The MIT Environmental Research Council is being established to support an Institute-wide Environmental Initiative.
This charge follows up on the “Zuber Committee” report, “Creating a Sustainable Earth: An MIT Research, Teaching and Public Service Initiative for Understanding, Restoring and Managing the Environment” (http://web.mit.edu/provost/letters/letter05052008.html) and represents the MIT administration's response to the recommendations of the report.
The central recommendation of the Zuber report is that MIT should launch a research initiative focused on the development of new insights into Earth's natural systems that are required to support science, technology, design, policy, and management of interventions that advance environmental sustainability. Advances in these areas represent potential major contributions that MIT can make based on needs in the field and its core strengths, and will influence research and education on a wide range of environmental topics.
The MIT Environmental Research Council is charged with the development of a research prospectus by February 15, 2009. The prospectus will be broadly shared with the campus community so as to ensure the engagement of the faculty necessary to make the research prospectus compelling to potential donors, sponsors and other stakeholders. Potential donors expect to see a mobilization that will produce high impact research on an important topic. The charge and the composition of the Council are aimed at framing and advancing the focused research program recommended by the Zuber Committee, and at providing a foundation for the needed resource development. The MIT administration and the resource development office will assist the Council leadership in seeking such support.
MIT has robust research programs in a number of related areas – for example, water, climate change, and energy – each with a separate identity, leadership, and momentum. The Environmental Research Council is charged with consulting and engaging faculty in these areas so that the necessary synergies can be achieved, duplication avoided, and additional environmental goals framed and advanced.
We recognize that additional opportunities will arise to advance new initiatives on the environment and sustainability, drawing upon knowledge from several fields. The Environmental Research Council is charged with pursuing such opportunities to the extent that they complement the Earth systems research.
In addition to the establishment of the MIT Environmental Research Council, the Zuber Committee recommended support of a bottom-up faculty effort. A proposal has emerged for a Faculty Environmental Network, which will serve as an open forum for faculty to share their interests and goals for environmental research and education. We will support this network and look to it as a forum for ideas and information exchange within the broader environmental community.
As many of you know, the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) has established a task force to develop energy-related education at MIT (see MITEI's Education Task Force, http://web.mit.edu/mitei/education/taskforce.html). The Task Force is active and has broad engagement with faculty as well as with the leadership of key academic units. They expect to complete a major effort involving new subjects and degree programs this fall, all of which will have strong environmental components. The Environmental Research Council is charged with working with MITEI's leadership and with MITEI's Education Task Force to define and advance the energy and environmental education goals of MIT.
The Council is also asked to take a global perspective on the environment. All of the groups are charged with finding appropriate ways to engage the several student organizations that have emerged – both to harness their passion for the topics and to engage them directly in discussions about educational programs.
The MIT Environmental Research Council is further charged with consulting with the MIT Energy Council on ways to exploit synergies between environmental and energy research. To facilitate this consultation, the chairs (or their representatives) of the Environmental and Energy Councils will serve ex officio on each other's Council.
The administration expects the MIT Environmental Research Council to have a life of five years and may be renewed. At the end of each year, the Council will submit a report, and the administration will review the charge and the membership of the Council.