State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Riding the Sustainability Wave

Jonathan F.P. Rose, President, Jonathan Rose Companies at the Earth Institute, Columbia University.
Jonathan F.P. Rose, President, Jonathan Rose Companies at the Earth Institute, Columbia University.

Written by George Sarrinikolaou

Megatrends, such as population growth and resource depletion, are creating business opportunities that could yield profit and environmental and social benefits, according to Jonathan Rose, the real estate developer and pioneer in green building and sustainable community development. Rose recently spoke to a packed room of students and guests, as part of the Practicum in Innovative Sustainability Management, a new course. He pointed to recycling and the mining of trash for metals, as examples of enterprises that would gain value in a world where both consumption and the cost of raw materials are increasing.

During his lecture, Rose also cautioned students that they would be operating in a changing world, marked by VUCA, a term first coined by the U.S. military and short-hand for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. To be effective in such a world, Rose said, required new thinking and new leadership. For the sustainability students in the class, Rose’s remarks reflected the essence of their own academic discipline: the integration of environmental, economic and social concerns in ways that yield positive results in all three areas.

The discussion that ensued after the talk centered on what Rose called “riding the wave” to a place where economic and environmental forces merge and reinforce one another. It was a powerful and inspiring viewpoint for students, who, for several weeks now, have heard a variety of sustainability practitioners talk about the great challenges of integrating environmental concerns in the business for organizations.

The basic purpose of this new Practicum course in the M.S. in Sustainability Management is to teach students the strategies for achieving this goal. Weekly talks by leading sustainability practitioners, along with readings and class discussions, help students learn these strategies and how to use them. In addressing the class, Rose offered his own career path in real estate development as one way of blending business, the environment, and social justice. What drove him early on, Rose said, was a love of buildings and construction – his family’s business – but also a love of nature that grew out his childhood play in the woods, as well as his parents’ philanthropy and commitment to social justice.

Today, Rose’s firm, the Jonathan Rose Companies, builds projects that deliver economic, environmental, and social returns – projects, such as Via Verde in the South Bronx. The building, which offers a range of affordable housing options, was designed to reduce environmental impact and to cultivate a sense of community among its residents. The building is also located near subway and bus lines, which makes for affordable and environmentally-friendly commuting for residents.

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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