State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

MS Alum Seeks Safer Chemical Policies

M.S. in Sustainability Management alum Mark Buczek (’12)

M.S. in Sustainability Management (MSSM) alum Mark Buczek (’12) utilized the program to supplement his existing career track in the chemical industry as the Co-Chair for the non-profit organization,, which focuses on helping organizations to understand and manage chemicals and select alternative materials. Mark knew that he wanted to be involved in the area of developing safer chemicals, and the MSSM program helped him figure out how to get involved.

1. What is your current job?

I currently serve as the Co-Chair for a non-profit organization,, an open collaborative effort between progressive businesses that use chemicals in areas such as retail, electronics, apparel and healthcare and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) with programs in toxics or chemical policy. The focus is on how users can understand and manage chemicals in products and/or processes and how to select alternative materials. My background is in the chemical industry and my Co-Chair is from the NGO world, so together we make sure all viewpoints are heard. The organization operates through project teams, each focusing on specific issues such as chemicals management, alternative analysis and chemicals policy.

2. Do your current job responsibilities align with the professional goals that you originally had when you began the MSSM program?

Yes. Given my background, I knew I would be involved in the area of developing safer chemicals, However, I did not know exactly in what capacity that would be. For me, the goal of the MSSM program was to supplement my existing professional career track as opposed to changing the direction of it.

3. What skills has the MSSM program taught you that you think have proven useful to your current position?

The most valuable thing I took away from the MSSM program was an understanding of the big picture of sustainability management. This helps me explain areas of specialization within the larger picture and understand the associated trade-offs that exist in sustainability management. I found the skills I developed researching and analyzing published research have been helpful in reviewing scientific and policy questions that arise in our discussions.

4. What skills and tools do you hope to acquire through this job?

The position allows me to stay current on the latest thinking in the field of chemical management and work with regulators and progressive organizations such as the Outdoor Industry Association, a group that is making great strides in managing chemicals in their products. My role requires that I function as a translator for numerous different viewpoints and find ways to promote compromises or alternatives that will move the greater agenda forward.

5. How has collaborating with your fellow students in class projects benefitted you professionally and personally?

I have found my classmates to be sincere and dedicated to the study of sustainability. There is a unique feeling of mutual support and cooperation among the MSSM students. Working with professionals from so many different fields and getting to see how they view sustainability in their areas of expertise has been invaluable.   

6. What kinds of environmental initiatives have been taken in your current position?

Chemicals policy and safety has been under the radar in the U.S. with the exception of a few high profile issues such as BPA. The original U.S. chemicals regulations were passed in 1976 and have never been updated despite the huge technological innovations that have occurred. BizNGO provides input to regulators, businesses and other organizations that reflect the latest thinking. Beyond any legislative outcomes, which represent compromises, we are creating a roadmap for organizations that want to take things beyond regulatory requirements. We hope this approach will become a “gold standard” and guide organizations on a path toward achieving aspirational goals.

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

I am in awe of the resources that are available at Columbia, the Earth Institute, and Lamont-Doherty. During the program, I’ve tried to take advantage of these resources as much as possible. I hope that as the program grows that we can develop a strong alumni organization that will allow us access to these resources so that we can stay on top of current thinking in this dynamic field.

The M.S. 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 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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