Faculty Spotlight: Nicholas Rohleder
Nicholaus Rohleder, an adjunct professor in the School of Professional Studies, is a co-founder of Climate Commodities, a technology-enabled commodity merchant focused on enabling the climate economy.
In addition to his role at Climate Commodities, Rohleder is the co-chief investment officer of New American Energy, a private investment firm and foundation focused on economic impact emanating from the energy transition in the United States. He holds board positions at the following companies: Clean Earth Acquisitions Corp, EnergyLink, Ardour Capital, American Hydrogen, and Renovare Environmental.
Outside of his professional commitments, Rohleder serves as an alumni board member at the Earth Institute and Climate School at Columbia University, as a member of the production team for the Energy Policy Now Podcast at the University of Pennsylvania, and as a member of the Energy Technology Leadership Council at Tulsa Innovation Labs.
He holds a Master of Environmental Studies with a concentration in Environmental Engineering and Technology from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master of Science in Sustainability Management with a concentration in Environmental Finance from Columbia University, and is a former Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree.
What initially motivated you to pursue the field of sustainability?
I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma in a family largely employed by the oil and gas industry. Growing up, I worked manual labor jobs in the oilfield to learn the business and saw firsthand the damage done to the environment by the industry. I felt that with my roots in Oklahoma and the oil and gas industry combined with my education and work in the Northeast, I was in a unique position to bridge the gap between energy’s past and future and drive positive impact for the climate.
What drew you to the Sustainability Management program?
As an institution, Columbia has put together a well-rounded program focused on sustainability that has been around for over a decade now and includes ample focus on the technical aspects of the sector. This is supplemented by an excellent peer network focused across the sustainability value chain. When I visited, I felt that the breadth and depth of the curriculum combined with the student body would be the best launch pad out there to achieve my goals.
What course will you be teaching this fall and what excites you most about it?
I am teaching the Theory and Practice of Life Cycle Assessment course. What excites me most about the course is the opportunity to provide a sound technical grounding in the context of sustainability to students seeking to enter the sector. The course structure allows for a mix of focus on the technical areas of sustainability vital to the job market while also providing a sound primer on the basic functionality of a variety of sectors that students will end up employed in.
What changes do you hope to see in the field of sustainability in the future?
I hope to see a greater focus on technology and exponential impact. If we are going to achieve stated global climate targets, we need to catalyze human and financial capital to drastically accelerate the pace at which we are addressing these challenges. I believe that the majority of these challenges will be addressed through technology, some of which have not been commercialized or invented yet, which is where the human and financial capital gap lies.
What advice do you have for students pursuing a career in sustainability?
First and foremost, focus on what interests you the most and the subject matter you truly enjoy. Second, I believe that the greatest opportunity for both impact and economic benefit lies at the intersection of economics, policy, and engineering within the context of sustainability and climate technology. Most organizations bifurcate these skill sets, which is a highly inefficient practice. I believe that by placing yourself as a specialist within the realm of sustainability with general competence in the previously mentioned areas, there is no limit to what you can achieve in this field.