State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

The Challenging Question: What is Sustainable Development?

By Chandler Precht

Yvonne Vogt is an alumnSDEV_Yvonne.pnga of the Undergraduate Sustainable Development Program.

What is your employment status and title at this time? How long have you been in the position?
I have been working at EcoVadis in their supplier engagement team since February of 2015. EcoVadis is a sustainability-rating agency for global supply chains that evaluates and monitors companies on their environmental, social, and ethical performance. The EcoVadis platform allows enterprises to monitor the corporate social responsibility practices of their suppliers throughout their entire supply chain by inviting them to participate in a corporate social responsibility assessment, which is in turn evaluated and given a rating that can be used to determine the company’s sustainability performance.

How did you find your current position/program? What resources/methods did you find most useful?
I found my current position by looking through When I was job hunting, I filtered by “sustainability” and “New York City” and an advertisement for this position came up. I used other databases and networked with different contacts during the job search, but ultimately I found this job just through Indeed.

What do you enjoy the most and what do you find the most challenging in your current position/program?
Since I am working in supplier engagement, I mainly focus on outreach and engagement with the suppliers who are going through the EcoVadis assessment. As we evaluate companies from hundreds of industries worldwide, I have the opportunity to speak with many different people about corporate social responsibility and sustainability. It is interesting to hear different people’s perspectives on these issues, and a big portion of my time is spent figuring out different ways to speak about these topics in a way that is both engaging and understandable.

Ever since I started studying sustainable development, the big question has always been how to define and speak about it. I have come to notice more and more how important this question is as I spend my days conversing with different people on the topic. While this is the most enjoyable part of my job, it is also the most challenging. Everyday I am faced with a different person who will have another perspective on these issues, and I have to figure out different ways to engage them. I believe that having the ability to communicate with people around the world who have completely distinct perspectives is a very important skill to have.

Are you able to utilize any skills/knowledge from the program in your day-to-day activities?
The sustainable development major allowed me to take courses in many different fields of study, which I believe gave me a good basis of understanding. Day-to-day I use my general knowledge on sustainability topics in order to be better equipped to explain them to the suppliers with whom I am speaking.

What courses in the program have most useful to you professionally?
The course that was the most useful to me professionally was the Practicum in Innovative Sustainability Leadership, because this class gave me an excellent overview of all of the different potential sustainability professions, and it was extremely useful when I started looking for jobs. I greatly enjoyed the guest speakers and having the opportunity to not only hear about their experiences but have the platform to ask them questions and discuss with them as well.

What was your favorite course in the program, and why?
My favorite course in the program was Professor Becker’s GIS class—he was an excellent professor who was extremely passionate about his students and his job. Not only did he make the class extremely engaging and interesting, but he made it easy to learn for even the most non-tech-saavy students in the class (such as myself, and I somehow even managed to become a TA for his class!). While I do not use this skill in my current job, it was great to have the opportunity to take a course that required practical application.

What post-graduation advice would you give students in the program?
One of the things that worried me when I graduated from school was that I did not have a set path. A lot of my friends had jobs that were lined up before they even graduated: two-year programs that led to promotions, or tracks that led to graduate school, etc. What I noticed in the sustainability field, and from speaking with people who have jobs related to sustainability, is that there is no direct path. My best advice is to look for jobs within the field that will help you build a certain skill set, and from there you can keep growing and eventually the path will thread together and it will seem to have been something that you planned all along (even if you didn’t).

Columbia’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development is an interdisciplinary program that addresses sustainable development through an understanding in the interaction between natural and social systems, offered through The Earth Institute in partnership with Columbia College and the School of General Studies. Participating departments and schools of the sustainable development major and special concentration include the Department of Earth and Environmental Biology; the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering; the School of International and Public Affairs and the Mailman School of Public Health.

To learn more about the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development, visit our website or contact Program Manager Jessica Sotomayor at

Chandler Precht is an intern for the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute. She is an undergraduate student at Barnard College.

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