SUMANI Trendster Blog: Interview with Marina Dirks of S&C North America

Marina Dirks, the Principal at S&C North America, a corporate responsibility and sustainability consulting firm, spoke with SUMANI’s Aksheya Chandar about her experience getting to her esteemed position and her perspective on corporate sustainability at large.

Hi Marina, thanks so much for your time today. Why don’t we start off by you telling us a little about yourself and your background?

I grew up in Germany and at some point decided that I wanted to pursue an education in business and economics and quickly got interested in sustainability. I started in 2005, at a time when very limited standardized sustainability management education, like what you guys have, existed. For example, you could study environmental engineering, but it lacked the management perspective. I studied business and economics, and within that field, I tried to do things that have to do with sustainability. While trying to build my business background, I did internships in accounting and business development and worked with multi-national corporations (MNCs). I also tried to apply for scholarships and competitions in the field of sustainability and did an internship with the United Nations. I wrote my thesis on global governance – specifically, about public-private partnerships with the UN. I basically was forced to find creative ways to bring sustainability into my studies since there were no programs on sustainability management offered back then.

Was there a specific area of interest within the broad realm of sustainability?

I think in the end it’s all closely linked, but I was mostly interested in the management perspective of sustainability: How do you shape your business strategy and make your product portfolio to be more sustainable? Basically, general questions which one learns at the business school, from a sustainability angle. I think one of the first theories I learned about within sustainability was Porter’s value chain analysis (Strategy and Society: The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility, 2006) which talks about how to incorporate sustainability into the core business of a firm, instead of only adding corporate citizenship activities on the side. Another paper addressing the sustainability of a company’s business model that I worked with during my studies is Marketing Myopia by Theodore Levitt. It looks at long-term market trends and looks at how business models might get outdated over time. I find this very relevant for sustainability because I feel it encompasses the environmental, social, and governance aspects of a business and calls for ideas on how to make a business more sustainable. I am very passionate about looking at sustainability from a business perspective. Continue reading “SUMANI Trendster Blog: Interview with Marina Dirks of S&C North America”

SUMANI Trendster Blog: Editor’s Note III

Since a particular day in early November, my classmates and I have wondered (or lamented) aloud how we will move forward with our sustainable efforts while the Federal Government tries to tear them down.

Just last week, budget proposals were abuzz and one, in particular, was decried as… misguided (a mild synonym for many other adjectives I heard). Earth Institute Director Steven Cohen stated it clearly in his Huffington Post spot from last Monday.

While cuts to the EPA and research programs housed at universities like Columbia would reduce funding to important studies, I am confident in the ability of my classmates and my own abilities to develop a free market that will drive sustainability.

Continue reading “SUMANI Trendster Blog: Editor’s Note III”

SUMANI Trendster Blog: Smart Receipts and Sustainable Shopping

What if, with every purchase you made, you got a receipt indicating not just the price you paid, but the energy that was used to get that product to you? Chirayu Belthur, senior analyst at Ugam Solutions, in conjunction with SUMANI’s own Aksheya Chandar, briefs us on an emerging concept in retail analytics.

On her way back from work at a consulting firm in New York City, Lisa decides to swing by the nearby Walmart in North Bergen to pick up groceries for the family as well as cup of yogurt on the go. She swipes her credit card for $48 and heads on home, happy that she was able to make the most of the everyday low price deals. But does $48 account for everything Lisa and her family have consumed?

Continue reading “SUMANI Trendster Blog: Smart Receipts and Sustainable Shopping”

SUMANI Trendster Blog: Big Data and Sustainability

Decision Scientist and current SUMA student Aksheya Chandar sheds light on the connection between massive data sets and sustainable development in business and beyond.

Sustainability entails decisions that are socially, environmentally and economically equitable. This isn’t a new concept, but rather a different way of approaching traditional decision making at the residential, commercial, industrial, and political levels. Once we are able to appreciate this fact, it naturally follows that information is critical to enabling sustainability in the same way it has traditionally been used for decision-making. The question then is- what information is required for sustainable development and where is it available?

Continue reading “SUMANI Trendster Blog: Big Data and Sustainability”

SUMANI Trendster Blog: Editor’s Note II

To SUMANI Readers

My first year of college, I was so bewildered by the madness of finals that I walked into an Anthropology final after having reviewed my English Literature notes all morning. As it turns out, few bridges can be built between Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure and technical explanations of Genus Homo.

Continue reading “SUMANI Trendster Blog: Editor’s Note II”

Messages from our Alumni

From outgoing SUMANI President, Avantika Goswami’16

In my role on the SUMANI Board, some of my main duties were 1) strategizing and planning with the team for each semester (Spring/Summer/Fall), 2) playing an active role in taking key ideas to varied stakeholders (at the Earth Institute, Net Impact, other Columbia bodies and beyond to develop mutually beneficial partnerships, 3) coordinating the Board’s activities and ensuring that our initiatives are moving along as planned, being communicated widely and given sufficient visibility.

This 12-month experience has been special to me for many reasons. Continue reading “Messages from our Alumni”

SUMANI Trendster Blog: Interview with James Robinson of GI Energy

James Robinson spoke with SUMANI about his road to and through the MS Sustainability Management Program at Columbia and how it has helped him in his current role at GI Energy, and his blog can be read here.

What is your academic/professional background?

I graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2010 after completing a 5 year bachelor’s/master’s degree in Chemical Engineering and Environmental Engineering.  My focus was on water and wastewater treatment.  After graduation, I moved down to North Carolina and worked briefly for the EPA as a pre-doctorate fellow.  I decided that the academic life wasn’t for me, so I changed jobs and worked for almost 3 years for a startup in the wastewater treatment equipment supply business, Entex Technologies.

Continue reading “SUMANI Trendster Blog: Interview with James Robinson of GI Energy”

SUMANI Trendster Blog: Editor’s Note I

To SUMANI Readers

Last week, SUMANI hosted David McConville of the Buckminster Fuller Institute on campus for a workshop in Systems Thinking. It was an enlightening and evocative two hours that reminded us of how far human scientific knowledge has advanced, but also how far off it still is from answering our questions to the big, global issues that challenge us.

This morning, Earth Institute Executive Director, Steve Cohen, addressed the pressing need for movement on climate change adaption in his blog on the Huffington Post.

In this time of midterms, holiday season anxiety creep, changing weather, and the last tortuous weeks of a hellish U.S. Election, it’s normal to rub one’s eyes and pull one’s hair, hit the snooze button and surrender. Continue reading “SUMANI Trendster Blog: Editor’s Note I”

SUMANI Trendster Blog: A Push for a Sustainable Aviation Industry

President of Alternative Aviation Fuels, LLC and SUMA Student, Michel Delafontaine, writes about the latest international movement on sustainability in a growing market: commercial aviation.

In 2008, the European Commission initiated an emission trading system (EU ETS) for the 28 EU members plus Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway[1].

The initiative would impose the ETS to all flights originating in or landing in the European Economic Area, legislation that applied to EU and non-EU airlines alike. This regulation was rejected by non-EU members and the EU had to suspend the ETS in 2012 to allow for the international community to negotiate a new agreement.

After years of international haggling, the new agreement was recently passed.

Continue reading “SUMANI Trendster Blog: A Push for a Sustainable Aviation Industry”