group and Wyndham Worldwide Environmental programs, and I report requirements tied to quarterly and annual reporting for over 250 international locations. My team and I partner with external reporting entities to ensure that all national and local certification, as well as legal requirements, are met. We also coordinate all environmental and carbon emission reporting programs globally with operations, legal, and finance to insure compliance. We train and educate key stakeholders and communicate status and results. We develop, report, and drive improvement in key performance indicators relative to sustainability and build stakeholder engagement. Wyndham Worldwide has been named the top 100 Greenest Companies in America and #1 in the Hotel and Restaurant sector.

2. What drew you to the Master of Science Sustainability Management (MSSM) program?

The diverse subject matter and different perspectives offered by the curriculum drew me to the MSSM program. I considered other programs and attended their various orientations, but the passion of the faculty and people that surrounded me during the MSSM orientation is what helped me make my final decision.

3. What inspired you to work in sustainability?

In the first lesson of my Sustainable Travel and Tourism class at Florida International University, we discussed the Brundtland Commission’s definition of sustainable development, as well as the impacts that the tourism industry has on our planet. It was then that I realized how much work needed to be done in the hospitality sector. I wanted to combine my undergraduate studies and professional hospitality experience with my passion for the environment.

4. What has been your biggest challenge associated with sustainability in your current position?

It is a constant struggle to roll out new initiatives and, as a result, my biggest challenge has been getting the buy-in of my coworkers. It is important to educate and communicate effectively within an organization in order for programs to be successful.

5. What has been your biggest accomplishment associated with sustainability in your current position?

Since I have just started my new job with Wyndham, I will have to speak on my biggest accomplishment at my past position with Hyatt, which was the success of Hyatt’s composting program. In just one year we went from composting 0% of the hotel property’s food waste to recovering and composting 95%. Initially, there was push back from the management and some staff for making this a new standard operating procedure. In the end, education and communication helped to make it a successful policy.

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

So far, my favorite class in the MSSM program is Ethics and Values in Sustainability Management. I am really learning much more about the roots of the problems in our society from the course’s readings and classroom discussions.

8. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MSSM program in furthering your career?

My degree has already proved its value and assisted me in my short-term goal which was to go from a property sustainability manager to a corporate sustainability manager in the travel & lodging industry. My future goal is to be appointed to a position where I would be able to manage responsible tourism and assist cities and countries with the practice of sustainable tourism.

9. What tips do you have for your fellow students who are looking for a job in sustainability?

If your company supports change and innovation, make suggestions to see if you can be the one to bring sustainability into your field. I created my last position by taking the initiative to do so, as it did not exist before I made the suggestion to create it. Network and take advantage of all of the opportunities the corporate relations department has to offer. Learn as much as you can from the people around you, speak up, and share any ideas you might have that will bring change and support sustainability in your workplace.

The MS 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 Sustainability Management 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. Please visit our website to learn more about the program.

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