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Juggling solutions, experts is all in a day's work for sustainability grad
With a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and a master’s in business administration, Rajesh Buch was consulting on energy technology options for public and private companies, but he wanted something more.
To build on his extensive background in energy security, efficiency and renewables, Buch turned to Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability.
“I’d been doing business development for 10 to 12 years, and I was enjoying providing technology-based energy solutions to clients,” he says. “But then I wanted to make a broader impact beyond simply profit.”
Buch graduated from the school with a doctorate in sustainability last year, having produced a comprehensive sustainability assessment of ASU’s energy system for his dissertation. He says sustainability “has to be embedded in our business operations and community development processes if we are to grow in a balanced way.
"I knew this was very valuable knowledge that needed to be put into practice,” he says.
Not your average consultant
And put in practice he did. Buch joined the team at the new Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives. He is now a practice lead for the Sustainability Solutions Extension Service, a consulting group within ASU that provides customized advice and practical solutions to business and government sectors applying university-based research, knowledge and capabilities.
“We are not a traditional consulting company,” Buch says. “Being within an academic institution, our project execution teams consist of student analysts and project managers who are guided by faculty.”
Buch obtained his position at the Extension Service through a fellow sustainability doctoral student, Dan O’Neill, the general manager.
“Raj brings a customer-focused point of view and a drive to engage clients in developing solutions and projects, all with the customer’s needs in mind,” O’Neill says. “He always adds a strategic sustainability perspective; he always reminds us to view with a sustainability lens.”
What is a 'sustainability lens'?
Part of Buch’s job is to apply the theories he learned in the School of Sustainability to the daily life of a business, individual or organization. By analyzing daily functions with a sustainability perspective, Buch and his teams can implement a resource efficiency program in a local business; help organizations envision sustainable futures; teach employees how to communicate sustainability to clients; upgrade facilities with more efficient technologies; or develop sustainable products.
Essentially, the goal of the Extension Service is to connect monetary and time savings to practices that create positive environmental and social impact, while providing all-around efficiency.
“Sustainability can be integrated across all aspects of business processes, and how to combine it with different methods and knowledge bases is exciting and invigorating,” Buch says. “The best part is learning with and from the students, faculty and clients to find new ways to address challenges.”
As practice lead, Buch is responsible for composing expert teams of students and faculty members; executing projects; teaching students how to present plans and findings; coordinating solutions projects; and following up with multiple clients.
“Our clients are delivered sustainability solutions, while students get valuable real-world experience and faculty are recognized for applying their research,” Buch says.
Some of his projects include sustainability training for Waste Management employees, a greenhouse gas inventory for the City of Phoenix, a plan and vision for Phoenix’s new waste recycling and reusing system, and an evaluation on a client’s future biofuel plantation.
“Sustainability is a way to correct our way of developing,” Buch says. “We can start by taking baby steps. I contribute by assisting those private and public organizations that are willing to recognize the importance of sustainability.”
Experience, experience, experience
Buch’s educational background came full circle. He uses his background in mechanical engineering and business to effectively communicate and apply sustainability concepts within corporate and government industries – the “something more” he was looking for.
But for new students, that’s not so easy. Buch is an experienced graduate with lots of lessons learned under his belt. Exploring future options and gaining as much real-life familiarity with the sustainability field as possible can help fresh, wide-eyed students find their way.
“Know where you want to go, what it’s going to take to get there and build your skill set to achieve that goal,” Buch says. “When you graduate, understand what your skills are, where you can add value and be able to explain how you are going to add value. Know yourself.”