Working at the Intersection of Business and Sustainability – State of the Planet

Born and raised in Guatemala, Karina Alejos witnessed the immediate impact of natural disasters, tropical storms, deforestation and rainfall variability on the communities around her. Through these experiences, Alejos developed an early concern for the effects of climate change and a profound interest in sustainability and innovation. Starting with a focus on individual efforts like recycling and composting, Alejos set out to explore the realms of policy, regulation, renewable energies and sustainable economies.

Karina Alejos

Recognizing her passion for working at the intersection of business and sustainability, Alejos chose a concentration in business management as an undergraduate at Columbia University, with the goal of approaching sustainability challenges from a market perspective. Now, she serves as an environmental, social and governance (ESG) consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers. Alejos shares insights into her career path below.

What skills or knowledge did you learn from Columbia’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development (SDEV) that you find most useful in your career?

Currently, I am an associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers working in the sustainability practice. The SDEV program prepared me with the technical background and skills I use on a daily basis, for example, effectively communicating about sustainability. I was able to understand ‘why’ we have climate change challenges, which allows me to better understand ESG and think about a path forward.

How did your experience at SDEV help you find your first position after graduation?

When I first started my SDEV degree, I wasn’t clear about what I could do postgrad. However, the degree opened many possibilities in different industries. I looked for jobs where I could apply what I had learned in SDEV and that were centered around ESG. The SDEV degree is positively received post-graduation; oftentimes people comment on how important this type of degree will be in the future.

What do you wish you had spent more time learning while at Columbia?

I wish I had learned more about sustainability regulations and reporting. I also wish I would’ve been more involved with the program and made more connections with classmates and professors, which was harder with online classes [during COVID].

What career advice do you have for students who want to pursue sustainability?

Sustainability provides amazing career opportunities in many different sectors. It is an exciting field where you will continue to learn as the industry evolves. Your work will also feel more meaningful, as you contribute positively to our planet.

What extracurricular activities did you participate in and why?

I was involved in EcoReps [a joint initiative developed by students and Columbia University Housing to encourage green living in the residence halls] as a member and board member throughout my time in college. I enjoyed meeting and working with passionate people with similar interests. It was also both fun and rewarding to do sustainability-related events and help our community learn about sustainability, which prepared me for my current role.

What were your favorite spots to hang out on campus?

My favorite spots to hang out on campus were Café East in Lerner Hall and NoCo [the Northwest Corner Building] to study!

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