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

“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.”


According to Agrawal, many people think about sustainability and business as antagonistic. However, he’s seen organizations reduce costs and future risk by changing the way they operate. “A lot of companies are actually able to create new revenue streams and business models by embracing sustainability,” he says.

At the forefront of driving change are consumers; Petrova explains that they’re becoming increasingly concerned with how organizations are responding to the needs of climate change, and are paying close attention to the ways in which they reduce the use of natural resources and waste. “Consumers want to see sustainable products and they want to hold businesses accountable for everything that they’re doing,” she says.

The weight of each business decision is becoming heavier, and Agrawal says that no matter how progressive a company is about sustainability, it needs to carefully evaluate the business implications of each choice, such as committing to electric vehicles, reaching net zero, or changing the way products are sourced.

While we’re facing a wide variety of effects of environmental issues on our health, ecosystem, and businesses, Agrawal is hopeful that organizations are the ones that can help us to course correct; he says that they’re much more responsive to the urgency of being more environmentally responsible than they were 15 years ago. “There’s a lot of scope in this world today to reduce the environmental impact by actually harnessing the power of business. Organizations and companies are the ones who create the majority of environmental impact. But they also have the most control to actually make a difference,” he says.

There are many issues that still need to be addressed, however Petrova is encouraged by many businesses’ willingness to change; for example, General Motors has made a commitment to move into all electrical and battery-driven cars by 2035, plastic bags have been replaced with paper in many grocery stores, and straws have been eradicated in most restaurants. “Businesses across numerous sectors are demonstrating increasing and substantial interest in the environment,” she says. “That interest is driven by genuine social concerns, financial considerations, and the realization that the increased focus on the environment and sustainability provides businesses with significant benefits, not only in terms of profit, but in terms of reducing waste and costs.”


Agrawal explains that the MS-ESM covers two main themes: the most salient environmental issues happening today, and frameworks to tackle any sustainability issue. “Likely, the issues we face today will be different five years from now,” he says. “We want students to have a process or framework in which to analyze any sustainability issue.”

The 30-credit curriculum is interdisciplinary in nature. The program begins with introductory courses that teach students how issues in sustainability, management, and business interact. Then, students complete science and business-based courses throughout the 11 months.

Courses include instruction on accounting, finance, data analytics, and programming while tying in carbon footprint targets, sustainability, and other issues that are relevant today. “In an environmental science course, students will learn about climate change and the science behind it. In a business course, students will learn how climate change interacts with operations and what decisions can be made to reduce a business’ climate impact,” says Agrawal.


“The systems thinking approach — or ability to analyze social ecological systems and understand what, why, and how things happen — is extremely important in sustainability,” adds Petrova.

Petrova says that not only do students develop science and business skills, but they also learn soft skills such as learning to work in teams, be flexible, understand the historical context of sustainability, and communicate with audiences. “These are skills that you need when you work in any environment, be it business or environment. You have to be able to communicate with people who are your clients, as well as people who support you and external audiences,” she says.

Towards the end of the curriculum, students participate in an innovative capstone course in which they work with organizations on real world problems. Designed to help students integrate what they’ve learned and get hands-on experience with environmental and sustainability issues, they work in small teams and are assigned a business, NGO, or foundation as a client. By the end of the course, each team provides their client with a deliverable that they can then add to their CV.

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