The decision to pursue higher education can be unnerving, especially if you've already found a job you love. But Tim Trefzer, a recent graduate of the Executive Master’s in Sustainability & Leadership (EMSL) program at Arizona State University, proves it's possible to get the best of both worlds.
By choosing a degree program that allowed him to study in person and online, Trefzer was able to keep his dream green job -- overseeing environmentally-friendly events and sports games in Atlanta -- while gaining new skills to help him do the job even better.
TriplePundit talked with Trefzer to find out more about his decision to pursue a sustainability education and how it impacted his career.
TriplePundit: Let's start by talking about your experience at ASU. What was your focus of study, and when did you graduate?
Tim Trefzer: I was one of 15 in the first Executive Master’s in Sustainability & Leadership (EMSL) program at ASU. The program was focused in four key areas designated for sustainability professionals: global context, strategy, communications and leadership. I graduated in January 2015, and because the program was conducted both in person and online, I was able to maintain my position in Atlanta while pursuing my degree.
3p: What made you decide to pursue a sustainability degree?
TT: I’d actually been seeking a graduate degree program for some time before discovering EMSL. I realized that people in positions I aspired to be in primarily had graduate degrees, and having studied business as an undergraduate at Florida State University and not sustainability, I wanted to fully emphasize sustainability comprehension. The four core concepts in EMSL were precisely what I had hoped to improve, so I found the program to be a good fit.
3p: What are you up to now? Briefly describe your current role and responsibilities and how long you've been on the job.
TT: Since 2010 I’ve overseen the sustainability journey of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which owns and operates the 3.9 million-square-foot Georgia World Congress Center, the 71,250-seat Georgia Dome, and 20-acre Centennial Olympic Park, and also manages the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center.
I have several areas in which I focus, including improving operational efficiencies, waste collection and diversion, LEED certification (the GWCC is the world’s largest LEED certified convention center), environmental strategic planning, communications, and community and event outreach and engagement.
Working in the events industry provides a unique stage to create and influence environmental and societal change both inside and outside of our organization, and I feel fortunate to have a powerful platform to see and support that change.
In 2013, I chaired the sustainability committee for the Men’s Final Four held in Atlanta, which the NCAA deemed to be the greenest in its history. I’m also on the board of directors for the Green Meetings Industry Council (GMIC), representing a traditionally wasteful industry that has embraced (and is now leading) its own sustainability movement.
Driving sustainability forward in an industry and in a region of the country that isn’t historically environmentally progressive is what drives me to continue to do this work.
3p: Have you found that your sustainability education was a benefit in the field?
TT: Definitely. And I continue to find new ways that it benefits me. Not only was I able to apply concepts from the classroom to issues I was facing on a day-to-day basis, but I was also exposed to the various issues my peers in other industries were facing so that I could anticipate how they would affect me and my role at the GWCCA. Speaking of peers, I’m able to tap into the ASU School of Sustainability’s extensive network of professionals, which I’ve discovered is an invaluable resource. The sustainability industry is still relatively small, and connecting through this network only helps to unify and advance our movement.
3p: Do you have any advice for students who are thinking about a sustainability degree?
TT: I’m a big believer in continuing education and would certainly encourage folks considering a degree in sustainability to explore all of their options based on individual goals or desired career path. Some sustainability degrees only take into account environmental considerations, while others emphasize the financial component as to sell sustainability in business. Fortunately, more schools are developing sustainability degrees, so the variety and quantity of options continue to grow.
3p: What's your biggest sustainability pet peeve and why? Disposable grocery bags? Trash in the compost? Cars double-parked in the bike lane? Share your thoughts!
TT: Hmm… I have to pick just one?! Just kidding. I’ll sound like I’m on my soapbox, but I find it peculiar that so many environmentalists and sustainability professionals eat meat. Most are aware that cutting out meat is one of the best daily choices that one can make to reduce environmental impact.
I understand that there are more sustainable meat options, and that an occasional indulgence is likely the best I could expect from most. Yet I still find it funny when, especially at conferences, we’ll go from discussing the resource effects of factory farming to a chicken and pork lunch without batting an eye. I’ll step off my soapbox now.