State of the Planet

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Alum Focuses on Future of Sustainability Technology & Climate Resilience

M.S. in Sustainability Management alumnus Gregory Falco ('12)
M.S. in Sustainability Management alumnus Gregory Falco (’12)

Gregory Falco, an alumnus of the first graduating class of Master of Science in Sustainability Management (MSSM) program, recently published a paper, entitled Climate Resilience Goes Digital, illustrating cutting-edge concepts on the future of digital climate resilience, which he hopes will transform the sustainability industry. Prior to attending the MSSM program, Greg was a sustainability strategist at Accenture; but upon the completion of his degree, he was promoted to become one of the youngest executives at Accenture at the age of 24. He hopes to continue to be part of the solution where sustainability goals are met through the strategic use of digital technologies.

1. What is your current job and what are the responsibilities associated with your position? 

I am Accenture’s climate resilience offering lead in our Strategy & Sustainability practice. My responsibilities range from developing intelligent city strategies to working with small, sustainable cotton non-profits on market entry due diligence. My role also involves finding solutions to problems that do not yet exist. This is most challenging – helping my clients stay ahead of the curve.

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

As part of the first admitted class to the MSSM program, I was drawn by the research power and reputation of the Earth Institute. While I already was a sustainability strategist at Accenture upon entering the program, MSSM has been a substantial force in accelerating my career to my current role as the climate resilience offering lead.

3. What inspired you to work in sustainability? 

My inspiration to work in sustainability came from my drive to solve tough problems. Sustainability is far from easy to achieve as an organization, with challenges on every corner, ranging from stakeholder management to cost efficiency. Despite these barriers, there is no reason why all organizations cannot strive for profitability through sustainability. I wanted to be part of this solution.

4. What has been your biggest challenge associated with sustainability in your current position?

Cost. Cost. Cost. It’s no secret across the sustainability field. Helping our clients see past the short-term expenses to the bigger picture is the greatest challenge we face. When it’s not a matter of cost, it’s a stakeholder engagement issue. Finding the stakeholder to sign off on sustainability projects is very challenging, considering the fact that sustainability managers often hold no budget to actually drive organizational change – they are strong advocates for it, but lack a P&L (profit and loss structure).

5. What has been your biggest accomplishment associated with sustainability in your current position?

While I was certainly proud to become one of the youngest executives at Accenture with my promotion upon the completion of my MSSM degree, my greatest achievements are less personal. One such accomplishment was our work evolving the City of Seattle to become a “smart,” data-enabled city with Microsoft, Seattle City Light and the Seattle 2030 District. Also, I established the “Analyst Army,” which is a group of over 120 analysts and consultants with an interest in sustainability. Bi-weekly my colleagues and I teach the army new sustainability skills, concepts and technology. In doing so, we have substantially scaled the support capabilities of our Sustainability Services team while we simultaneously raise sustainability awareness.

6. What is an example of how you have applied something specific you have learned in the program thus far to your job?

My recent work in climate resilience has entirely been an offshoot of my studies at Columbia. For my capstone, my team authored a paper on Climate Change Adaptation for the Port Authority of NY & NJ. The intensive research for this project enabled me to build out Accenture’s thinking on the future of climate resilience. Our recent papers raise bleeding edge concepts in climate resilience that can help transform the industry. They are entitled Climate Resilience Goes Digital: Using digital strategies to manage risk, and Driving Climate Resilience Through Carbon Mitigation: CDP Canada 200 Climate Change Report 2014.

7. How do you see the sustainability field changing in the coming years?

For sustainability to maintain relevance and be pervasive throughout an organization, we, as sustainability advocates, must find ways to digitize sustainability. Organizations continue to invest heavily in IT infrastructure and we need to continue highlighting the synergies between digital and sustainability. As I describe in Climate Resilience Goes Digital, organizations are already achieving their sustainability goals through the use of digital technologies such as mobile applications, cloud computing and big data analytics. The key is to connect the dots between sustainability goals and digital business requirements. This will help drive sustainability investment in the years ahead.

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

As I mentioned earlier, the MSSM program has already done quite a bit to further my career; however, I have no doubt the MSSM degree will continue doing so. The MSSM program provided me with two long-term benefits: a strong foundation in sustainability levers for organizational efficiency and an incredible, close-knit network of stellar thinkers and doers in diverse fields. I will be able to leverage both benefits regardless of where I end up.

9. What tips do you have for your fellow students who are looking for a job in sustainability?

Stop looking for a pre-existing job in sustainability – go create your own! I mean this from both an intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial perspective. The secret to finding an awesome job in sustainability is to find roles not called “sustainability.” Organizations vacillate on their perspective on the importance of and funding behind sustainability departments; yet consistent sustainability impact is made in organizations outside of the sustainability group. The best jobs to look for if you desire a career in sustainability is in the fields of operational efficiency, supply chain management or facilities. These areas require sustainability-minded people to help drive organizational change.

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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