About 30 of New York’s sustainability practitioners and 100 Columbia students gathered at the Columbia Club earlier this semester, for an evening of discussion about the real-world work of sustainability.
The gathering marked the fourth installment of the annual Sustainability Careers Reception, an Earth Institute event meant to give students access to professionals in the region. Students and guests sat at round tables discussing sustainability, the skills that it takes to do the job well, and career opportunities in the field, with the practitioners changing tables every 15 minutes in the first hour of the event. The evening ended with a reception that gave participants an opportunity to continue the discussions.
For students who pursue sustainability careers, the interactions with practitioners are invaluable. The discussions involve everything from practical advice about resumes to strategies about how to persuade organizations to integrate sustainability concerns in their organizations. “This event was useful for us to move away from theory and get first-hand accounts of how people in the field are applying principles of environmental sustainability in their specific job contexts,” said Anastastia Gordon, a student in the M.P.A. in Environmental Science and Policy program.
The Sustainability Careers Reception represented the culmination of three months of work, as students worked with Earth Institute staff to identify and invite professionals from whom students wanted to learn. The event has grown from 15 professionals in 2016 to more than 30 in each of the past two years. To ensure that the guest list represents student interests, a group of student volunteers from various academic programs is responsible for identifying the invitees and reaching out to them. The practitioners who have attended have come from the fields of sustainable finance, corporate sustainability, urban sustainability and resiliency, conservation, energy management, and sustainability consulting, and they have included representatives of the public, private, and non-profit sectors.
The list of public sector organizations has included the New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services Division of Energy Management and the New York City Department of Transportation. Private sector professionals have attended from firms such as Unilever, ICF International, Macy’s, PVH, Estée Lauder, Siemens and J. Crew. The nonprofit sector has been well represented by organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, CDP, 100 Resilient Cities, and the Environmental Defense Fund.
This year’s event was attended by 100 students from four academic programs: the M.S. in Sustainability Management, M.S. in Sustainability Science, M.P.A. in Environmental Science and Policy, and the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development. The Careers Reception is held at the Columbia University Club of New York in Midtown, a convenient location for guests who work in Manhattan.
The Earth Institute Professional Development Program offers students resources and programs that supplement the career services in their respective schools. The program includes skill-building seminars, networking opportunities, and tools that, together, better prepare students to pursue job opportunities in sustainability.
[All photos by Sydney Proffitt]