State of the Planet

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MS Student Transitions from Financial Services to Sustainability Management

Scott Miller joined the MS in Sustainability Management program as a step towards achieving what he believes to be his true purpose: promoting sustainable practices.

MS in Sustainability Management student Scott Miller has always placed a strong emphasis on the environment, but it was not until recently that he decided it should be integrated into his career endeavors. Scott’s professional background is in financial services. He has served as the Director of Training and an Investment Specialist at AXA Equitable and was most recently the Vice President, Director of Marketing at Oppenheimer Funds, an asset management company. Scott was also the director of the company’s Go Green Committee, a grassroots turned executive-level sponsored initiative that he started in 2010. Scott is a LEED Green Associate, GreenHomeNYC volunteer and co-director of Seward Park Co-op community garden. Scott joined the MSSM program in fall 2011 as a part-time student and is expected to graduate in fall 2013.

1. What drew you to the Master of Science in Sustainability Management (MSSM)?

Growing up in southern California, I was exposed at an early age to the inherent, irreplaceable value of the natural world.  Whether it was the hiking in Yosemite, water-use reduction measures in my apartment or recycling, it all pointed to the interconnectedness of all living things with finite resources.  After years of working in numerous facets of the financial services industry, late 2008 drove me to re-evaluate my life purpose and realize at my core was an unwavering dedication to promoting sustainable practices.  The MSSM program was an ideal next step to align my career path with my true purpose.

2. What do you intend to do professionally once you achieve your degree?

With an MSSM degree in hand and my existing skills and knowledge base in business, I see a wide range of possibilities ahead.  I have a hard time identifying a for-profit or a nonprofit organization, city, or building where the core principles and implementation of sustainability does not make social, environmental and economic sense.  However, not all such entities “get it” quite yet.  For those that do and those that are interested in sustainability, I hope to research, design, implement, manage and market sustainability initiatives as their Chief Sustainability Officer, consultant, or in a business development or project management capacity.

3. What do you think is the most important sustainability challenge?

In my opinion, the most important sustainability challenge is to fundamentally reconnect humans with the vital importance of ecosystem services.  In general, as more people move to urban centers, their awareness, respect and ultimate physical connection to the biodiversity of the natural world dwindles and with it their motivation to adopt sustainable practices.  This “nature-deficit” stresses the importance of education to accompany most if not all sustainability initiatives so as to make a clear case toward the value and connection of the initiative with the ecosystem services we rely upon every day.

4. What skills and tools have you acquired through the program so far?

The MSSM program has helped to strengthen my ability to not only articulate the qualitative environmental benefits of sustainability initiatives, but also to quantity benefits in a way that will translate well for investors, company executives, politicians, and beyond.  Specifically, reviewing countless case studies and drafting corresponding action memos has sharpened my ability to deliver effective sustainability recommendations to key decision makers.  Additionally, workshops in Life Cycle Analysis, sustainability metrics, climate change adaptation, LEED Green Associate and others have provided a wide range of tangible tools and skills that help position me as a sustainability management professional.

5. How have you applied what you’ve learned in the program so far?

In 2010, I started a grassroots Go Green Team at Oppenheimer Funds Inc. However, without buy-in of the CEO and other senior executives in the company, our efforts were limited to small-scale changes. By utilizing my new skills and insight from the MSSM program, I approached my company’s CEO with a proposal to establish a companywide sustainability initiative which he approved and assigned to the company’s Executive Vice President to sponsor.  Of all the accomplishments in my career thus far, this was by far one of my proudest moments.

6. Beyond the classroom, what extracurricular sustainability related have you engaged in with your fellow Sustainability Management students?

Admittedly, my social life has increased dramatically upon starting the MSSM program.  I have never been around so many fun, smart, like-minded people.  We have attended a wide range of sustainability related symposiums both on and off campus, many of which drive subsequent debates and new ideas. Most recently, I joined the Columbia University Coalition for Sustainable Development (CUCSD) and plan to head to Rio+20 with fellow members this June.

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

My favorite class thus far is Global Environmental Markets.  With my background in the financial services industry, this class helped me bridge the traditional investment world with markets designed to reduce carbon emissions and pollutants, drive investment into renewable energy, clean water, reforestation and the attempt to quantify the economic value of ecosystem services.  Being able to connect capital markets with environmental and social benefit/impact is critical to moving toward a more sustainable planet.

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

Changing my career out of traditional financial services has been one of the most challenging experiences I have lived thus far.  The MSSM program provides the academic credentials, business connections and inspiration to propel me toward a career aligned with sustainability management.  I am barely half way through the program, yet my ability to speak on the topic of sustainability and show prospective employers the value I am able to bring to their organization is opening doors that would not have been possible before.

9. How has collaborating with your fellow students in projects in the classroom benefited you professionally and personally?

The MSSM student body is very diverse in professional, educational and cultural backgrounds.  This diversity makes working on group projects especially dynamic, since each person has their own respective strengths and weaknesses depending upon the issue at hand.  Not only is this a valuable learning opportunity for us to teach each other new skills but it presents a very real life scenario of how a sustainability manager must deal with a wide range of experts in order to put forth a comprehensive sustainability strategy.

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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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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