50 Students, 3 Professors & The Business of Climate Change
For the first time ever, Columbia’s Business School offered a brand-new course this past spring—The Business of Climate Change: Investing and Managing in a Changing Environment. The brainchild of Professor Geoffrey M. Heal, the course reflects the intertwining relationship of his two primary interests: mathematical economics and the environment. But how exactly did Heal formulate a course that not only makes history for Columbia, but also leads the way for all major business schools?
A self-proclaimed “quant,” Heal explains that energy always fascinated him; the first job he took? Designing nuclear reactors. He later started and sold two companies, worked for OPEC, and today sits on the boards of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Coalition for Rainforest Nations: Economic Advisory, and the Environmental Defense Fund. All of these different experiences not only give Heal real-world examples when teaching, but also reveal his versatility, wide range of knowledge, and unique vantage point.
After almost forty years at Columbia, Heal teaches everything from economic theory to corporate responsibility. And he continues to push forward in new ways and synthesize his different interests, which ultimately creates classes you can’t find anywhere else—like this very well received Business of Climate Change class, which fifty students eagerly signed up for as an elective.
Working with Columbia Professors Kent Daniel, Elke Weber, and Patrick Bolton, Heal acted as the “Master of Ceremonies” for Business of Climate Change. He handled half the classes and continuity, while Daniel, Weber, and Bolton stepped up throughout the semester to share their expertise as well. The course investigated how climate change will affect American businesses in the manufacturing sector, the services sector, and the financial sectors. Heal says that the course looked at “the implications for changes in the way we generate and use energy, changes in transportation, what kind of risks climate change poses, how climate change risks will be managed by the financial sector, and the impact of climate change on coastal properties.”
The final element that contributed to the success and genesis of this course? Timing. The material inherently carries an important urgency; as Heal notes, “We’re at a very crucial point in terms of energy; we’re beginning a transition which in some ways is as big as anything that’s happened since the Industrial Revolution—away from fossil fuels and towards non-fossil sources.”