Master of Science in Sustainability Management alum Stephen Marlin (’12) has always been a “car guy.” Now, as the Senior Business Development Manager in the East Region for BYD Motors, he works to bring electric vehicles into New York City livery services. He credits the MSSM program’s integrated approach to sustainability with allowing him to better understand his partners and turn obstacles into solutions.
1. What is your current job?
I am currently the Senior Business Development Manager in the East Region for BYD Motors. BYD has two key products at this time. The first is our K9 Electric Bus. This is a 40 foot bus like the type used by metro transit systems. I worked with the MTA and the Port Authority of NY/NJ to demonstrate the bus last fall. We actually had the bus come and run a route for the Columbia University bus service as well. Our second product is the e6 Electric Car. This is a high utility car designed for fleet use, and our focus with it is livery service in New York. We have one on the road and are looking to get many more very soon, some doing the apple green service. The role has me interacting with a number of city agencies like the Mayor’s Office and TLC.
2. Do your current job responsibilities align with the professional goals that you originally had when you began the MSSM program?
My current responsibilities very much align with the goals I had when I started the program. I came into the program as a classic “car guy,” but had a strong interest in moving the industry towards a more sustainable model. My current focus is not just on the development of advanced technology autos, but also working with the environment in which vehicles operate. Bringing electric vehicles (EV’s) into the market requires working with and understanding the entire value stream. The MSSM program helped me to get the knowledge to speak with confidence to people working on policy, infrastructure, and the users in the marketplace. Since my major mission is implementing change I am happy say I can grasp the issues of the other key players in the market, rather than simply attempting to force my solution on them.
3. What skills has the MSSM program taught you that you think have proven useful to your current position?
The MSSM had a pillar approach to teaching sustainability that allowed me a chance to learn about issues that interconnect with my current role that I would not have understood otherwise. Knowledge of policy development has helped when I need to talk about my organization’s goals with the policy makers. The same is true when I speak to utility companies about infrastructure development. Understanding the issues they are facing helps me to empathize with my partners and turn potential hurdles into solutions.
4. What skills and tools do you hope to acquire through this job?
Of course I always want to develop new skills and tools. But in this job I am looking to accomplish meaningful and lasting change in the world of transportation. While EV’s still lack in some areas commanded by traditional fossil fuel burning vehicles the time has never been better for them to take their spot on the stage. There are a number of changes outside of the technical arena that play to EV strengths. The biggest seem to be people’s attitudes to car ownership and driving. I also see an approach in the fleet buyers that will increase EV adoption. One skill that I am being driven to develop in this current role is my ability to be a salesman. The product and technology is there, it just takes a different approach to put it in the hands of the users.
5. How has collaborating with your fellow students in class projects benefitted you professionally and personally?
Collaborating with students in class provided the opportunity to develop long lasting and meaningful relationships. Working on the projects together allowed us to go through a shared experience that we can look back on as we go our separate ways after graduation. For me it has meant the SUMA experience is never really over. This can mean something as small as a classmate sending me a study they came across they know may benefit me to finding a former classmate that is working on a project that intersects with the work I do now. Of course, I also find time to meet up with former classmates for a drink so we can catch up. These informal sessions always seem to find us bouncing ideas off each other.
6. What kinds of environmental initiatives do you hope to start in your new position?
Well, I am working on a big initiative right now. Getting a meaningful number of electric cars into service in New York City is no small challenge. Many have tried to go after the yellow market, but EV’s just aren’t ready for that model (and that model isn’t ready for EV’s). However, the outer borough livery cars are ripe for an EV like the BYD e6. Getting some of our cars in the apple green so they can do street hails will be a big win. According to Take Charge: A Roadmap to Electric New York City Taxis by the NYC TLC, replacing just 4,412 of New York’s taxis with EV’s would displace as much carbon (55,000 tons) as replacing 35,000 privately owned cars with EV’s. I really hope I can be a part of making that happen.
7. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MSSM program to further your career?
To some extent I feel I am already doing it by taking action on changing the way people get around. I am on the board of directors for MetroPool, a non-profit focused on things like rideshare and other commuting options. Certainly lowering emissions from vehicles is part of the solution to climate change, but it is not the only solution. Ridesharing, public transit, car shares, walking, biking, and a host of other options are becoming more relevant methods of personal transport. I believe the automobile was originally seen as a source of freedom. Today it is viewed as a necessary evil to get us to in from work as we live in a commuter society. It would be great to get back to a world where driving was a simple source of pleasure, and one that could be enjoyed without polluting.
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.