Alumni Spotlight: Sustainability Management Alumnus, Mark Wolf - Career and Executive Coach, CEO
Sustainability Management alumnus Mark D. Wolf is a career and executive coach, CEO of LavaFish Advisors (a sustainability consultancy), successful career changer and the Founder and Co-Chair of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) NYC chapter. He was recently awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from ISSP Global, the largest global professional association for leaders across the sustainability sector, recognizing his leadership in building the premier chapter in New York City.
Mark has professional experience within the Fortune 500 company ecosystem from highly technical and regulated industries to newly emerging verticals. He has coached and mentored both experienced and emerging sustainability professionals in addition to working one on one with executives. Mark previously led teams at Guardian, Castrol, Verizon Wireless and Prudential Financial; worked in ad agencies (Y&R, Ogilvy, Saatchi & Saatchi), and was a social worker prior to that.
He has been published in the Journal of Sustainable Banking and Finance and in the Association of National Advertisers Magazine. Mark is also a co-author of the book Thriving in the New Business Environment – Why the Strategic Supply Chain Matters.
What drew you to the MS in Sustainability Management?
After decades of highly successful work, I realized that something big was missing. I felt unfulfilled, empty, frustrated. I found myself wondering if my existence really mattered. The pivotal moment came the day after I buried my father, a highly regarded psychotherapist, and Columbia Alum. A former patient told me:
“Your father was instrumental in the transformation and illumination of my life!”
His tribute quite literally shook me to the core. It triggered a burning question, “what is MY legacy? How will I make an impact?”
Shortly after this, I left my corporate position as the market research & strategy officer in a Fortune 500 company and took a year to contemplate what really matters. During that year, I took a look at what was important to me outside of my career.
What I found was that I was always active outside of my job – e.g., citizen advocacy, serving professional organizations, buying a Honda Civic Hybrid in 2003, and empowering others around me to modify their behavior towards waste.
This led me to the realization that my whole life has been about service to others, contribution to communities and caring for the environment.
Interestingly, in the prior three years, I had only one item hanging on my fridge door: the original ad for the SUMA Program from The New York Times. After attending an information session led by Dr. Steve Cohen, I realized SUMA met these needs and I applied, enrolled, served on the SUMASA board, and graduated in 2014.
What do you think was the most beneficial aspect of the SUMA program with regard to your career goals?
Many things stand out from my education: the opportunity to gain perspective from students who came from 90 countries around the world to my ‘backyard’ of NYC; the educators who are practicing professionals; and the international, national, and local experts who spoke on campus and in class.
I also identified a void in professional development while in the program that I felt compelled to address—there was no single identifiable professional organization beyond LEED for sustainability professional development and connection.
Shortly after graduation I founded, and currently co-Lead, the NYC Chapter of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals; currently providing industry credentials through LEED. Since the founding, we have created over 50 events covering a wide swath of key sustainability and professional development topics through a volunteer led, bootstrapped non-profit.
What skills did you acquire through the program? Have you been able to apply these beyond the classroom?
As I embarked on my encore career, the most important skill was learning the language of sustainability. This allowed me to integrate highly developed (Fortune 500) strategic, leadership, analytical, facilitation, coaching, research, and organizational skills into a consulting and coaching practice.
As part of my current practice, I offer career coaching for experienced professionals, with or without a certificate, degree, or prior sustainability experience, who have 10-25 years of professional experience. More information on the next Sustainability Career Program starting September 21 can be found at www.sustainabilitycareercoach.com.
What do you think is the most important sustainability/environmental policy challenge?
The climate emergency is our most important challenge. The science has been telling us since the 1970’s that our current challenges were from human behavior and provided a roadmap for many actions that needed to occur. Many did not listen, or preferred to kick the can down the road for someone else to resolve; the action(s) necessary to meaningfully address the climate emergency require hard policy decisions.
Lolo (CC ‘24) is a sophomore planning to study architecture and sustainable development. On campus, she is the Columbia EcoReps Co-Communications Chair and acts as Program Liaison for the Morocco program of Columbia’s Engineers Without Borders chapter. She also participates in Design for America, a human-centered design organization, and volunteers with Artists Reaching Out.