GS Alumni Discuss the Expansive Possibilities of Careers in Sustainability

Damienne Harfouche '14GS, Ciara Kavanagh '20GS, and Lyndon Park '08GS joined current GS students for a dinner panel, sharing their professional insights in sustainable architecture, environmental policy-making, and ESG investing.

April 05, 2023

At a recent Dinner and Discussion event hosted by the GS Alumni Relations team, informal panels that bring together alumni and current students with dinner provided, three alumni working in sustainability—Damienne Harfouche '14GS, Ciara Kavanagh '20GS, and Lyndon Park '08GS—shared key insights into this booming field.

“Sustainability is Everything, All at Once”

A recurring theme throughout the discussion was how expansive sustainability as a field is, and the opportunities and challenges this can create for people engaging with it. “Sustainability is everything, all at once,” said Kavanagh, a graduate of the Dual BA program with Trinity College Dublin who currently serves as a sustainable development specialist at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “It’s how current generations can develop in a way that meets their needs without jeopardizing the needs of future generations, and it has economic, social, environmental, and governance dimensions to it.” 

The panelists' own career trajectories demonstrate the truth of this. While Kavanagh tackles sustainability from a political and diplomatic lens, Park is a managing partner at ICR and a leader in ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investing, furthering environmental goals in the sphere of business and economics. “As I saw ESG become more ascendant,” Park recalled of his early post-graduate work, “I saw it as a catalyst for a massive capital reallocation. I thought that if there’s a correlation between where money moves and sustainability, you can help companies become more sustainable, and as an entrepreneur there is an opportunity to build a creative business.”

Harfouche also has experience in the ESG realm, as well as applying principles of sustainability to architecture and engineering projects. She noted that as great as sustainability’s broadness is in terms of the variety of options it provides for ingenuity and involvement, it can also pose a challenge to students and recent graduates who are looking to find their niche within it. “My advice is to really go after those internships while you are a student.” she shared. “That way you can get a taste of different industries and different capacities in sustainability. Embrace being in exploratory mode!”

GS as the Door to a World of Opportunities 

In keeping with Harfouche’s suggestion, another shared message from the panelists was how GS and Columbia as a whole are a perfect launch pad for careers in sustainability. “What I found at GS was that the world was my oyster,” said Kavanagh. “You have access to experts, to classes, to the Career Center, and to other GS students and alumni. By being in GS, I felt uniquely positioned to understand all that’s going on within sustainability, especially how we bring people together and listen to everybody in the sustainability discussion.”

“Sustainability is kind of a beautiful orchestra piece, and we all need to find our own instrument in it.”

Park echoed this by saying “there’s a real privilege that comes from being associated with Columbia, access we have to different luminaries and opportunities.” All three panelists encouraged GS students and alumni to seize those resources and find their own perfect fit within the exciting and crucial arena that is sustainability. As Kavanagh put it, “sustainability is kind of a beautiful orchestra piece, and we all need to find our own instrument in it.”