State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Sustainability Lessons from Philly

Katherine Gajewski, Director, Mayor's Office of Sustainability, City of Philadelphia
Katherine Gajewski, Director, Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, City of Philadelphia

Written by George Sarrinikolaou

Students in a new sustainability course this semester are learning directly from practitioners who are transforming cities, changing the ways private firms do business, and improving people’s lives. They are leaders, such as Katherine Gajewski, Philadelphia’s sustainability director, who spent an hour with students on a recent Wednesday evening, discussing the strategies she uses to make that city one of the greenest in the country.

“We needed a plan because, otherwise, we’d be dragged in a million different directions” said Gajewski, who has served in Mayor Michael Nutter’s cabinet since 2008. Implementation of the plan, Greenworks Philadelphia, has gained the city a national reputation in sustainability. For Philadelphia, where one quarter of the population lives in poverty, sustainability initiatives to conserve energy, create more open space, and make healthy food more accessible are making a difference.

The students in the course, Practicum for Innovative Sustainability Leadership, quizzed Gajewski about the strategies she uses to win support for sustainability. “You have to let people have a voice in the process,” said Gajewski, “you can’t impose it on them.” Gajewski’s talk sparked an animated discussion in the second hour of class, when students considered approaches to making sustainability part of how any organization works.

Professor Steve Cohen, who co-teaches the course with George Sarrinikolaou, prompted students to consider how Philadelphia and New York City – two cities in the same region – have differed in their pursuit of sustainability. The discussion led students to begin drawing lessons and identifying strategies for making environmental concerns part of doing business.

This week, the course, which is part of the M.S. in Sustainability Management, a joint program of the Earth Institute and the School of Continuing Education, will welcome guests, including alumni of academic programs that are affiliated with the Earth Institute. The talks take place on Wednesdays from 6:10pm to 8:00pm in 209 Havemeyer Hall. For more information and to RSVP, please email

On Wednesday, February 5, 2014, the course is getting set to host Al Iannuzzi of Johnson & Johnson, who will discuss leadership and support for sustainability in a large private firm. In the weeks to follow, the guest speakers will be a mix of leading practitioners from both the private and the public sectors:

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.    

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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