Rick is retired partner/of counsel at White & Case, a global law firm. His practice focuses on U.S. environmental law and international environmental law. He represents clients in environmental litigation and advises on all aspects of environmental law and climate change issues. He is a former co-chair of the ABA International Environmental Law Committee, and since 2007 he has been adjunct professor of environmental law at Seton Hall University School of Law. He currently teaches two courses in the MSSM program.
1. Why did you choose to teach in the MSSM program?
In 2007 I began teaching environmental law as an adjunct professor at the law school level. In 2011 I was approached to teach in the MSSM program. Before accepting, I researched and made inquiries about the program and concluded that it was a unique program for training students to understand and address the complex issues of environment and sustainability management. I believed that teaching in the program would provide me an opportunity to interact with students who have a passion for protecting the environment and for whom a working knowledge of law and policy would form an important part of their ability to succeed. I have not been disappointed. Teaching in the program has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.
2. Are there any trends in the legal context of sustainability?
I currently teach two courses: Policy and Legal Context of Sustainability Management (K4720), which focuses primarily on U.S. environmental law and policy, and International Environmental Law for Sustainability Managers (K4301), which focuses on international environmental law and policy. Both U.S. environmental law and international environmental law are developing in exciting ways, but by different means. U.S. environmental law is evolving in creative ways to address environmental problems and sustainability issues of the 21st century using laws that were passed primarily in the 1970s—the only tools we currently have at hand. International environmental law continues to develop to address some of the most important global environmental problems of the 21st century, but it typically requires agreement among dozens of countries, each with its own interests. The most recent example is the Paris Agreement on Climate Change that was reached in December 2015, which was negotiated over several years and required agreement among nearly 200 countries.
3. Why do you think that environmental law and policy are important in the field of sustainability?
Environmental protection is one of the pillars of sustainability and is most often implemented through environmental law. In addition, during their career many sustainability managers will need to interact regularly with environmental lawyers. For these and other reasons, it is important that sustainability managers have a basic comprehension of environmental laws and are able to understand the language of the law.
4. What is your favorite part of your job as a professor?
Hearing students share their views on some of the important topics we discuss in class. This past semester, those included, among other things, ozone depletion, climate change, biodiversity loss, hazardous waste disposal and chemicals use. The students in this program are unique. They bring a rich diversity of experience, both professional and otherwise, that one does not often see in other programs. They also bring with them an unmatched passion for environmental protection and sustainability that is both refreshing and infectious. This combination of experience and passion provides a unique opportunity to share ideas in and outside the classroom setting. There has not yet been a semester when I have not felt that I have learned something of great importance from my students.
5. What do you think your students need to know about sustainability that they may not already be learning in the classroom?
Sustainability and how it can best be achieved will continue to develop and change as our knowledge evolves. Change will no doubt be inherent in any professional area in the 21st century, but it will be especially so in the emerging area of sustainability. Therefore, in addition to concentrating on the substance of the courses they select, students should focus on developing their research, analytical, communication and teamwork skills to allow them to adapt to the inevitable change they will face throughout their careers. Some of what a student learns today may be outdated in 10 or 15 years, but critical thinking and communication skills as well as the ability to work as an effective member of a team will never become obsolete.
6. What do you believe is the greatest benefit that the Sustainability Management program has to offer its students?
There are many great benefits of the program. One benefit that comes to mind that is not directly dependent on the classroom setting is the opportunity the program offers students to interact and network with other students who may have different backgrounds and skills but with whom they share a common interest—a passion for environmental protection and sustainability. The program provides an opportunity for students to experience these diverse points of view, to develop long-lasting friendships and professional relationships and to carry those with them throughout their future careers.
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.