MIT Reports to the President 1998-99


The center conducts research, curriculum development, outreach and public service on the emerging set of 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. It is aimed at forging new relationships between industry, governments, academia and the public to strengthen industry's role as an agent of change in the protection of the environment and sustainability . It is also aimed at developing better synergy between existing MIT efforts in these areas, encouraging new MIT initiatives that complement and broaden them and helping to translate them into MIT educational programs. It 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). It will examine the role of science and technology in forming better environmental policy both from a technical and institutional point of view. It has a strong commitment to educating a set of emerging environmental and sustainability leaders worldwide via joint projects, distance education and special educational programs.

Professor David H. Marks of Civil and Environmental Engineering is Director, Professor Lawrence Bacow of DUSP is Associate Director, and Dr. Joanne Kauffman, Lecturer in Political Science, is Assistant Director. The MIT Council on the Environment serves as the Steering Committee for the Center. The Center was established in late 1997 and this is the first report to the President.

Through the MIT Council on the Environment, a major reorganization of the booklet Environmental Studies@MIT was undertaken under Ms. Cordelia Foell of the Office of Corporate Development. It is available as a substantial booklet, or through the official World Wide Web page for the Center.


The Center for Environmental Initiatives, which was formed during the past year, has assimilated many of the programs and functions previously included in the Program for Environmental Engineering and Research (PEEER). As a part of this reorganization, the Program for Environmental Education and Research (PEER) has been reconstituted as the education and outreach arm of the Center for Environmental Initiatives. PEER is headed by three Co-directors: Jeffrey I. Steinfeld, Professor of Chemistry, John Ehrenfeld, Technology Business and Environment Program, Vicki Norberg-Bohm, Professor of Urban Studies and Planning. 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–not just the relatively small percentage who identify themselves as environmental professionals.

PEER's major emphasis is to infuse environmental thinking, analytic tools, and management approaches into existing subjects and curricula. PEER stimulates and supports interdisciplinary activities, especially in areas of newly evolving research such as industrial ecology and the influence of science and technology on environmental policy. PEER seeks to involve faculty and students from all of the schools at MIT in examining a wide range of technology related environmental problems. PEER offers support to faculty members interested in strengthening the environmental awareness and problem-solving capabilities of their students. PEER also encourages the development of new subjects to address emerging fields such as industrial ecology and sustainability.

In addition, PEER functions as a clearinghouse for information about environmental subjects and programs, fellowships, and events taking place throughout the Institute. PEER is also assisting with coordinating MIT's own environmental practices in areas such as chemical waste disposal, energy conservation, and recycling. In addition to its coordinating functions within the Institute, PEER helps to develop MIT's alliances with other universities funding sources, industrial and public interest groups, and regulatory agencies sharing responsibility for a sustainable future. An important part of this effort is the development of structures for dialogue between industry, regulators, and public interest groups. In order to improve problem definition, share research findings, and identify emerging issues of interest to MIT, PEER communicates with these sectors through meetings, invited speakers, and publications.

Each semester, PEER publishes a listing of subjects and seminars having significant environmental and sustainability content. These guides will be published before the start of each term (and Independent Activities

Period) in order to promote awareness of the range of environmental studies available at MIT. PEER will also organize a display at the Fall 1998 R/O "Academic Expo" in order to introduce newly arrived students to these opportunities.

During the past year, PEER arranged meetings with the student environmental group SAVE and the newly appointed environmental coordinator in the MIT safety office. The purpose of these meetings was to develop student perspectives on how effectively environmental and sustainability topics are addressed in MIT's curriculum, engage undergraduates in research and educational activities in these areas, and provide a focus for MIT's own efforts to achieve eco-efficient operations and compliance with environmental regulations.

During this past year, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation agreed to establish a fellowship program in which selected postdoctoral students from Sweden would be supported for up to two years to work in research groups at MIT focusing on environmental and sustainability issues, such as building technology, life-cycle analysis, chemical ecology, climate change, and environmental negotiations. The first group of six fellows has been selected and will arrive at MIT during the coming year. An inaugural event for the program is being planned for the Fall. While the number of Fellows is small, the impact on MIT's research and education programs is expected to be substantial, because these individuals include some of the most outstanding young scientists, engineers, and planners in Sweden and their presence on campus will provide a strong focus for environmental problems of interest to Sweden and to Europe in general.


