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As Sea Level Rise Threatens Florida, University of Miami Launches Graduate Sustainability Program

Amy Brown headshotWords by Amy Brown
Leadership & Transparency
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With Miami facing “an existential crisis” due to rising sea levels and other impacts of climate change, students who enroll in University of Miami Business School’s new Master of Science in Sustainable Business will have a front-row seat to one of the biggest environmental and infrastructure challenges of the 21st century.

“The idea is for the city to be a laboratory,” University of Miami Business School Vice Dean Patricia Abril told TriplePundit. “Capstone projects will allow students to work with companies that are experiencing first hand the impacts of climate change.”

In South Florida, climate change is poised to inundate low-lying neighborhoods and exacerbate social inequities such as income disparity, lack of public transportation, and limited affordable housing, according to the Sierra Club.

The city’s huge hospitality and cruise industry will also take a hit and some argue that Florida’s travel sector is not ready for the dramatic effects of climate change.

“Let’s call this what it is—a business problem. And let’s prepare our students to be part of the solution,” Abril said.

Focus on STEM

The University of Miami’s new program is the first degree in sustainable business in the U.S. that is certified in STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Courses will be taught by faculty from the university’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

Other institutions lay claim to the STEM designation as well. DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business in Chicago has offered an MS in Sustainable Management since 2012 and it was designated a STEM program in 2017, according to Assistant Dean for Marketing and Communications Robin Florzak.

“We saw a need and increased demand for talented leaders who understand both business and sustainability, especially with a rigorous grounding in science,” Abril said. “We want them to know more than the buzz words when they graduate.”

The University of Miami joins a host of other institutions in offering graduate sustainability programs. The website studyportals.com lists over 130 sustainability master’s programs in the U.S.

Training CSOs of the future

But while some of these programs offer a concentration in sustainability, those who designed this University of Miami Business School program say this one is exclusively focused on sustainability.

“The goal is to train the chief sustainability officers of the future,” Abril told TriplePundit. “When you say sustainability, a lot of people focus on the environment, and that’s an important part of it. But just as important are the social, ethical and governance impacts of business. And that’s what we’re focused on.”

“Sustainability is moving beyond the traditional sustainability officer to all facets of business,” University of Miami Economics Professor David Kelly said in announcing the new program. “Accountants are integrating environmental and social performance metrics with traditional financial reporting. Supply chain managers are working to green their supply chains. Trillions of dollars of assets are now invested in socially responsible portfolios.”

Fast-growing profession

A 2015 Harvard Business Review study showed that the number of companies with full-time sustainability officers doubled between 1995 and 2003, and again between 2003 and 2008.

According to Abril, those figures should double again, as the U.S. Department of Labor projects growth in the field that is significantly faster than the average when looking across an array of sustainability occupations.

“That’s coupled with the fact that the earnings average for sustainability professionals will range higher than average,” Abril said, “from the mid-$60,000 to more than $150,000.”

Sustainability master’s programs are pricey—the tuition for the University of Miami program is nearly $65,000, although Abril said that financial aid is available. But the prospective income may prove enticing for some who are considering the investment.

"Any business school that is not infusing sustainability throughout their program is doing a disservice to their students, since sustainability is now widely recognized as critical for successful organizations, public or private, for-profit or non-profit," Maureen Hart, executive director of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals told Greenbiz.

The deadline for applications for the Miami Business School’s MS in Sustainable Business is March 15. The first class will begin studies in August 2019.

Image credit: Matthew Paulson/Flickr

Amy Brown headshotAmy Brown

Based in southwest Florida, Amy has written about sustainability and the Triple Bottom Line for over 20 years, specializing in sustainability reporting, policy papers and research reports for multinational clients in pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, ICT, tourism and other sectors. She also writes for Ethical Corporation and is a contributor to Creating a Culture of Integrity: Business Ethics for the 21st Century. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn.

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