State of the Planet

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Sustainability Management Student Explores Energy Efficiency

M.S. in Sustainability Management student Lillian Cheng
M.S. in Sustainability Management student Lillian Cheng

Current Master of Science in Sustainability Management student Lillian Cheng has long been interested in energy efficiency and climate change, but it is her time at Columbia that has instilled in her the necessary quantitative, financial, and project management skills necessary to succeed in the sustainability industry.

1. What drew you to the Master of Science in Sustainability Management (MSSM) program?

Energy efficiency and climate change were two issues I had been interested in for many years, and I was looking for an opportunity to study these and other sustainability topics, in greater depth. The MSSM program was a unique opportunity to fulfill my wide-ranging interests due to the interdisciplinary nature of the courses. I was also attracted to the potential for access to resources, professors, and experts at both Columbia University and the Earth Institute.

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

I believe almost all organizations can benefit from sustainability initiatives, as it can lead to operational improvements, cost savings, and increased resilience. As such, I hope to work as a sustainability manager within an organization, driving sustainability programs forward through energy efficiency projects, behavior change, waste reduction and resource optimization.

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

Climate change is perhaps the most inescapable sustainability challenge that transcends all industries, geographies, cultures, and levels of affluence. No matter where you are or what your line of business is, the effects of climate change will manage to impact you directly or indirectly, over time. It is a daunting prospect, trying to halt and/or reverse climate change, but the more work we do to manage and mitigate this challenge, and the more businesses incorporate the threats into their long-term strategies, the better our global society will fare.

4. How have you applied what you’ve learned in the program so far?

Last summer I worked as an EDF Climate Corps fellow with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles. The overarching goal was to make a business case for energy efficiency by demonstrating costs savings through various projects. In order to successfully complete the fellowship, I drew upon a myriad of skills I learned from the MSSM program. These included quantitative skills to calculate energy savings, financial skills to calculate the net present value of specific projects, and project management skills to meet performance criteria, project deadlines, and deliver a well-received final report and presentation.

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

My favorite class in the MSSM program is definitely Analysis for Energy Efficiency taught by Professor Luke Falk. The weekly quantitative problem sets were great learning exercises since they required the calculation and manipulation of raw data. Our midterm projects were also fun, yet challenging, as we were required to complete an energy efficiency profile of an existing building with actual utility bills. I chose to focus on the Jersey City Public Library building, which is over 100 years old. It ended up being a fascinating profile, especially since the library was closed for several weeks following storm damage from Hurricane Sandy.

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

A wonderful aspect of the MSSM program is the highly varied backgrounds of all of the students. It is not unusual for project groups to consist of full-time working professionals with 15+ years of experience, and full-time students enrolling immediately following their undergraduate degree. This makes for exciting dynamics and discussions in the classroom, and I have learned to be a better manager and employee, through these diverse collaborations. I have also developed a deep professional and personal network along the way, and have made wonderful lifetime friendships.

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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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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