PEER is coordinating a curriculum development proposal to the National Science Foundation's Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement Program which is intended to support the development of new courses, curricula, and materials that will more effectively integrate the concepts of sustainability and environmental constraints into core subjects at MIT and elsewhere. The proposed program brings together an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional group including the new Division of Biological Engineering and Environmental Health within MIT's School of Engineering, the Advanced Technology for Environmental Education Center, which is an N.S.F.-funded consortium of community colleges based in the Eastern Iowa Community College district, and minority institutions through the MIT Summer Research Program and Second Nature.

The Martin Family Graduate Fellowship Program in Sustainability has been 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 various environmental meetings as well as their own meetings for exchange of information and network building. A generous gift from the Martin Family Foundation through Lee '42 and Geraldine Martin has led to the eventual full funding of ten of the Fellows. For 1998—99 four students will receive Martin funding.

Created in October 1997, the Consortium on Environmental Challenges Research to Focus on Environmental Decision-Making (CEC) recently completed its startup phase and is developing the agenda for its first full program year. Efforts are currently underway to form the Consortium Advisory Committee of sponsors and participants, including other university partners in the United States and abroad.

During the startup phase, the Consortium management team organized research modules, established the Strategic Faculty Workshop with faculty and research associate participants from across the Institute, and sponsored the Center for International Studies' research on the use of science in environmental decision-making. The Consortium is managed by faculty leaders Larry Bacow, David Marks, Mario Molina and Dr. Joanne Kauffman.

CEC was created to improve the environmental decision-making process through the better use of scientific, technical, and socio-economic understanding. In order to achieve this aim, the Consortium defined the following goals:

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; chemicals and society; mobility, with an emphasis on options for congested mega-cities; water for a sustainable future, and global climate change. Working papers on

the "state of the knowledge" and inventories and analyses of case studies on the use of science in environmental decision-making will identify constraints on the use of scientific and technical knowledge in environmental decision-making.

In addition to assessments of the state of knowledge in specific areas, the Center for International Studies is spearheading a Consortium project on the use of scientific and technical knowledge in environmental decision-making. Through this project, 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.

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 has pledged $6 million over five years to initiate and support the Consortium.

Energy Venture Fund: Energy Choices

A generous gift of $1,350,000 over two years from the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation has allowed MIT to launch broad research initiatives focusing on innovative energy solutions. These funds will be used in conjunction with funds raised from corporate and other sponsors to pursue important research in strategic areas of opportunity. To help focus the research agenda it will work through a new MIT collaborative research initiative, the MIT Energy Choices Program, run by Professor Jefferson Tester and Dr. Elisabeth Drake of the MIT Energy Laboratory. The Energy Choices Program's initial planning meeting in November 1997 was attended by 66 people, including 21 industrial experts from 15 major companies, two senior representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy, three representatives from foundations supporting environmental activities at MIT, the project director from the International Energy Agency's Greenhouse Gas R&D Program, an expert from Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry (Japan), and a representative from the Global Environmental Facility (under the United Nations Development Program). The November workshop fostered partnerships among industry, academic, and policy-making colleagues to begin a focused collaborative research and outreach program. From this meeting, the Venture Fund and other sources has been used to launch three new projects: Energy-Efficient Buildings in Developing Countries; China Nuclear Power Reliability and Safety; and Future Transportation Fuels. The program's initial research agenda is aimed at building a credible, knowledge-based framework for assessing promising energy technology options. In the Energy-Efficient Buildings project, MIT faculty in the Department of Architecture, in conjunction with faculty in the Department of Thermal Engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing, plan to identify the most promising technologies for a generic residential building in a developing country. Focusing on a single climatic zone and urban area within China, the researchers will develop several prototype designs of energy efficient systems and buildings. The emphasis of the work will be to develop simple generic solutions that are appropriate to the local area, are cost effective, and will be accepted by the local people.

