State of the Planet

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Sustainability Management Alum Works to Implement Rio+20 Promises

MS in Sustainability Management alum John Romano ('13)
MS in Sustainability Management alum John Romano (’13) answering questions as a member of the opening panel of “Youth Blast: Conference of Youth of Rio+20” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2013.

M.S. in Sustainability Management alum John Romano (’13) has had the opportunity to work on sustainability at just about every level — as a consultant in the private sector, as a sustainable community planner in the public sector, non-profit, and academic realms — and most recently for the United Nations secretariat in civil society outreach and engagement. Currently, John is a Global Fellow with the International Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), working on the implementation of the major promises made at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012. John is excited that his work at NRDC allows him to use his experience at a variety of levels to stimulate real action on energy, climate, poverty and other environmental, social and economic issues, and to advocate for new thinking and approaches at the UN to drive the transformative change that is so desperately needed.

1. What is your current job?

I am currently a Global Fellow with the International Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. My work centers around the ongoing follow-up of the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, providing follow-up and accountability for the more than 700 voluntary commitments and partnerships — launched by a wide range of stakeholders — worth more than $640 billion, through NRDC’s Cloud of Commitments Initiative. The bulk of my work is looking ahead to incorporate these new approaches to action – through action-based commitments and partnerships — at the UN in two critical processes set to UN processes culminate in 2015: the creation of a new set of global development goals and a new international climate agreement.

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

Yes — and then some. I had always sought to be in a position to drive change in a variety of arenas, and my current job affords me the opportunity to impact policy-making at a global level at the United Nations.

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

The MSSM program provided me with ample opportunities to both take on leadership roles around Columbia, like being president of the Columbia University Coalition for Sustainable Development; as well as the chance to contribute as part of a team, like through my final Capstone project, where we worked with the New York Department of Sanitation to examine food waste patterns throughout all five boroughs. The leadership and management skills acquired from the program are really invaluable, particularly for a field like Sustainability Management, where all of us will continue to be pioneers and be expected to lead the way down this path. On top of this, quite literally learning from our professors who are also pioneers and leaders in their respective fields, is also an incredibly useful asset for the program as well.

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

My position really allows me to learn how to become a better advocate for the issues I am passionate about. Whether it is through my writing, or discussions with diplomats in the halls of the UN, my job allows me to share my visions and promote NRDC’s message and brand. Also, having previously worked for the UN before starting this position, this new perspective requires me to re-think how we frame our advocacy to reach different audiences for our work. Whether our message is for UN experts or the average person who knows very little about these things, our advocacy must reach these different audiences, and it can be very difficult to bridge that gap sometimes.

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

Being around like-minded people who are equally passionate about this topic provides a great environment for collaboration. I found it very interesting and incredibly useful that MSSM students have come from a wide range of backgrounds, including in finance, law, economics, marketing, environmental policy, social work, and the list goes on. Learning from people’s experiences and combining ideas and perspectives from these different fields really enriches the learning experience in the classroom.

6. What kinds of sustainability initiatives do you hope to start in your new position?

The benefit of working with an organization like NRDC is that the possibilities are just about endless and I could go on forever answering this question. At the moment, we are hoping to gain recognition for the need to re-think traditional UN approaches for global action toward addressing the challenges of climate change and sustainable development. It is quite an ambitious undertaking, but NRDC’s work in this realm involves a wide range of campaigns and projects that are making huge strides, and it’s an amazing feeling to be able to add to that pedigree.

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

One of the greatest assets of the MSSM program again goes back to the network of like-minded people that you become a part of. Once you take that network and combine it with learning from pioneers and leaders in the field, we all come out of the program with a very strong network of friends and colleagues all working toward the same goals. There is no doubt in my mind that I will end up working with or alongside some of my fellow MSSM alumni down the road in my career as well.

You can read more about John and his work as a Global Fellow at the NRDC on Switchboard: The Natural Resources Defense Council’s staff blog.

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 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. Visit our website to learn more.           

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