Sachs is the Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, where he holds the highest academic rank of University Professor. Sachs was Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University from 2002 to 2016. He is the President of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Co-Chair of the Council of Energy Transition Engineers, an Academician at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Vatican, a Commissioner of the United Nations Development Commission, Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah Professor Emeritus at Sunway University and SDG Envoy of UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Sachs served as Special Advisor to UN Secretaries-General Kofi Annan (2001-7), Ban Ki-moon (2008-16) and António Guterres (2017-18).

Before joining Columbia, Sachs spent more than 20 years as a professor at Harvard University, most recently as the Galen L. Stone Professor of International Trade. A native of Detroit, Michigan, Sachs received his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard.