SkillSpeak Series #7: Professor Jeffrey Potent

The following interview is a part of SkillSpeak, a series of short interviews with SUMA professors, where they share bits of wisdom and knowledge, advising on skills that are crucial for a successful career in sustainability. This week we have Jeffrey Potent who teaches courses on sustainable agriculture and systems thinking. This interview was conducted by Khyati Thakkar, SUMANI Events Director.

Name: Jeffrey Potent

Academic Background: Master’s degree in public policy, with a focus on environmental and energy policy, New School University

Current Professional Title: Adjunct professor, Columbia University School of International and Public Administration and the Columbia University Earth Institute

What field within the sustainability realm do you work in?

My focus areas include corporate and agricultural sustainability.

What skills have you leveraged on so far, to expand your presence in your field of sustainability?

I have a diverse background in government (federal, state and local), business (small business and corporate) and academia (with faculty positions at Columbia, Cornell and Rutgers Universities). Within these organizations, I have been charged to address a multiplicity of environmental and sustainability issues and craft an array of management approaches. Each experience not only served to increase my understanding of the topic at hand, but also has helped me to embrace a systems perspective, wherein I have gained the capacity to understand dynamic interactions among individuals, organizations and the natural systems within which we all function.  It has also helped me to perceive that most of the environmental and social problems that we face as a society have resulted from a lack of understanding and appreciation of the ultimate interrelatedness and interdependency of all things within the biosphere.

What are some of the most relevant skill-building opportunities offered by the SUMA program?

While my Columbia course offerings are outside of the SUMA program, I have learned from my SUMA students and my faculty colleagues teaching within the SUMA program that a key element of the SUMA curriculum is the integration of sustainable development understanding and skills with practical management systems and practices.

What skills would you advise a future SUMA graduate to develop in order to build credibility within your field of sustainability?

While it is critical to understand the underpinnings and elements of sustainable development as related to the private, public and civil society sectors, it is equally important to understand the unique decision making processes and management tools employed by these varied sectors. For example, in business, effectively advancing corporate sustainability requires an understanding of finance, marketing, supply chain management, operations, etc. so that sustainability strategies and initiatives can effectively advance business objectives, while achieving beneficial environmental and social outcomes. This integration is the essence of corporate sustainability and marks the distinction between this approach and earlier efforts to encourage businesses to embrace environmental and social initiatives as elements of corporate philanthropy. For corporate sustainability to succeed as an effective instrument of change, it must become a core business issue.

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