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Faculty Profile: Travis Bradford

M.S. in Sustainability Management Professor Travis Bradford

M.S. in Sustainability Management professor Travis Bradford is the president and founder of the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development, a nonprofit organization focused on developing cost-effective and sustainable solutions in technologies including energy, water, food, and recycling. Bradford is also the managing partner at Atlas Capital Investments, LP, a global hedge fund dedicated to investing in sustainable technology companies. This spring, Travis is teaching the course, Energy Markets and Innovation.

1. Why did you choose to teach at Columbia?

Columbia University has the largest collection of intellectual and institutional resources dedicated to energy, the environment, and sustainability anywhere. Add to that the access to world-class financial capital markets, and it makes this the place where real solutions are being crafted and implemented. Simply, it is the biggest game in the biggest town – how exciting.

2. What is new in your area of expertise Energy and Sustainability?

I focus on mapping and understanding the dynamics within the basic resource sectors, with a primary focus on Energy. These sectors are undergoing a period of rapid transformation, and understanding these changes allow us to intervene in beneficial ways, while limiting the potential negative repercussions.

3. What course do you teach and why do you think that it is important to the field of sustainability?

My course is called “Energy Markets and Innovation,” in which you are free to insert commas as you see fit. It is a tools-based class to understand the energy system as an active learner, rather than as a passive consumer of other people’s conclusions. The purpose of the course is to orient students to the dynamic opportunities that exist in the ongoing transformation of the global energy industry. Existing energy sources and the infrastructures that deliver them to users around the world are undergoing a period of rapid change. Limits to growth, rapidly fluctuating raw material prices, and the emergence of new technology options all contribute to heightened risk and opportunity in the energy sector. Using theoretical and practical understanding of the process by which energy technologies are developed, financed, and deployed, this course seeks to highlight the root drivers for change in the energy industry, the technologies that are emerging, and the factors that will determine success in their commercialization.

4. What is your favorite part of your job as a professor?

It is by far the students. They inspire me every day with their enthusiasm and dedication to creating change.

5. What do you think that your students need to know about sustainability that they are not learning already in the classroom?

That positive intention is not sufficient. The status quo is populated by an incredible amount of inertia, established advantages, and defenders. They will not simply relent to a good idea. They must be motivated in other ways – profit is one of my favorite to use.

6. What do you believe is the greatest benefit that the MS in Sustainability Management program has to offer its students?

I can only pick one?  Access to world-class faculty, being in the center of conversation on these vital issues, and partnering with fellow students all contribute to a rich experience, not available anywhere else in my experience.

7. What advice would you give to your sustainability management students who are not already working in the field of sustainability?

Things change very quickly. It is still possible to rapidly become expert on something others find valuable by understanding the status quo, questioning the conventional wisdom, and applying the right tools and thinking.

8. What kind of research are you doing now related to Energy and Sustainability?

As a Professor of Practice, my research is in the field. My two main objectives are rethinking the relationship of the traditional electric grid to distributed energy solutions (including both generation and efficiency), and developing new financial products to support the deployment of large-scale renewables at the right cost of money.   I spend a lot of time with organizations trying to push these in practice.

The Master of Science in Sustainability Management (MSSM) program, 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 M.S. in 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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