Curtis Probst, a managing director at the Rocky Mountain Institute, teaches Financing the Green Economy to Columbia University graduate students, including those in the Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy and Sustainability Management programs. An alumnus of the MPA-ESP program, Curtis leads Rocky Mountain Institute’s sustainable finance practice, where he focuses on the rigorous and innovative application of finance to a broad range of energy and sustainability issues. His past experience is in investment banking as a former managing director at Goldman Sachs and vice president at Salomon Brothers. ESP intern Brian Hong interviewed Curtis to learn more about his educational and professional experiences.
What prompted you to focus on sustainable finance?
Protecting the environment is very important to me, while at the same time, I believe that the transition to a more sustainable economy also represents a tremendous business opportunity. Sustainable finance is a discipline that captures both these two perspectives.
What attracted you to the MPA ESP program?
I was very attracted to a program that covered the critical science underlying environmental issues, in addition to the relevant policy and management issues themselves.
What did you gain from the MPA ESP program that has helped you in your career?
First, I learned about a wide range of topics relevant to a sustainable economy from some of the leading scientists and practitioners in the world. Second, I developed a large network of professionals working in the field. Third, I completed consulting and research projects that allowed me to explore certain issues in depth. Fourth, I was able to do all this while being in New York, which is home to many leading organizations in this field across NGOs, the private sector and the public sector.
Where do you see the sustainable finance sector going in the next five years?
I believe we are still early in the transition to a more sustainable energy economy. While renewables and energy efficiency have made important inroads, the major consumers of energy, such as buildings, industry and transportation, still rely heavily on very old and inefficient technology. There will be a continual need for new business models and financial instruments to ensure that capital is available to fund new opportunities to support a sustainable economy.
What do you believe is the greatest benefit that the MPA ESP program has to offer its students?
I think the cohort model is very effective in teaching an emerging, multidisciplinary field like sustainability. Students work together closely, whether their backgrounds are in consulting, entrepreneurship, finance, policy, regulation, science or otherwise. That range of perspectives makes for lively discussion, and reflects the actual practice of sustainability where teams are normally comprised of individuals from different backgrounds and functional areas.