Sustainability meets business at BC’s Woods College

I’m Dr. Jennifer Cole, the founding faculty member of the Professional Studies Certificate in Sustainability, and I’d like to engage you BC alumni in a conversation. How can you work within the infrastructure of today’s society to make your world more sustainable? What does sustainability even mean, and where does human life quality rank? The answers to these questions are large and nuanced. How to balance human needs and wants with the ecosystems on Earth? I invitation you to contribute to this conversation. My thought is that the Woods College of Advancing Studies (WCAS) at Boston College is uniquely poised to support this discussion.  Together, we can work through economic and market forces to internalize the externalities that are currently impairing our world’s air, water, soil, and biodiversity. That way, businesses don’t suffer, rather they gain, by developing and implementing innovative solutions.

To promote this methodology, Boston College offers a fully online, six course, 18 credit, Professional Studies Certificate in Sustainability. The Certificate gives participants the tools with which to make effective personal and business decisions that favor both economic growth and environmental protection. It enables recipients to demonstrate their competency in sustainability, including climate change, effects of population and shifting demographics, and the ensuing natural resource limits of energy, food, water, materials and waste.

There is a growing workforce need for this specialized environmental skill set. Integrating BC’s Jesuit educational mission with economics-based solutions to environmental dilemmas is a powerful combination. Acquiring the Certificate demonstrates to current and prospective employers a competency with food and agriculture practices, fossil fuel and renewable energy systems, pollution mitigation, material resource extraction and preservation through innovative recycling, water resources and pollution with an emphasis on Boston, global population dynamics, and most importantly, the integration of all of these areas. BC alumni and others can study, discuss, and ponder what is most important to their lives and careers.

Quabbin Reservoir, the source of Greater Boston’s drinking water

Who can pursue the Certificate?

We work with people of all ages and current work/life situations to be sure they get the experience they would like. From retirees seeking to gain knowledge to Boston College Alumni and current Boston College Undergraduates, early- and mid-career folks have benefited from the courses (we even had three new mothers in courses this semester!). Current pursuer Piers Dooley, who works in Event Management, ended his first class by writing, “Thank you very much for a great class. Educational, enjoyable and eye opening – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the class. I’ve felt as if I could have reached out with questions daily about things I have read or heard for your opinion and clarification. For example, did you hear that soybeans have replaced corn as the largest US crop? Did you see the British environmental agency that uses disposable cups? I am presenting at a conference of pharmaceutical meeting planners in February, so may be using some of the lessons I have learned in discussions with representatives of ‘Big Pharma’.”

The Sustainability Certificate program enrolls a small number of students, which gives each participant a highly personalized experience, despite the online nature of the courses. There are also many opportunities to go on applied field trips with the faculty members, which gives for multiple experiences to engage with the instructors and with other students, to the extent each individual participants’ schedule allows.  Current student, Elizabeth Rogers stated, after her first course, “I appreciate the weekly check ins and it helps to pace the student work – ideally I would be following that more closely! I wish I could take advantage of the in-person opportunities and field trips more. With the full-time work schedule it’s difficult to sneak away mid-day, but I like that the course comes off the page a little bit.”

Wetlands in Allandale Woods, Jamaica Plain

There is also ample opportunity for BC alums, whether pursuing the Certificate or not, to come along on optional field trip to places like: Save That Stuff, an innovative recycling company in Charlestown; the Forbes Pigment Collection at the Harvard Art Museum to discuss the science and geology of pigments and dyes; a glassblowing facility at Massachusetts College of Art and Design to discuss intense energy use; Energy Tour of LEED Platinum and Gold facilities in Boston; to Boston beaches to discuss salt marshes, coastal erosion, marine pollution and conservation, and sea level rise; to the Food Project, an urban farming initiative in West Roxbury ; WasteManagement Insights CORe Plant, a food waste to energy plant; the Ponkapoag Bog in Canton; and a wetland complex including a vernal pool in the Allandale Woods of Jamaica Plain.

Waste-to-Energy Plant in Boston

New courses are being added all the time, in response to student desire and BC Alumni input. This is truly a way to get up close to the environment, to fellow Alumni, and to like-minded people who seek to work within the Jesuit mission BC’s Jesuit educational mission with economics-based solutions to be part of the future of environmental protection.

What Job Opportunities Become Available with the Certificate

There is a dizzying array of  jobs available for those completing the Sustainability Professional Studies Certificate. While some depend upon the qualifications you already have, or on future or concurrent training, available fields include business, economics, agriculture, creative arts, politics, community organizing, environmental consulting, and natural resources management.

If you’re interested, contact Professor Cole ( or Dr. Pouravelis (, Associate Dean of Enrollment Management. Classes, including Wetlands and Eating and the Environment, begin the week of January 16th and you can register for 1-2 course as a non-degree student by submitting the Non-Degree Application Form.
We wish you a happy and prosperous 2018 and beyond.

Jennifer Cole

Jennifer Cole is concurrently on the faculty in the Woods College of Advancing Studies at Boston College and the Harvard Graduate School of Sustainability. Prior to that, Dr. Cole was on the faculty at Harvard University in Earth and Planetary Sciences, and had been Director of the Environmental Studies Program at Northeastern University for fifteen years. She has also taught at Tufts University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Cole has published extensively in the fields of wetlands, agriculture, and energy education and has written books on natural disasters. She holds a PhD in earth sciences specializing in groundwater geochemistry from Syracuse University. She is currently working on research papers on the sustainability ramifications of meat consumption in China. She also has a career in the environmental consulting field, serving as expert witness in wetlands cases, and representing town conservation commissions on river and wetland protection act cases. She was senior hydrologist at Weston and Sampson Engineers, Inc., and is principal at her own private consulting firm, Rivers Consulting. She has given many invited talks, including the US Environmental Protection Agency and The Weston Observatory. She represented Harvard's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the White House on two occasions.