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Greening executives: A new program teaches managers about the business of clean tech

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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While the unemployment rate in the U.S. climbed to more than 10 percent in December, the job market could be gaining strength for green leaders. Already companies such as Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola Co. and FedEx Corp. have reportedly carved out executive positions for so-called sustainability officers. But, as two professors at New York University (N.Y.U.) recently discovered, there are scant programs to ready future green executives working in urban environments.

So, next month, N.Y.U.’s Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn will launch its first 10-session clean technology crash course program, called CleantechExecs, which is tailored to the New York City industrial market. The program will focus on so-called knowledge-intensive services—a vast sector spanning financial services, such as investment banking, insurance and real estate, as well as other professional services, such as consulting, architecture and hospitality to name a few.

"This has not been done to the extent that it should be done in particular for a city like New York," says Mel Horwitch, a professor of technology management at the Polytechnic Institute. Horwitch developed CleantechExecs with Ari Ginsberg, a professor of management and entrepreneurship at N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business.

In surveying the need for a program like CleantechExecs, Horwitch and Ginsberg found that green tech training exists in the United States, but that it focuses on the manufacturing of renewable energy products, such as solar cells or fuel-efficient automobiles. As Horwitch points out, because manufacturing demands space, it only makes up a small fraction of the industry in urban areas, like New York City, where land is at a premium.

On the other hand, Horwitch says there have been few opportunities for learning how to support the greening of financial services, and New York City is a hub for this field. The CleantechExecs program is designed to empower people who already have managerial experience to tackle projects, such as advising their employers how to make their buildings more energy efficient or what would be the best new types of renewable energy in which to invest.

In the case of retail and service chains that already employ environmental or sustainability officers, Horwitch explains that it is common for employees to receive in-house training for a specific set of skills. Bank of America Corp. employs a team of "eco-officers" that have specialized skills, the Los Angeles Times reported on December 30.  For example, one manager is certified in greening buildings, while another oversees the "electronification of paper." David Pogue, a property manager for real estate brokerage CB Richard Ellis, trained himself to take on a new role as environmental expert at his company by reading and attending conferences, according to the Times.

In contrast, Horwitch describes the CleantechExecs program "as a portal into a variety of new possibilities." While their backgrounds could vary, the major criterion for applicants is that they have at least eight years of experience in a senior management position. "It is our hope to get a variety of people in the same room," Horwitch says. He adds that it will be a challenge in the ten sessions to cover the program’s main pillars, which will be the finance, marketing and support of clean technology.

The 10 sessions of the CleantechExec Program will feature field work as well as classes, which Horwitch, Ginsberg and guest speakers will lead. One teaching tool in the classroom will be case studies of New York-based businesses. For example, participants will examine Verdant Power, a New York City–based company that generates electricity from tidal energy, and how the company turned its technology into a business. This case study will help students understand how to assess the viability of a renewable energy industry, Horwitch says. In the second half of the program, participants will work with mentors to plan their own business, which could specialize in green-tech consulting, for example.

"Graduates" of the program could fill green-tech roles within established companies. Horwitch expects that another group of grads will go on to create new businesses. Students can also apply the credit they receive from the program toward an advanced certificate or master’s degree in technology at the Polytechnic Institute. Whatever their route, Horwitch thinks that their job prospects will be promising.

"Over the past two years we’ve seen how some of these foundational [financial service] industries have had problems and have shrunk in terms of employment. We’re trying to offer New York City a pathway to a new and emerging sector," Horwitch says. He adds that the training could be applied in urban areas that are similar to New York, such as London, Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

The shaky economy that has led to job loss, however, could also strain environmental investments. Pogue told the Los Angeles Times, "The past months have been about survivability, not about sustainability."

To keep up with green technology challenges, Horwitch says that the Polytechnic Institute will offer refresher courses and create a network between its students and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
 
In fact, for the first cohort, which Horwitch estimates will have between 20 and 25 students, NYSERDA will cover the tuition. After the inaugural class, the program’s faculty, Horwitch and Ginsberg, hope to offer CleantechExecs twice a year. Although the tuition will probably not be free for these future classes, Horwitch says that it will be reasonable considering that some of the participants might not be employed and hoping to use CleantechExecs to springboard into a new career.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto/cglade





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  1. 1. Tom Edison 4:56 pm 01/5/2010

    Great article. People interested in this topic might also appreciate the insight that, as of lately, global energy management services companies, such as Summit Energy Services in Louisville, are making a huge impacts in almost every industry. Summit is definitely the pioneer in this arena and growing like crazy with a revenue model that prevents hidden agendas from interfering with clients strategic goals. I’m pretty sure all their clients are Fortune 1000 and their core services are everything from energy procurement, energy risk management, utility consulting, crude oil forecasting and natural gas hedging… I’m not affiliated with Summit but because they also provide strategic vision/education for large companies regarding alternative energy and there’s a good chance that CleanTechExecs will hire them at some point to save and stabilize energy expenditures.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Tom Edison 5:07 pm 01/5/2010

    wow…

    Correction 1: making a huge IMPACT in…
    Correction 2: forecasting TO natural gas hedging…
    Correction 3: affiliated with Summit. I’M ADDING THIS COMMENT because…

    Now you know I’m not affiliated… haha!

    Link to this
  3. 3. Velstras 5:45 pm 01/5/2010

    Typical liberal crap from Sci Am.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Natedog 7:13 pm 01/6/2010

    "Typical liberal crap from Sci Am"

    Conservatives are always good for a laugh.

    Who else reads an article about conservation and replies with a political attack?

    If sustainability is synonymous with Liberalism what is Conservatism synonymous with, the depletion of all our natural resources?

    Link to this

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