Current Master of Science in Sustainability Management (MSSM) student Agustina Besada was inspired to work in sustainability because of her interest in waste management. “I always found it interesting how materials generate so much waste during their processing and transportation and knew that this system had the potential to be more efficient,” Agustina says. Agustina’s self-proclaimed “love for trash” eventually inspired her to co-found a consulting company that developed alternatives to reprocess waste that companies generate and turn it into a valuable resource in her native Argentina. Recently, Agustina finished interning at Greyston Bakery, where she measured their environmental and social impact in addition to drafting the company’s 2014 sustainability report.
1. What is your current job and what are the responsibilities associated with your position?
I recently finished a 6-month internship at Greyston Bakery, better known as the supplier of brownies to Ben & Jerry’s. My responsibilities included reviewing all sustainability aspects of the company, re-designing a scorecard to monitor performance, targets and strategies, coordinating a sustainability certification assessment (B-Corp), and writing the first draft of the Greyston Sustainability report for 2014. It was a fantastic experience that allowed me to apply skills and tools acquired in the MSSM program.
2. What is an example of how you have applied something specific you have learned in the MSSM program thus far to your job?
The data analysis skills that I learned in the program were essential for my work at Greyston. For instance, I measured all Greenhouse Gas emissions for the past three years of the company using tools I learned in courses like GHG Measurement and Minimization and Industrial Ecology. I also looked at social aspects, which are essential for a social business like Greyston, and developed indicators to measure the social performance and impact.
3. What do you think is the most important sustainability challenge?
I believe one of the biggest challenges in corporate sustainability is cross-sectional data gathering and engagement. Sustainability requires cutting across all different areas and not everybody is willing to interrupt their day-to-day work to contribute to or to change the way they work to make it more sustainable. Greyston, which became the first B-Corporation in New York State back in 2012, has always been a socially responsible company due to their Open Hiring employment practices – the company offers employment opportunities regardless of educational attainment, work history, or past social barriers.
4. What inspired you to work in sustainability?
My love for trash. I always found it interesting how materials generate so much waste during their processing and transportation and knew that this system had the potential to be more efficient .Thus, I started working at Greca, a company that uses industrial discards from the button industry as a raw material. Later, I co-founded Bulavu Laboratorio to provide innovative solutions for industrial and post-consumer waste. For instance, as part of project for a nonprofit that built homes in underdeveloped areas, we developed sustainable windows for the homes that were made out of plastic bottles. For me, this was a great way to put my classroom learning from the MSSM program into practice by having to integrate the three sustainability axes – environmental, social, and economic – on this particular project.
5. What is your favorite class in the MSSM program so far and why?
No doubt, the best course in the MSSM program has been the Capstone Project. It was the perfect experience to conclude the program. I had the opportunity to develop a project for the Buenos Aires City Government that addressed key environmental issues associated with the Liniers Cattle Market operations. We developed a comprehensive Manure Management System to prevent further pollution of a nearby river. It was a pleasure to be the Project Manager of this successful project and to work with such a professional and multidisciplinary team.
6. What do you think is the most beneficial aspect of the MSSM program with regard to your career?
I think the most beneficial aspect of the program is its flexible curriculum. It allowed me to adapt the program to my interests combining sustainability and business courses. For instance, I took courses in the Business and Engineering Schools that gave me new perspectives to sustainability issues in the corporate context. Those courses, together with MSSM courses such as Cost Benefit Analysis, Analysis for Energy Efficiency provided me with the quantitative and qualitative skills to advance sustainability effectively
7. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MSSM program in furthering your career?
I will continue to support corporations in their sustainability endeavors. I strongly believe that transitioning to a sustainable economy is essential in the long term. There are so many business opportunities for risk mitigation, savings and growth in sustainability, that any company should be able to be sustainable and profitable.
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.