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How the Sustainability Management Program Has Evolved During Its First 10 Years

sustainability management program 10 year anniversary logoFor the last decade, Columbia University’s MS in Sustainability Management (SUMA) program has employed a multidisciplinary approach to train a new generation of managers with the skills needed to implement sustainability management values within organizations, teams, communities, and governments as they work to bring sustainable solutions to scale. Drawing on the resources of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the School of Professional Studies, SUMA combines leading environmental and sustainable development research, management and policy studies, and the natural and physical sciences. The program prepares professionals to address issues of sustainability throughout organizations in order to increase efficient resource use and minimize financial loss — all while remaining uncompromising about environment outcomes.

SUMA held its first semester in Fall 2010 with just 11 course offerings, and has since evolved to offer three certificates and more than 60 original courses in five unique curriculum areas, focusing on areas of increasing interest such as urban form, fashion, and entrepreneurship.

Student interest has been a driving factor in the development of new coursework, leading to the offering of everything from our Sustainable Finance certificate to a new Fall 2020 course, Sustainable Fashion and Startup Strategy. From the beginning, the program has required only two courses, the introductory Sustainability Management course and the concluding Integrative Capstone Workshop in Sustainability Management. For the rest of their degree, students take courses in five curriculum areas that range from economics and quantitative analysis to physical dimensions to general management. This flexibility allows students to select courses that fit their preferred professional goals, and graduate with the necessary tools and skills to transform how organizations do business.

In honor of SUMA’s 10-year anniversary, here are the five curriculum areas that the program now covers. These courses show how much the program has grown and diversified over the past 10 years, and highlight future areas of development.

1) Integrative Courses in Sustainability Management

Sustainability managers need to have a very good understanding of the complex interactions between natural and social systems. Courses in this area cover everything from urban systems, gender, and ethics, to corporate sustainability, writing, and agriculture. This area also includes a capstone project in which students analyze and breakdown these interactions to address real world problems.

Courses in this area include:

2) Economics and Quantitative Analysis

In order to accommodate an increased need for professionals who understand the intersection among sustainability, economics, finance, and quantitative analysis, the program offers courses that explores these areas in different contexts and fields. Economics and finance are explored in terms of their role in sustainable development, sustainability management, sustainable investments, and economic growth; quantitative analysis, on the other hand, is explored through modeling, statistics, data analysis tools, and project development.

The economics requirement reflects the fact that sustainability managers must understand the financial costs and benefits of sustainability practice. After completing this requirement, students will have a good understanding of what sustainability means from an economic perspective, both in the traditional and broader socioeconomic sense. Similarly, the quantitative analysis requirement gives students the necessary tools to utilize data samples when analyzing a larger issue, allowing them to more efficiently determine the best way to proceed on a particular project.

Courses offered under this area include:


Quantitative Analysis

3) The Physical Dimensions of Sustainability

The M.S. in Sustainability Management is the world’s foremost master’s degree program in applied sustainability studies. Part of the program’s uniqueness stems from its requirement that students complete three courses in the physical dimensions of sustainability, which refers to the connections between environmental inputs (i.e., natural resources) and outputs (i.e., energy), and their effects on the natural environment. Training in spatial issues is particularly important, as many sustainability initiatives concern land use, buildings and other physical entities.

Courses offered under this area cover physical science, engineering, and planning, design, and architecture, and include:

4) The Public Policy of Environmental Management

Policy shapes how urban environments are managed; sustainability practitioners must be able to analyze public policy and its effects on what they are able to do. Courses offered in this area provide students with an understanding of current policy and strengthens their ability to react to future policy developments as they emerge.
Courses offered under this area include:

5) General Finance and Management

Carrying out effective sustainability initiatives requires shaping the behavior of an organization, which requires shaping organizational culture and employee behavior while being mindful of environmental changes and the challenges and opportunities these impose to the organization. Sustainability managers need skills to be able to do this effectively. This area provides students with a foundation in finance and financial models, and an understanding of how environmental commodities markets regulate polluting industries and provide incentives for encouraging desired behaviors. These courses are also a natural fit for students completing our certificate in Sustainable Finance.

Courses offered under this area include:

Looking Ahead

As the program moves into its second decade, we look forward to ensuring that students continue to learn cutting-edge policy and management tools so that they can thrive in the job market.

Celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2020, 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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