State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

MS Students Present Final Analysis on Reporting Standards to NRDC

MSSM student Michael Cook presenting the findings for the “Environmental Performance Reporting” workshop team.

On Wednesday, August 8, students in the Master of Science in Sustainability Management program presented their final Capstone Workshop presentations for fellow students, program faculty, and colleagues at Columbia University’s Faculty House. The project, entitled “Environmental Performance Reporting,” required the team to work closely with data provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to conduct a thorough comparison of reporting standards, like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and Facility Reporting Project. The students had to analyze the pros and cons of the most viable reporting systems in order to recommend the standard that would be the best match for the NRDC’s operational and disclosure goals.

“The diverse professional backgrounds encompassed by the MSSM student population were a huge strength when it came to our Capstone project,” stated Michael Cook, the presenter for the workshop group. “Our team was comprised of a Vice President of Sustainability, an environmental consultant, an equity trader, an operations manager, and a non-profit professional. This breadth and depth of the students’ experiences allowed us to deliver an incredibly dynamic product to NRDC.”

The Workshop serves as the culminating educational experience for students enrolled in the program, enabling them to apply the practical skills and analytical knowledge learned through the Sustainability Management curriculum into an applied project, giving students hands-on managerial experience. The workshop program was designed by the Earth Institute and the School of Continuing Education to integrate the distinct fields of the program’s curriculum as students and faculty work to address critical sustainability management issues. The final briefings are an opportunity to present the results of their semester-long sustainability consultancies to their colleagues.

“The NRDC strives to be an environmental leader and charged the team with helping them understand the best practices in environmental reporting, so the devotion and time that the workshop group put into this project was greatly appreciated by this organization,” said Kizzy Charles-Guzman, the faculty advisor to the workshop team. “I am confident that this work has sparked a discussion within the organization on how to handle the critical sustainability challenge of reporting.”

The Capstone Workshop is the final degree requirement of the Sustainability Management program. The workshop serves the purpose of sharpening the students’ analytical and communication skills by allowing them to apply their previous experience and knowledge gained from the program to real-world problems. You can read the description of the summer 2012 Workshop project below.

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.


Summer 2012 Capstone Workshop: Environmental Performance Reporting

Client: Anthony Guerrero, Director of Operations, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Faculty Advisor: Kizzy Charles Guzman

Since its founding in 1970, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has managed its own operations in a way that matched the convictions of its advocacy. While the sustainability of NRDC’s operations meets high standards today, becoming truly sustainable requires the organization to further reduce its impacts on the Earth. As part of a three-year plan to improve the sustainability of NRDC’s operations, the organization is seeking to identify the appropriate reporting standard for disclosing environmental performance.

The project will begin with a meeting between the Capstone Workshop team and NRDC operations staff and program thought leaders to understand both how NRDC operates and its goals for disclosure. At the time of this writing, NRDC is on schedule to implement enterprise sustainability management software in three of its six offices before the Workshop begins. The implementation of the software in the remaining offices will be phased in over one to two years. The new software will enable detailed monitoring and analysis of all aspects of NRDC’s environmental performance (energy, GHGEs, water, waste, etc.) in a single system. Until now, measurement has been decentralized, with some data in ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager, other data managed in spreadsheets, and some data inadequately captured.

After reviewing all the relevant data and documentation provided by NRDC, the Workshop team will conduct a thorough comparison of reporting standards (e.g. GRI, Facility Reporting Project, etc.); including an analysis of the pros and cons of the most viable reporting systems. Based on the analysis, the Workshop team will recommend the standard that best matches NRDC’s operational and disclosure goals.

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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