State of the Planet

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An Integrated Approach to Sustainability

Current MS in Sustainability Management Celine Lofthus Gaasrud
Celine Lofthus Gaasrud

Master of Science in Sustainability Management student Celine Lofthus Gaasrud was attracted to the opportunity to combine courses in different areas to explore sustainability challenges from a range of perspectives. One of the tools Celine has acquired while in the program is systems thinking, which she believes useful to understand the complex feedbacks and interactions inherent in many sustainability issues. Celine has a transdisciplinary degree in the social sciences and is the co-president of the student club Women & Sustainability at Columbia.

What drew you to the Master of Science in Sustainability Management?
After graduating from Jacobs University in Germany with a transdisciplinary degree in the social sciences, I wanted to focus on issues related to climate change and sustainable development. When I heard about [the program’s] integrated approach to sustainability I was immediately drawn to it. I was attracted to the opportunity of combining courses in environmental science, policy and development. This way I could combine my interests and explore sustainability challenges from a range of perspectives. Also, the Earth Institute and the work they do drew me to the program.

What is your favorite class so far and why?
It is difficult to choose just one class since they all have added something different. However, I really enjoyed The Business and Ecology of Sustainable Forestry with Ralph Schmidt. The class integrated the economics, policy and science dimensions of forestry. We discussed topics ranging from deforestation in the tropics and the role of forests in poverty alleviation to forest fires and the timber industry. The class included a thorough review of the ecology of forests, which added depth to the course—I think it is very useful to also have an underlying scientific understanding of such issues.

What do you intend to do professionally once you achieve your degree?
I hope to maintain an international perspective and work on implementing solutions to achieve sustainable development.

What do you think is the most important sustainability challenge?
I must say tackling climate change. It is a truly global problem and has far-reaching impacts on so many aspects of the Earth and human system, including health, poverty alleviation, development, the economy and biodiversity, to mention a few. Inequality is also a major, overarching challenge.

What skills and tools have you acquired through the program so far?
One tool I would like to point out is systems thinking, which aims to move beyond a purely reductionist approach in solving problems. Systems thinking is a useful tool when it comes to understanding the complex feedbacks and interactions inherent in many sustainability issues. I am currently taking a course on greenhouse gas emissions accounting, and I am excited to develop this skill further.

How have you applied what you’ve learned so far?
Last spring I did a traineeship at the Norwegian Mission to the United Nations here in New York, where I worked on international development issues. I found that seeing issues from a sustainability lens was very useful. I also applied the knowledge surrounding the processes and history of UN agreements and documents I learned from the International Environmental Law course. Last summer I worked on a small renewable energy project near Lake Victoria in Kenya, where I applied skills regarding environmental impact assessments, energy finance and renewable energy markets.

How has collaborating with your fellow students in projects in the classroom benefited you professionally or personally?
The students in the program come from diverse professional and academic backgrounds, which really adds to the discussions we have in class. I also learn from the experiences the other students bring when working in small group projects. Personally, it’s of course very inspiring to be surrounded by people that also have a passion and enthusiasm for sustainability!

Beyond the classroom, is there anything sustainability-related you have engaged in with your classmates?
I am co-president of the student club Women & Sustainability at Columbia, which aims to develop a network at Columbia for supporting and advancing female leaders in the sustainability field. We have some exciting events lined up!

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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Peter Hubbard
7 years ago

Hello Celine and Marivi,

I loved the interview and thanks so much for the great work you are doing.

I was one of the presenters at the MIT SOLVE conference in 2015 where Jeffrey Sachs spoke about the importance of organizing around the United Nations Sustainable Development goals which were passed just weeks before the MIT event. I’m a long time teacher leader in Seattle/Washington State and I was wanting to explore a possible collaboration with the Earth Institute. I am working with Camille Jones, Washington State Teacher of the Year 2016-17, around a statewide K-12 Sustainable Development Superheroes Project and we would love to connect up with others nationally and internationally. Would you understand the inner workings of the Earth Institute well enough to know who we might talk with about possibly joining forces?