UChicago launches sustainability management program



The professionals have enrolled in the Leadership in Sustainability Management Certificate Program at the Graham School of General Studies, the University’s continuing-education division. Students may start the program in the autumn, winter or spring and complete the non-credit program in a year. The program consists of six courses that meet once a week for five weeks and a capstone project.

“Our ideal student is working in some capacity in sustainability-related questions now, but needs to know what’s over the horizon,” said Graham School Associate Dean Cary Nathenson. “These are often people who are at the early or mid-level of their careers who are looking to get a knowledge base and a credential that will help them advance.”

The Graham School has intermittently offered sustainability-related courses for several years. They were well-received, prompting requests for courses that would allow the students to combine them with their professional needs.

In developing the new certificate program, Nathenson and his Graham School colleagues queried scores of sustainability authorities at UChicago and elsewhere for advice.

“We always asked them: ‘What’s missing right now? What do you think a place like the University of Chicago can do to fill that void?’” They all gave the same response:

What’s missing are people who can pull it all together

“We have engineers. We have architects. We have economists. What we don’t have is what’s being referred to nowadays as the sustainability director. This is an emerging position.”

Given the University’s tradition as a liberal arts research institution, it made sense for the new program to take a big-picture approach to sustainability. It’s also applied humanities, Nathenson said, “reading sustainability as a problem like you might read a text and dissecting it that way.”

Fraught term

What, for example, does “sustainability” really mean? “It’s a very fraught term,” he said. But students in the program will learn how to separate the science from the myths surrounding sustainability issues.

Students admitted to the program tend to be passionate about the environment, but they also understand that the new certificate program is about more than getting their organizations to recycle for the sake of feeling good, Nathenson said.

This is about recycle, if that is what really makes sense for your environment

As sustainability directors, they are the ones who will be asked if recycling is their organization’s biggest problem, or is it perhaps water use. How do they find the answer?

Courses in the program will be taught by a mix of UChicago faculty members and external professionals. These include Pamela Cohen of Dix & Eaton, a Cleveland-based communications consulting firm. Cohen will teach the program’s Environmental Economics course starting Feb. 15, 2011.

“The work that I do is primarily in helping business organizations understand the value of intangibles,” Cohen said, including reputation and leadership. Cohen, who holds a doctoral degree in social psychology, has turned her attention to sustainability in recent years.

“While most people will say that they care about the environment and being green and environmental concerns, we have at present a fairly jaded group of citizens who aren’t necessarily willing to take a company at face value.” At the same time, she continued, “C-suite executives are reluctant to give funding to projects in areas that they don’t think are going to have payback.”

Students in the course will learn how to communicate the benefits of sustainability to their organizations’ stakeholders and executives. The course also will provide an overview of economics principles and methods to help students link sustainability efforts to their organizations’ bottom-line performance.

Courses in the program include Introduction to Sustainable Development; Science of Sustainability; Environmental Law and Policy; Sustainability Leadership, Communication and Change Management; and Mediation, Negotiation, Communcation.

The program culminates with a capstone project in a course titled Holistic Problem-Solving. Here students might develop a sustainability plan for a business, non-profit, municipality or university, or address specific problems that might arise in the implementation of such a plan.