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Sustainability Management Student Expands Career View

MS in Sustainability Management student Lisa Howard
MS in Sustainability Management student Lisa Howard

While working as the project and sustainability planner for The Crane Resorts in her home country of Barbados, current MS in Sustainability Management student Lisa Howard realized that if she wanted to make a real difference in the sustainable built environment and tourism, she would need to have a more holistic understanding of the field. Now, as a student in the MSSM program, Lisa has been able to do just that and more between her in-class projects and her extracurricular role as the co-founder and co-president of the Sustainability Management chapter of Net Impact. Lisa credits the MSSM program for helping her to expand the scope of her interests and her career.

1. What drew you to the Master of Science in Sustainability Management?

As the first LEED accredited professional in building design and construction in Barbados, I felt like I had had hit a ceiling while I was working as the Project and Sustainability Planner for The Crane Resorts. Basically, I had successfully convinced the chairman and CEO to pursue LEED certification on our newest resort, but my other sustainability proposals were rejected. The company was seeking funding from the Inter-American Development Bank and I was liaising with their environmental specialists. While I was comfortable discussing the environmental aspects of building development, I wasn’t conversant with other environmental topics raised and I didn’t have a seat at the table in the financial discussions. The MSSM program offered me an opportunity to gain a holistic understanding of environmental sustainability and to fill my financial knowledge gaps.

2. What do you intend to do professionally once you achieve your degree?

I’d like to continue working to advance sustainability from within the private sector. I’m uniquely positioned because of my academic background in architecture and construction and my experience in construction and facilities management to speak to stakeholders with disparate interests and get them to work together to advance sustainability.

3. What do you think is the most important sustainability challenge?

Communication. There’s a cadre of sustainability professionals who know the problems: we have policy solutions, market mechanism solutions, metrics for measuring current status and establishing benchmarks but I don’t think that we’re communicating persuasively. We’re talking about green house gas emission limits resulting in stranded assets when they are people still talking about not “believing” in climate change. We are not engaging the masses of people who are apathetic about environmental and social issues. We have to tailor our message to not only reach these people but to galvanize them into action.

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

Bruce Kahn’s sustainable finance class was challenging for me but is definitely my favorite class. It filled one of the knowledge deficits that attracted me to the program. The course structure made it relevant, allowing us to compare and contrast two companies’ financial performance using the lens of sustainability. The fact that we had guest speakers from The Mercer, Natural Resources Defense Council, World Wildlife Federation and the Carbon Disclosure Project, to name a few, was an added benefit.

5. How have you applied what you have learned in the program so far?

My sustainable finance group authored a report on Investing in Solar Power for The Crane Residential Resort which included a financial analysis of development options for a solar power plant and detailed research on the current regulatory environment and available incentives, load balancing, cash flow modeling, capital budgeting, and growth outlook. After taking Luke Falk’s analysis for energy efficiency course, I was able to benchmark The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s portfolio of buildings in New York during my summer stint with their Office of Environmental and Energy Programs.

6. What skills and tools have you acquired through the program so far?

In addition to being able to generate financial models I can also produce a corporate sustainability report thanks to Judy Sandford’s class. For the final project we were required to produce a Global Reporting Initiative Level C report.

7. Beyond the classroom, what extracurricular sustainability related [activities] have you engaged in with your fellow sustainability management students?  

I am co-founder and co-president of the Sustainability Management (SUMA) Net Impact chapter. Net Impact is an international organization that promotes advancing social and environmental causes in business regardless of career level. SUMA Net Impact members have access to online tool kits and an extensive professional network. We are ecstatic that we were chosen to host the HultPrize@ Columbia competition next month. Competitors will pitch social entrepreneurship ideas for tackling non-communicable diseases in urban slums. We are rooting for a team from Columbia to advance to the finals and pitch to President Bill Clinton at the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting.

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

I still have a keen interest in the built environment and tourism, but the program has broadened my scope to include responsible investing, and as a pescetarian, I’m drawn to sustainable seafood issues. I see my career expanding to include advocacy and also some teaching. I have taught before through the American Hotel & Lodging Association programs, and my stints as a teaching assistant for the sustainability management class and the capstone have served to whet my appetite.

9. How has collaborating with your fellow students in projects in the classroom benefited you professionally and personally?

The spring 2013 Chile Sustainability Certification capstone project collaboration was phenomenal. I have always been a qualitative person, but with help from my teammates and our advisor Louise Rosen, I applied some of the quantitative skills I’ve acquired to the operations recommendation decision-making process, for example. The capstone strengthened my development as a team player. In spite of bumpy times approaching the deadline, our group connected and continues to support each other professionally. We meet up for picnics, to cheer for Chile’s World Cup (soccer) team, and I think we’re even supposed to go tango dancing sometime this month.

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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