Master of Science in Sustainability Management professor Marianne Lado has more than 20 years of experience working on issues of health within the civil rights context. She served for 10 years as the director of litigation and advocacy at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, a non-profit civil rights law firm that focuses on racial and ethnic disparities in access to health care, environmental justice and disability rights. She was previously a staff attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where she represented clients attempting to break barriers of access to health care and quality education. Marianne has also played a key role in the development of the National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights, a nationwide effort to address the rollback of civil rights by the courts. Marianne has lectured widely and has taught graduate and undergraduate level courses in public administration, health policy, family law and education law.
1. Why did you choose to teach at Columbia in the MSSM program?
I’ve previously taught environmental justice and other courses in the law school setting but am particularly excited to engage MSSM students on issues of environmental justice, which are critical to successful policy-making in the government settings, at NGOs and in the corporate sector. In today’s world, whether we think about the local, regional, national or even international settings, tackling sustainability requires consideration of the communities most affected by environmental degradation and ensuring that community members have meaningful opportunities to participate in decisions affecting their lives. This class takes on these tough issues from multiple perspectives.
2. What is new in the area of environmental justice?
I’ve worked as a civil rights and environmental lawyer for more than two decades and can say that this is a pivotal moment for issues of environmental justice. The Black Lives Matter movement has catapulted the relevance of race to the front of the policy agenda, and at the same time, concerns about climate change, water quality, and air pollution are ever more visible. The environmental justice movement raises both sets of concerns, focusing on issues of inequality in the environmental context based on race, national origin and class. Over the last year, we’ve also seen increasing attention to the lack of civil rights enforcement in the environmental space and the need for a radical transformation in the way we distribute environmental burdens, such as hazardous waste sites, and benefits, such as access to outdoor space.
3. What course do you teach and why do you think that it is important to the field of sustainability?
Environmental Justice: Law, Policy & Communities examines approaches to addressing the disproportionately high and adverse health and environmental effects of contamination on communities of color and low-income communities in the United States, as well as efforts to give meaning to the right of all people to participate in decisions affecting their health and environment. Nowhere are these issues more pressing than in sustainability policy. How can we as policy and decision-makers get in front of these issues and anticipate challenges? Can we transform the process for decision-making so that communities can have their voices heard? This course also provides leaders in sustainability the opportunity to learn about laws and policies affecting and structuring the field, to analyze the role of the law and policies when addressing issues of inequality, and to develop strategies and tools to leverage change.
4. What is your favorite part of your job as a professor?
I’m super-enthusiastic about teaching, so it’s hard to pick one part that’s my favorite. I enjoy the classroom experience, including the back and forth of discussion and the times when one of us has an “aha!” moment. I also enjoy the opportunity to dive into the materials as I prepare for class, as well as getting to know the students one-on-one. I’m still in touch with students from classes I taught years ago.
5. What do you think that your students need to know about sustainability that they are not learning already in the classroom?
If we all had unlimited time, perhaps each of us should take a series of courses focused on issues of power, inequality and justice. At the very least, though, this course affords the opportunity to analyze these issues in the context of the environment (including built space).
6. What kind of work are you doing now related to environmental justice?
I’m a senior staff attorney at Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm, and in that capacity have the opportunity to work on key environmental health and environmental justice issues, from civil rights compliance and enforcement in the environmental space to industrial agriculture, from the labeling of genetically modified foods to questions of confidentiality and secrecy in the chemicals industry. I work in partnership with and on behalf of community groups across the country in administrative forums and in court.
The M.S. in Sustainability Management, co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of Professional Studies, 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.