The China Nuclear Power Reliability and Safety project addresses the evolution of safety guidelines for nuclear power plants based on lessons learned from countries with long experience in nuclear technology. It is interesting

to note that safety standards are still evolving in many parts of the world, including the US.. MIT will work closely with Tsinghua University to develop a better understanding of appropriate ways to formulate safety standards and to ensure a high level of reliability in the plants.

The oil industry initiative, Future Transportation Fuels, has two objectives: The first is a comprehensive assessment of the role of technology in emission reduction in the future supply of transportation energy. This assessment would be used to advise ongoing international assessments, to provide a basis for the petroleum industry to make positive changes to address climate change concerns, and to inform the policy process. The second objective is development

of a research program to identify and assess the feasibility of "leap-frog" technologies for transportation that might improve the longer term response to emission reduction goals for oil refineries.

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) to address complex environmental problems that

transcend geographical and disciplinary boundaries. At the annual meeting of the Alliance for Global Sustainability International Advisory Board in Zurich in January, the AGS Governing Board awarded $1.8 million in funding for

14 new projects over the next two years. This new funding brings the current AGS environmental research commitment to $3.7 million for 29 projects. These projects fall within the five thematic areas, or pathways to sustainability, previously established by the AGS to provide a coherent framework for research and outreach: global environmental change; natural resource depletion; future cities; energy and mobility; cleaner technologies and industrial processes; and policy choices. AGS project leaders have raised more than $18 million to supplement these projects and related sustainability research at the partner universities.

Cooperation with developing countries was the focus of the Alliance for Global Sustainability annual meeting, January 21—24 in Zurich. MIT President Charles M. Vest led an MIT delegation of 47 faculty and visiting scholars and 31 students to this international meeting. In his opening remarks, President Vest noted that the AGS is still a young organization, but its growing influence and value are amply illustrated at this year's meeting by the participation of so many distinguished scholars and business leaders from around the globe.

In looking at building relationships with developing countries, the AGS focused on the rapidly developing "megacities" of the southern hemisphere. In his talk, Rajandra Pachauri, Director of the Tata Energy Research Institute, New Delhi, warned that the transfer of knowledge, not simply the formulation of models based on the North's ideals for the South, will be the key to successful interaction. Professor Akin L. Mabogunje, Executive Chairman of the Development Policy Centre, Ibadan, Nigeria opened discussions on Africa. "Institutional reforms are...critical if ‘sustainability' is to become an aspect of urban development in these countries. The empowerment of urban authorities and all that this entails in institutional capacity-building are a critical prerequisite for promoting sustainable development of municipalities in developing countries." His comments on urbanization explained that over-centralization has bred alienation and indifference on the part of the majority of city residents to environmental conditions in cities.

Nearly 300 people attended the meeting, exceeding the previous year's attendance by over 100 people. Professor David H. Marks, MIT AGS Coordinator, noted that the enthusiastic response of the faculty and students at the three-partner universities is a clear indication of progress the group has made and the intellectual importance of the challenge of sustainability. The 1999 annual meeting will be hosted by the University of Tokyo.

MIT Forum on Chemicals and Society

Persistent public concerns about chemical risk in day-to-day living was the topic for the June 11—12 conference Chemicals and Society: A New Look at Persistent Concerns sponsored by the MIT Center for Environmental Initiatives. Conference attendees explored questions about managing chemicals in a socially and environmentally acceptable way. Topics dealt with the trend toward a diminished role for science in decision-making, and moderators will pose questions about the appropriate role for science, government and advocacy groups. A diverse audience from the chemical industry, government, environmental advocacy groups, and academia has been invited.

In the United States and Europe, large sectors of the public are continuing to demand that the chemical risks present in day-to-day living be reduced, despite significant environmental improvements on the part of the chemical industry: reduction of toxic releases, improvement of regulatory compliance, and a new openness to community concerns. The forum looked at the relationship between scientifically-based risk assessment and the growing societal concerns regarding sustainability, quality of life, and corporate responsibility. In addition to these programs, a new initiative in water and depletable resources is being organized.

More information about the Center for Environmental Initiatives can be found on the World Wide Web at, about the Alliance for Global Sustainability (AGS) at, and about PEER at

David H. Marks

MIT Reports to the President 1998-99