MIT Reports to the President 1999–2000


Established in 1997, The Center for Environmental Initiatives (CEI) supports, coordinates and conducts research and education on environmental and sustainability issues that impact development and welfare worldwide. The work of the center is aimed at providing knowledge, demonstration and collaboration in the development of scientifically and economically sound strategies for industry and government to respond to global environmental challenges. As a neutral broker, CEI aims to foster constructive relationships between industry, governments, academia and the public to seek solutions to environment and sustainability issues. Through interactions in our research and outreach initiatives, CEI also strives to strengthen industry’s role as an agent of change for the protection of the environment and sustainability. CEI works to build better understanding of the many issues between and among developed and developing nations that arise in the context of meeting global environmental challenges (including questions of eco-efficiency, equity, futurity and security). A central theme running through all of CEI’s initiatives is the role of science and technology in shaping better environmental policy at all levels in both the public and private sectors. The education program of CEI is committed to educating the next generation of environmental and sustainability leaders worldwide via joint projects, distance education and special educational programs.

Professor David H. Marks of Engineering Systems and Civil and Environmental Engineering is Director. Dr. Joanne Kauffman, Principal Research Scientist and Lecturer in Political Science, is Deputy Director. The Executive Committee of the MIT Council on the Environment serves as the Steering Committee for the Center.


Working with other labs and centers throughout the Institute, CEI has successfully put in place an institutional architecture needed to advance MIT’s commitment to greater emphasis on environment and sustainability. Four major programs are in place to facilitate multi-disciplinary research and education initiatives that bring together faculty and students from across the Institute–not just the relatively small percentage who identify themselves as environmental professionals. In 1999—2000, CEI attracted new faculty and additional resources to support multi-disciplinary research programs, expanded its educational initiatives both locally and internationally, launched new collaborations with the World Business Council on Sustainable Development for knowledge exchange between industry and academia, and strengthened its outreach activities and public communications. The research programs of the CEI involve over 50 MIT faculty and over 100 students annually.

With respect to building synergy across the Institute, the CEI provides co-leadership for the Council on the Environment (together with MIT Chancellor Lawrence Bacow), established the Strategic Faculty Workshops for the MIT Consortium on Environmental Challenges, and established a weekly seminar series on global environment and sustainability issues. The seminar series includes presentations of work in progress on environmental challenges as well as timely issues by invited guests.

Two major events of the past year are illustrative of the progress that the CEI has made toward achieving its goals for expanded outreach and communication. First, the CEI acted as the host of the January 2000 Annual Meeting of the Alliance for Global Sustainability. The meeting, which focused on communications and outreach for sustainable development attracted over 350 scholars and representatives from industry, government and NGOs around the world to examine more effective ways for the academic community to translate knowledge to action for sustainable development. The proceedings of the meeting will serve as a resource for our own affiliates as well as other academics who are concerned with the issue of knowledge sharing today. Second, CEI led the development of the new Web site for the Alliance for Global Sustainability, a global resource for information on methodologies and frameworks for decision making that will contribute to solving sustainability issues worldwide.


The CEI carries out its mission through four component programs. Three of the programs support and coordinate research for the environment and sustainability. The fourth manages the education initiatives of the center. CEI’s four programs in 1999—2000 were: the Alliance for Global Sustainability (AGS, international focus), the MIT Consortium on Environmental Challenges (focus on science and technology in environmental decision making), the Energy Choices Venture Fund (focus on robust technology options for a greenhouse gas constrained world), and the Program on Environmental Education and Research (educational component).

CEI’s four major initiatives provide coherence to a strong research portfolio of projects. The projects are not only leading to important results and the development of methodologies for assessment of options for technologies and policies that will support sustainable development in industrialized and developing countries alike, they are also providing tremendous hands-on experience for a growing number of our own students and leading to the development of a world-wide network of leaders in policy and technology who understand the multidimensional aspects of these problems and can identify the resources needed to deal with them.

