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SUMA Net Impact Turns Students Into Sustainability Consultants

By Lucy Lu 

SUMA Net Impact Board members; Mercy Diaz, Winnie Sun, Marcela Jaramillo, Vibhuti Agarwal, Vishant Kotharti, Lucy Lu.

A matchmaking program at Columbia University’s Master of Science in Sustainability Management is out to link talented and enthusiastic students with industry leaders aspiring to make a positive impact. SUMA Net Impact, part of the global Net Impact organization, shifted its model from a presentation-based student organization to a hands-on consulting hub for students and community members in Fall 2017.

Their mission is to create a space for students to work on sustainability-related pro-bono consulting projects. The objective is for students to gain experience working in the field of sustainability while also benefiting the community with faculty advisor Steve Cohen. As summer starts, the SUMA Net Impact board members will hit the ground connecting with companies and NGOs that want the opportunity to optimize their business operations to a higher sustainability target and who may lack the funds to do so. By the first week of the semester, all SUMA students are sent a link to apply for a position at on one of the committed company projects. Then the board members take meticulous care to match the project with the proper group of students by looking at work experience, passion, and time commitment. With the guidance of the board members, student groups complete the pro-bono consulting project within the length of one semester.

During the Spring 2018 semester, student members successfully partnered with four organizations to develop actionable deliverables. The projects were:

1. Columbia Environmental Stewardship – waste management strategy for Columbia University by collaborating with Office of Environmental Stewardship. Students developed a methodical approach to audit and collect data on the wastes being produced on campus. The hard work of the team members was noted in Columbia’s 2018 sustainability report.

The SUMA Net Impact team with Professor Celine Ruben-Salama, Columbia University (far left) in discussion with Gwen Miller, Land Use Director and Town Planner, Town of Lenox (center)

2. Town of Lenox – sustainability strategy for Town of Lenox, MA guided by faculty advisor Celine Solsken Ruben-Salama. Group members used the GRI framework, skilled from Corporate Sustainability Strategy and Reporting course, and their diverse backgrounds in setting up the towns debut sustainability strategy.

Set in the Berkshire County, the Town of Lenox is a vibrant community in Western Massachusetts located between the Berkshire mountains to the west and the Housatonic River to the east.

3. Elysian Brewery – solar project development and communications strategy for the craft brewery using the skills acquired from Solar Project Development course. The scope of work consisted of providing a solar feasibility study to Elysian, developing a renewable energy target and implementation plan, defining sustainability metric guidelines, and devising recommendations for a sustainability-focused marketing framework.

4. CoClear – data analysis for lifecycle assessment of products advised by SUMA alum and CEO, Sally Paridis. Students received real CDP data to analyze and visualize into charts to measure carbon intensity.

A past student member received an internship directly from the work she contributed to SUMA Net Impact.

In the Fall 2018 semester, SUMA Net Impact is working with: 1) Lenox, MA on a deeper dive into their water treatment opportunities; 2) developing a food scrap strategy in the City of Westchester, NY; 3) measuring the investment impact on a New York merger and acquisition; and 4) developing business models for rural-based clean energy entrepreneurs.

Lucy Lu is director of communication for SUMA Net Impact. 

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. Visit the 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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