Georgetown’s New Degree: Tackling, Not Just Talking About, Climate Change

The new M.S. in Environment and Sustainability Management at Georgetown University is a cross-disciplinary program that combines business and environmental science. Georgetown photo

At our current rate of economic development, humanity is using resources that would be required of 1.7 Earths. “We don’t have more than one planet in order for us to continue doing business as usual,” says Dr. Maria Petrova, assistant director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative at Georgetown University. “The whole Earth is at stake.”

To tackle the threats we face (and will continue to face) from the effects of human activity on the ecosystem, Georgetown University has launched a new master’s degree: the Master of Science in Environment and Sustainability Management.

A cross-school collaboration between the McDonaugh School of Business, the Georgetown Environment Initiative, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the MS-ESM program integrates business and science to help students approach today’s challenges. It’s spearheaded by Vishal Agrawal, McDonough School of Business’ associate professor and academic director of the Sustainable Business Fellows program and the Certificate in Sustainable Business; Alexander Sens, Graduate School of Arts and Science interim dean and professor of classics; and Dr. Maria Petrova, assistant director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative.

ENVIRONMENTAL THREATS OF TODAY

Alexander Sens

“We can’t just worry about these problems,” Agrawal says. “It’s time to actually solve them and make a difference. That’s what we’re hoping this degree will do. And that requires partnering across industries, fields, and disciplines.”

With the goal to graduate leaders who can bridge the gap between environmental science and business for a more sustainable future, this 11-month master’s degree begins August 2022. “We need to recognize that the way we’ve been operating in business leads to nowhere, and we need to change course,” says Petrova. “Our next business leaders must be equipped with a framework to face climate change problems now and in the future.”

Our climate is heating at a rapid rate; according to the latest IPCC report released on August 9, 2021, the impacts of climate change will continue to worsen unless we have extensive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s no surprise, then, that heat waves, drought, flooding, and depletion of natural resources will become increasingly pronounced in a matter of a few years. “There’s a tipping point beyond which all of these natural processes will accelerate very quickly,” continues Petrova.

“We need to understand what these natural processes are and how we can anticipate, manage, and solve them.”

COMBINING SCIENCE AND BUSINESS TO ADDRESS CHALLENGES

To navigate the rapidly changing ecosystem, Petrova, Agrawal and Sens believe that future business leaders need to have a solid understanding of environmental science and sustainability.

Agrawal says that advancing any sustainability strategy and making better decisions for the environment requires a business case. But it’s not just about business; leaders must understand the science behind climate change to make decisions that better the footprint of their organization. “A lot of businesses would like folks who could be the liaison between the environmental scientists and the core business folks,” says Agrawal. “This program’s unique blend of both is meant to help graduates create feasible and implementable change.”

Since approximately 60 million jobs are estimated to be created as we transition to a green economy, now is the time for students to equip themselves with relevant skills. Plus, even if a student’s post-graduation role in an organization isn’t directly related to the environment or sustainability, it’s imperative to learn how to tackle future challenges. “A big part of most people’s jobs today will be working on sustainability issues due to the way the world is rapidly changing,” he says. “We’re training students to be a new wave of leaders who are going to work not just for businesses, but all kinds of organizations to reduce impact.”

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