State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


New Instructors for Sustainability Management

The Master of Science in Sustainability Management (SUMA) program is pleased to welcome two new instructors to co-teach its introductory Sustainability Management course in Fall 2021. Laura Kavanagh and Wendy Hapgood bring complementary experience in management and sustainability that will give students new insights into the sustainability management field.

Headshot of Laura Kavanagh
Laura Kavanagh, First Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Fire Department

Laura Kavanagh is First Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). The First Deputy Commissioner is the second in command at the New York City Fire Department. In this role, Kavanagh is the highest-ranking woman at the FDNY, the second woman to hold this position in the Department’s history, and the youngest person ever to be appointed to this position. As First Deputy, Kavanagh oversees the day-to-day administration of the agency’s 17,000 employees and $2 billion-dollar budget. Her role includes overseeing critical units such as fleet, facilities, 911 dispatch operations, technology, data analytics, and health services.

Kavanagh has been a key leader in the agency’s response to major incidents including the Ebola outbreak of 2015 and the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, as well as spearheading key policy initiatives for the department. Kavanagh directed the firefighter recruitment campaign to yield the most diverse applicant pool in Department history, including graduating the largest and most diverse group of women in almost three decades. She also paved the way for technology innovation through the development of applications that provide situational awareness to frontline members; created a fire safety program that installed and distributed smoke alarms in the most at-risk neighborhoods; and advocates for first responders at the City, State and Federal level.

Headshot of Wendy Hapgood
Wendy Hapgood, Co-Founder and COO, Wild Tomorrow Fund

Wendy Hapgood is co-founder and COO of Wild Tomorrow Fund, a wildlife conservation non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of threatened and endangered species and the habitats they depend on for survival. Hapgood’s first career was in the capital markets where she was a Director of Sales for leading global banks. From 2008-2011 she led the electronic currency sales team at Barclays Tokyo, where she was responsible for an annual sales budget exceeding $30 million. She relocated to New York City in 2011 as a Director of Sales and was responsible for building relationships with premier clients for Barclays and Citibank. In 2015, she left the finance world to complete her Master’s Degree in Sustainability Management at Columbia University’s Earth Institute where she studied climate change science and policy, researched the intersection of poverty and rhino poaching in what turned out to be the largest ivory bust in New York State’s history, and studied new methods for financing the green economy. She now uses both her business knowledge and her environmental education to help protect our planet’s biodiversity.

Hapgood has led projects across a wide spectrum of issues from conservation to community health and technology implementation in both the public and private sectors. Projects include project managing an Alcohol Management Program for indigenous communities with the State Government in Australia, connecting Japanese stock exchanges to bank trading platforms for automated trading, contributing research to the Asset Owners Disclosure Project for the 2017 Global Climate Index Report, and researching shareholder engagement with fossil fuel companies for the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment. She was featured by Forbes magazine in 2019 as a champion of social good.

Sustainability Management is an introductory course that all students in SUMA are required to take, ideally in their first semester. The course introduces students to the field of sustainability management and provides them with a common framework and set of case studies that will inform the rest of their time in the program. It is a practical, professional course organized around the core concepts of
management and the core concepts of sustainability with specific emphasis on urban sustainability.

Kavanagh and Hapgood will apply their own unique spin on the course. We spoke with them to provide some insight into their approach.

What is your background in the field?

LK: I have almost 20 years as a manager of people and complex projects and problems. I have spent the last 7 years at the FDNY, where I oversee the day-to-day administration of the country’s largest fire department as well as complex policy issues ranging from diversity and inclusion to technology innovation.

WH: After a successful career on Wall Street, I transitioned into the world of sustainability by completing the SUMA program in 2017. At the same time as I started the program, myself and my partner launched Wild Tomorrow Fund, a wildlife conservation charity dedicated to saving our planet’s threatened wildlife and wild places. Efforts to protect and restore biodiversity also help to alleviate poverty, combat climate change and prevent the sixth mass extinction. I have first-hand experience launching a start-up organization, creating a community and generating the conservation capital needed to successfully execute our vision as an organization.

What do you plan to cover in your section of the course, and how will your approach differ from other sections?

LK: I want to help professionals develop tangible plans for implementing real solutions.

WH: As a wildlife conservationist, I will incorporate a stronger focus on the importance of biodiversity conservation and ecosystem restoration in our section of the course. Biodiversity conservation and climate change are twin interconnected crises that conspire to tip our planet over ecological tipping points that risk de-stabilizing life on Earth. Building a sustainable future in harmony with nature is critical to our long-term survival.

What do you think is important for professionals to learn about Sustainability Management?

WH: All professionals must think about the sustainability of their business practices in order to survive in the new “green economy.” It is now an essential tool of management. Businesses that are part of the old, destructive order that does not account for the environment, need to urgently innovate and move toward operational sustainability, or be left obsolete. We are living in a remarkable era in history. There is a groundswell of conscious consumers and voters whose choices matter and are driving change. Visionary entrepreneurs are enlisting scientists, economists, engineers, artists, software programmers, bitcoin miners, architects and accountants to “green” business models to innovate without leaving a trail of environmental destruction behind them.

Is there any work you are involved in currently, related to Sustainability Management?

LK: Every day! No one manages a large organization without dealing with sustainability—as they should.

WH: Yes, at Wild Tomorrow Fund my focus is on creating and restoring a wildlife corridor in a global biodiversity hotspot, fighting back against regional forces of biodiversity loss. It is a hopeful action and concept to restore and “rewild” degraded areas, bring back locally extinct species—and in doing so, reconnecting people as a part of Nature.

Are there any new trends in Sustainability Management that you’d like to highlight?

WH: The UN declared this year as the first in the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. It is exciting to see emerging discussions, international agreements and funding for the protection of habitat and creation of wildlife corridors. As an interim goal, there is a vision globally to work towards “30 by 30” with 30% of our planet’s land and oceans protected by 2030, increasing to 50% by 2050. This gives me hope for the future.

Are there any extra details you would like to share that might interest students in enrolling?

LK: I just graduated from the EMPA program at SIPA in May of 2021, including being in school at the height of the pandemic. I know what it is to be a working student, and am here not to assign work, but to help you get results solving problems.

WH: The SUMA program gave me the platform to achieve a lot of positive progress for one corner of the planet. The Sustainability Management class is a fundamental class giving an overview of all aspects of sustainability management including the practice of management itself. Being able to effectively and efficiently run an organization, manage teams, negotiate, influence public policy—these are all vitally important skills to have in your toolkit if you want to change the world!

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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