Resource Economics Grad Leads Sustainability in New York State

January 23, 2012

"As an advocate for sustainable business practices, I owe a great deal to my training as a resource economist," observes Joe Martens '78, who is completing his first year as Commissioner of New York State's Department of the Environment and Conservation.  In that role, Martens has authority over many of the state's initiatives involving the environment, conservation, and natural resources, as well influence at the policy table on incentives for business sustainability.


"Today's resource economics students are fortunate to be at Isenberg; it offers a complementary repertoire of business skills."  Resource Economics became Isenberg's newest department on July 1, 2009.


"My own education gave me skills for managing scarce resources. At UMass, I focused on natural resource management-understanding ecological processes, forest management, natural dynamics. That coupled with my training as an economist has given me a long-term perspective that I believe should have value for businesses and business students."


In early December Martens visited Isenberg to discuss sustainability and related issues in the MBA class, Business in its Environment. Taught by Martens' former UMass classmate Rob Cannon, the class combined two groups of students: local executives and online students from around the nation-many of them physicians-who participated via a live video feed.


"I agree with Tom Friedman, who says that sustainability is at the core of our future competitiveness," Martens continues. "The efficient reuse of materials-renewables-is critical to our productivity. And investment in goods, services, and infrastructure with a smaller environmental footprint offers tremendous business opportunities.


"My four years at UMass were among the best time of my life. I loved it all--academics, my social life, and four-years of varsity track," (including his role as the team's co-captain) Martens said. "At UMass, I made lifelong friends; two of my brothers and a nephew also got degrees here. And I promoted the University as a freshmen orientation counselor."


After graduation, Martens got a master's degree in resources management and eventually served in New York State government as deputy secretary to the Governor for Energy and the Environment (1992-94). From 1998 until his current appointment he was president of the nonprofit Open Space Institute, which promotes land conservation and sustainability in New York State.


Today, as New York State's top environmental official, he is responsible for 3,000 employees, 1,900 facilities, 4.4 million acres, and a host of policy initiatives. "I wish as a student that I had received more formal management training, including the skill set that Isenberg provides," he reflects.