State of the Planet

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MS Student Connects to Sustainability Network In and Out of the Classroom

Nicole deFuria
MS in Sustainability Management student Nicole deFuria works as a member of Verizon’s Corporate Sustainability Team.

After earning her BS in Design and Environmental Analysis from Cornell, MS in Sustainability Management student, Nicole deFuria, went on to work at Verizon as a member of its corporate real estate team where she assisted with real estate operations and portfolio management. Currently, Nicole is a Project Manager on Verizon’s Corporate Sustainability Team. Nicole joined the program in spring 2011 as a part-time student and plans to graduate in spring 2013.

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

I currently work for Verizon on its Corporate Sustainability Team as a Project/Program Manager.  My primary responsibilities include green facility related initiatives like recycling, end of life management, cafeteria initiatives, and building operations.  Additionally, we do a lot of work to promote sustainability awareness to our employee base through events, communication, and education.

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

I was interested in the MSSM program because it offered a diverse array of courses as well as the flexibility to make the degree what you wanted it to be.  It was also one of the first graduate programs that I discovered where the curriculum did not just focus on the sciences, or business to the degree that an MBA does, but rather centers on sustainability.

3. What inspired you to work in sustainability?

As an undergraduate at Cornell, I majored in Design and Environmental Analysis. Through my classes, I became very interested in how we interact with our surroundings every day, namely how these interactions can make such a difference to employees in a corporate setting. I also had the opportunity to do two internships in California with Toyota,  a leader of many sustainability related initiatives in the automotive industry.  The more I learned about the field, the more I loved it.  I felt that working at the corporate level, there is a huge opportunity to change how business is done in order to create a more sustainable future.

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

My biggest challenge at Verizon is getting the organizations we work with on cross-functional teams to look at projects from a sustainable perspective and understand the benefits.  For example, when we work with our partners to design a new cell phone, why do we use so much packaging? Do we really need to provide all customers a manual for it? Is there an opportunity for material reuse? What do people do with their old phones? Some people just have a harder time accepting change.

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

I don’t know that I have one single accomplishment, but I think it is a variety of things. At Verizon, we have a Green Team of volunteer employees that receives a monthly newsletter on all green initiatives going on around the company, upcoming events, etc.  We started the team about 15 months ago and now have over 5,300 employees that are part of it! Those employees send us stories of what their teams are doing, they want to get more involved, they send us ideas of projects to look into, etc. It’s extremely motivational to work with people that are so committed and interested!

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

My favorite course in the MSSM program so far would probably be Sustainability Management. I thought the case studies we read were very interesting and I loved the group project.  I worked on a team where we looked at Wal-Mart’s strategy and applied it to another company – Dunkin’ Donuts. I think I learned a lot during that project and my team was great!

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

At Verizon, sustainability is a very new field. Many groups independently may have been working on “green” projects, but we have only had a formal Corporate Sustainability Office for two years. Having a degree in the field of sustainability legitimizes my career path and helps me to better understand the variety of people I work with on new initiatives at Verizon.

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

My biggest piece of advice is to get your foot in the door at a company that you love. Even if the job you find is not the perfect sustainability-focused job, you will be able to create your own niche within it. By demonstrating the skills that you have learned from this program, you will be able to figure out whether or not you belong in that company, or if you need to create your place within it through innovation. Overall, I think that it is much easier to find your niche in a company once you are there and you truly are interested in what the company does.

9. What do you think is the most beneficial aspect of the MSSM program with regard to your career?

There have been numerous benefits of the MSSM program with regard to my career aspirations. I think just learning more about the field of sustainability, namely what other companies in the industry are doing and how people generally feel about sustainability has been extremely helpful. I also love that everyone in this program is so committed to sustainability and wants this to be the new way that we all do business.  Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the program is that I will be leaving it with a strong network of like-minded sustainability professionals.

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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