Alliance for Global Sustainability

AGS-supported research brings together scholars from the three founding partner universities (MIT, the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, and the University of Tokyo) with partners from industry, NGOs, government and other leading academic institutions to address complex environmental problems that transcend geographical and disciplinary boundaries. At the annual meeting of the Alliance for Global Sustainability at MIT in January, the AGS Governing Board awarded $1.2 million in funding for 12 new projects over the next two years. This new funding brings the current AGS environmental research commitment to $4.9 million for 41 projects. These projects fall within three major focus areas: water, energy and mobility. In addition, some of the projects address crosscutting issues such as urban systems, cleaner technologies, policies and institutions, and communications and outreach for sustainable development.

AGS project leaders have raised more than $18 million to supplement these projects and related sustainability research at the partner universities.

The January 2000 meeting of the AGS held at MIT marked a turning point for the AGS, as the first tranche of research projects became ready for implementation. Entitled "Agenda for Sustainability: Translating Knowledge into Action and Learning to Lead," the meeting resulted in a significant set of next-step goals for the AGS, including the development of proactive initiatives to impact not only academic discussions, but also development and sustainability actions around the world. As Dr. Jack Gibbons, Senior Fellow of the National Academy of Engineering and former Director of the US Office of Science and Technology Policy noted, "It is not enough simply to do good research–we have an inherent responsibility to translate research results in consideration of society as a whole."

Professor David H. Marks, MIT AGS Coordinator and host of the meeting noted, "While academics are often uncomfortable with the notion of outreach and communication, we also recognize our responsibility to move our knowledge into actions." He pointed to the "tremendous spirit of good will between our faculty, affiliates, students and the many representatives of change agents in governments, foundations, media, and NGOs" who participated in the meeting. The 2001 meeting of the AGS will be held in Lausanne Switzerland where the focus will be on the relationship between science and decision making.

Consortium on Environmental Challenges

Created in 1997, the Consortium on Environmental Challenges (CEC) in 1999—2000 completed Phase I of the research projects it initiated in 1998 with the advice of its Advisory Committee. The CEC examines the role of scientific and technologic knowledge in environmental decision making and seeks to provide recommendations for improving the scientific foundation for policies and decisions that impact the global environment. The MIT Management Team for the CEC includes Professors David Marks, Mario Molina and Kenneth Oye, and Dr. Joanne Kauffman. CEC goals are to:

CEC scholars from across the Institute are assessing the state of knowledge needed to effectively meet global environmental challenges by focusing on specific issue areas.

Current linkages focus on energy choices for the future; the automobile and sustainability with an emphasis on options for future road transportation; water for a sustainable future, air quality in the world's burgeoning mega-cities (case study on Mexico City), and ways to improve decision-making under conditions of uncertainty. Working papers available from the program include analyses of case studies on the use of science in environmental decision-making, constraints on the use of scientific and technical knowledge in environmental decision-making, and papers on each of the specific project areas.

Through this initiative researchers are looking to understand how to increase the role scientific evidence and technological knowledge play in meeting the challenges posed by environmental risks to economic development and social welfare.

Major accomplishments in the past year of this program include a major conference on credibility of data in environmental decision making, strategic faculty workshops on major issues including genetically modified organisms, and planning for a major workshop on Future Technologies for Road Transportation, led by Professor John Heywood, Dr. Malcolm Weiss, and Dr. Elisabeth Drake. This project is also a component of the Venture Fund for Energy Choices (below). Through the Mexico City Project on Integrated Assessment of Air Quality in the Mega-Cities, Principal Investigators Professor Mario Molina and Dr. Luisa Molina have built a large international team to develop a method for assessing the causes of and potential solutions for the problem of air pollution at local, regional and global levels that stems from development of the mega-cities. This project, which includes a major education component, has led to major progress in developing a methodology for integrated assessment of complex environmental problems and provided a model for working across disciplinary, cultural, and geographical boundaries.

