Please tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?

Current Master of Science in Sustainability Management student Ajay Ranjith Vempati from the Earth Institute at Columbia University has a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Visvesvaraya Technological University and Master’s degree in Industrial Pollution control from NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY KARNATAKA (NITK), and had the privilege of working in sustainability efforts in India early in his career. Ajay strongly believes the biggest challenge is effectively communicating sustainability advantages to senior management in order to motivate action on the ground. He is on his last semester in the program and will pursue a career in the field of Agriculture and Manufacturing. As an intern at the Columbia Water Center, Ajay is working on projects that research the intersection of financial markets and water sustainability in the mining sector.

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1. What drew you to the Master of Science in Sustainability Management (MSSM)?

With an undergrad degree in Chemical Engineering and Master’s in Industrial Pollution control, I had the privilege of working on sustainability efforts in India from the early stages of my career. My previous work experience involved working with a large number of engineers and professionals across various industries that involved sustainability or resource savings potential. Though our team was doing good work at showing environmental benefits from a scientific standpoint, I felt we were unable to effectively communicate our work to senior management in order to motivate action on the ground. I saw the alignment in all these fields in the Sustainability Management Program.

2. What do you intend to do professionally once you achieve your degree?

I would like to pursue a career in the field of Agriculture and Manufacturing, specifically consulting on matters in that realm by using my background and experience combined with the management insights gained through MSSM. My ideal work profile would involve developing and implementing strategies to drive sustainable practices on the ground level.

3. What do you think is the most important challenge in Sustainability?

There is a lot of amazing work going on in the scientific side of sustainability; however, I feel it is not getting translated into something that can be understood by decision makers or people that have not studied or specialized in sustainability.

4. What skills and tools have you acquired through the program so far?

The most important skill I have acquired is understanding the needs of stakeholders and their influence on the implementation of sustainability practices. Additionally, I am now able to translate sustainability solutions into dollar impacts, the universal language that can be understood by stakeholders across sectors.

5. How have you applied what you’ve learned in the program so far?

The program offers a lot of opportunities to implement the wide skill sets learned directly on the field through the capstone program, which I am currently working on. Also over the past 6 months I have been using the knowledge gained, for my internship at the Columbia Water Center. At the moment, I am working on projects that research the intersection of financial markets and water sustainability in the mining sector.

6. Beyond the classroom, what extracurricular sustainability related have you engaged in with your fellow Sustainability Management students?

Taking advantage of the diverse backgrounds and experiences of my fellow students and alumni, I am actively engaged in brainstorming a wide variety of sustainability centered business plans. I hope to take up at least one of them off the ground into actual business, in the coming years.

7. What is your favorite class in the MSSM program so far and why?

It is very difficult to pick one favorite class among all the classes I have taken. Every class gave me an enriching new perspective and tools that will help me very much in the long run through my professional and personal life. To name a few I enjoyed Cost Benefit Analysis by Prof. Satyajit Bose, Environmental Markets and Innovation by Prof. Travis Bradford, Implementation of Corporate Sustainable Strategies by Prof. Todd Cort and Sustainable Finance by Prof. Bruce Khan.

8. How has collaborating with your fellow students in projects in the classroom benefited you professionally and personally?

The diversified background and industry experience of my fellow students has been very enriching and has provided me with a wider perspective into solving difficult sustainability challenges. On the personal front I made some close friends and lifelong mentors who have made my time at Columbia a phase to cherish for life.

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. The program requires the successful completion of 36 credit points. Those credit points are divided among five comprehensive content areas: integrative sustainability management, economics and quantitative analysis, the physical dimensions of sustainability, the public policy environment of sustainability management, and general and financial management. Visit our website to learn more.