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Engaging Sustainability Initiatives in Schools

Current MS in Sustainability Management Student Jordan Chan
Current MS in Sustainability Management Student Jordan Chan

Master of Science in Sustainability Management student Jordan Chan knows that professionals involved in sustainability are passionate about what they do. She suggests reaching out to companies and people in positions of interest for an informational interview. That’s actually how she landed a job at PepsiCo, where she is responsible for developing programs for colleges and universities to assist schools advance their sustainability goals.

1. What is your current job and what are your responsibilities?
I currently work for PepsiCo in the PepsiCo Recycling Program. I am responsible for developing programs for colleges and universities to assist schools advance their sustainability goals through their beverage contract with Pepsi.

2. What drew you to the Masters of Science in Sustainability Management Program?
After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a bachelor’s of science in Environmental Science and a minor in Building Construction Technology, I knew I wanted to further advance my academic background and concentrate on sustainability. I was initially attracted to the program because of its integrated approach to sustainability management, including the five content areas and correlating courses covering a diverse set of sustainability topics.

3. What inspired you to work in sustainability?
My initial to exposure to sustainability was through my undergraduate coursework. More specifically, through learning about the complex impacts of climate change. As I became more involved in campus sustainability initiatives, seeing the impact of projects and the ability to influence change even on a small scale was really inspiring. Through proposing and implementing projects on campus and collaborating with my peers, I became passionate about learning and developing sustainability projects. Additionally, all the people I have met through my academic and professional career share the same passion and enthusiasm for sustainability in their personal and professional life.

4. What has been the biggest sustainability challenge you have faced in your current position?
Although this applies more broadly to sustainability positions in general – a major challenge is garnering initial approval and support for sustainability ideas, projects, or programs. Sometimes sustainability initiatives can be perceived as a risk, that schools or companies may be reluctant to pursue. However, I have learned that commitment to the project coupled with identifying an appropriate strategy may help overcome the initial challenge.

5. What has been you biggest accomplishment associated with sustainability in your current position?
At PepsiCo, my biggest accomplishment associated with sustainability is developing and implementing a pilot tailgate recycling program for collegiate athletics. In professional athletics, we partnered with BASF and the Jets to implement a tailgate recycling pilot at MetLife Stadium. Our initial pilot phase of the program is complete, and we are currently in the process of developing additional programs to enable Pepsi colleges and universities achieve drive recycling rates and engage in sustainability initiatives.

6. What is an example of you have applied something specific you learned in the program thus far to your job?
A critical skill from the program I have applied to my job is the importance of effectively and concisely communicate sustainability to a broad range of audiences. This is particularly relevant in corporate sustainability, as many high level managers may not have a background or knowledge in specific aspects of sustainability. Additionally, I have focused on metrics as an important indicator necessary to evaluate the progress and success of the programs I am working on.

7. What is your favorite class in the MSSM program so far and why?
Every course I have taken in the program has provided me with interesting and relevant learning so it’s difficult to choose. However, I think my favorite class so far is Corporate Sustainability Reporting and Strategy. This course provides guidance on developing a corporate sustainability strategy and reporting principles that align with the Global Reporting Initiative, as well as provide us with the opportunity to develop a sustainability report. This course is particularly applicable to my work with PepsiCo and my future career goals, where I want to assist corporations develop and achieve their sustainability goals.

8. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MSSM program in furthering your career?
The Masters of Science in Sustainability Management degree will undoubtedly be an asset as I further my career in sustainability. My experiences in my coursework and my peers continue to provide me with new knowledge and ideas. The courses and experiences will allow me to grow and integrate these learning into my future career, while providing me with a valuable set of skills essential to advancing my career.

9. What tips do you have for your fellow students who are looking for a job in sustainability?
Explore as many areas as possible within sustainability! Sustainability is a constantly evolving sector. Determine what your passion or focus is, whether it be sustainably managing waste, buildings, energy, policy, equality, etc. and explore opportunities that align with your interests. Don’t be afraid to reach out to companies and people in positions of interest for an informational interview. That’s actually how I landed my job at PepsiCo. Sustainability provides the unique opportunity to extend beyond company boundaries to achieve a common sustainability goals. That being said, the people involved in sustainability are passionate about their career, and most likely be willing to speak with you.

10. What do you think is the most beneficial aspect of the MSSM program with regard to your career?
There are many benefits of the MSSM program, but I think the network of connections and relationships with peers and professors are extremely beneficial. The MSSM program is comprised of many people from diverse academic and professional backgrounds that offer valuable perspectives in both courses and in a professional capacity. Additionally, my peers have provided me with insight into potential sustainability career opportunities that I would not have known or considered. The other beneficial aspect is the programs specific focus on sustainability management in the title of the degree. That is a valuable asset that differentiates the students from other programs or degrees.

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.

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Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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