The MIT Consortium on Environmental Challenges was created in October 1997, when MIT and Ford Motor Company announced a collaboration focusing on education and research. As a component of this partnership,

Ford pledged $6 million over five years to initiate and support the Consortium. The program now includes sponsors from Norsk-Hydro, Exxon-Mobil, ABB, and others.

Energy Venture Fund: Energy Choices

A generous gift of $1,350,000 over two years from the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation allowed MIT to launch broad research initiatives in 1997 focusing on innovative energy solutions. Recently, the Foundation extended its support by $1 million over the next two years. These funds are used in conjunction with funds raised from corporate and other sponsors to pursue important research in strategic areas of opportunity.

The Steering Committee for the Venture Fund developed the following strategic elements to be used in choosing investments:

In the past year, The Venture Fund Steering Committee selected major initiatives for the Venture Fund. In the process, a key influencing factor was identified: energy demand is increasing most rapidly in major developing countries, and MIT has numerous existing collaborative energy research activities in the largest of these, China. The Steering Committee saw two opportunities to take advantage of this strength. First, it could participate in China’s efforts to improve energy efficiency in buildings. Second, it could help China improve the safety and reliability of its rapidly expanding nuclear industry. The focus on the buildings project is on residential buildings in large Chinese cities beginning with Beijing and Shanghai. The Project has emphasized the use of materials and building styles appropriate and available in the local area.

With respect to nuclear energy, the project recognizes the tremendous need in China for energy sources that do not contribute so hugely to greenhouse gas emissions and the fact that the country is increasing its construction of nuclear power plants. Our project concern is with the safety of those plants. The diversity of plant designs and the rapid growth of the number of plants will stretch the nuclear industry and regulatory infrastructure to cope with the safety requirements of each design as developed in the country of origin. Should an accident occur at one of the plants, it would have severe repercussions in China and around the World. Therefore, there is a need to harmonize the safety standards among all plants, which will help ensure their reliable operation.

Education and Curriculum Initiatives

CEI carries out its educational initiatives through the Program on Environmental Education and Research (PEER) this program is directed by Professor Jeffrey Steinfeld with Education Coordinator Dr. Matthew Gardner. The objectives of PEER are to encourage multi-disciplinary educational initiatives, to strengthen existing efforts, to promote communication among faculty, students, and staff with interests in these topics, and to integrate the findings of leading-edge research into the education of every student at MIT.

The mission of the Environmental Education Program is twofold: First, it seeks to expand the environmental content in the academic curriculum, and to raise environmental awareness among MIT’s population. Second, the program seeks to facilitate the development of education, training and outreach efforts among the environmental research programs. The program is dedicated to the development of increased awareness of the relationship between the academic programs here at MIT, and the world around us.

Towards this end, the program acts as a resource for faculty staff and students who are interested in developing new content for their courses and performing environmentally related research. The program also helps facilitate the development of education, training and outreach efforts.

Examples of education programs currently in progress are:

The environmental education program also manages two successful fellowship programs for scholars in sustainability at MIT. The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation fellowship program at MIT provides two-year support for selected postdoctoral students from Sweden to work in research groups at MIT focusing on environmental and sustainability issues. The Martin Family Graduate Fellowship Program in Sustainability was established to honor graduate students across the institute working in issues of environment and sustainability. The students are nominated by the faculty and participate in numerous environmental activities including the AGS Annual Meeting and in the weekly seminar programs. In addition, this year, CEI organized a retreat for the Martin and Wallenberg Fellows to focus on sustainability issues. A generous gift from the Martin Family Foundation through Lee ’42 and Geraldine Martin has led to funding for 8—10 of the Martin Fellows/year.

More information about the Center for Environmental Initiatives can be found on the World Wide Web at

David H. Marks

MIT Reports to the President 1999–2000