State of the Planet

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Marly Isler: From International Sailor to Environmentalist

mary isler
MS in Sustainability Management Student Marly Isler

By Danni Zhou

Marly Isler (Class of ’20SPS, Sustainability Management) previously graduated from Yale University in 2016 and was a member of the U.S. Olympic Sailing Development team. Prior to graduate school, she studied architecture and environmental studies in college and managed the sustainability program at Latham & Watkins law firm. Her role involved targeting procurement and energy-efficiency initiatives for the firm’s thirty-three global offices. Isler plans to graduate from the Sustainability Management program at Columbia University in 2020.

What interests you the most about the field of sustainability management?

As professor George Sarrinikolaou mentioned in the course Introduction to Sustainability Management, “Sustainability is a process, not an endpoint.” It can be disheartening at times to think about our impact on the environment and global climate predictions. However, since sustainability is a process, there’s always a conceivable improvement to environmental issues. Studying the steps that corporations can take to ameliorate these problems makes me optimistic.

What initially attracted you to the Sustainability Management program at Columbia University?

While working as the sustainability program coordinator at Latham & Watkins, I frequently crossed paths with graduates of the SUMA program. It piqued my interest that Columbia offered a full master’s program uniquely dedicated to the study of sustainability from a managerial perspective. However, it wasn’t until embarking on a long-distance sailboat race that I decided to rethink my intended path to law school. I was racing off the coast of California and the start of the race just happened to be the day after Valentine’s Day. As we passed behind the Channel Islands, I was perturbed to see the amount of plastic floating on the surface of the water — much of the waste being holiday-themed Mylar balloons. At that point, I knew I wanted to make a more meaningful impact on global sustainability and desired a graduate program to refine the tangible skills required to achieve this goal.

What type of skills have you been able to build and improve on through the program?

During my undergraduate studies at Yale University, I focused on green architecture and sustainable urban design. Through my master’s program, I want to develop a wider base of knowledge in corporate sustainability. I have taken classes on financial analysis and product lifecycle research and am consistently surprised by the breadth of graduate coursework offered each semester. A highlight of the program has been the exposure to my fellow students who are intellectually curious and challenge me to think critically about environmentalism.

So far, what has been the most memorable experience you’ve had at Columbia?

In the fall, I attended a fascinating panel on the building blocks of a circular economy. I was initially skeptical that this concept could serve as a viable business strategy, but one of the panelists, Stephanie Kersten-Johnston, highlighted instances where this was the case. Her insights into the topic from a corporate standpoint compelled me to register for her SUMA program seminar the following semester.

Danni Zhou is a content specialist at the School of Professional Studies and M.S. Graduate Student, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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 our website to learn more.

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