Research and Reports


GSSD Reports

Global Accords for Sustainable Development:
Enabling Technologies and Links to Finance and Legal Institutions

Session 9: Discussion of Symposium Issues

George Lauer
Senior Consultant, ARCO (Environmental Protection)

Actually, it is Professor Choucri who asked a number of us from industry to speak for a few moments, and this is my first attendance at a conference on sustainable development.

There are a number of things that bothered me, but I think the one key thing was what Dr. Allenby said of a significant step further. What I heard over and over again at this conference was "technology, technology, technology." I counted up to 300 times and that was yesterday evening. Yet nobody ever said, what is technology? And it seems almost like it is a religious word.

The thing that I really did not understand is we are talking about consumption of goods. We do not want just technology. What we are really looking for is to change human behavior and I have not seen one psychologist in this room. I question, why not?

Economists do not change human behavior. Scientists surely do not. We learned that a long time ago. We need to understand what makes people tick, why they are willing to consume. In one half minute I can explain this: In 1989 my company, ARCO, came out with something called "reformulated gasoline." We had a series of advertisements touting how much good it was going to do for the environment. And we promptly lost a very significant part of our market share for that product. The head of that operating unit could not stand the loss of market share. He came out with his own advertising scheme.

We advertised how sexy this new gasoline is and how much power they could get out of their cars by using the new gasoline. Our market share went up. What it clearly told that man was that people were not interested in the environment. They were interested in power and sex. Perhaps things have not changed much. I think I will let it go there.

Mary Jane Von Allman
Manager, Strategic Initiatives, Texaco, Inc.

I am also new to the issue of sustainable development, and the thing that really struck me is that almost everyone is using the same vocabulary. But it was obvious that many of you had different definitions of that vocabulary and had different ideas behind the use of that vocabulary.

I think that if you are going to meet again in five years to determine how much progress you have made, one of the things that needs to be done is a better communication program so people understand what sustainable development means.

What do all the other things we have talked about here mean? And where are we going? Where do we want to be? And what will sustainable development look like when we get there?

Kenneth Prewitt

We are into highly practical advice. Bring some psychologists in to help us write the dictionaries thus far. But I keep inviting people to do that, rather specific things which they think would make sense as we wind the thing down.

Carl B. Schultz
Senior Environmental Counsel, AMP Incorporated

I have been asked to speak. It is really a privilege to be here, and it is a privilege to be asked to speak about sustainable development. I am with a company called AMP in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and around the world. We make electrical connectors.

I say that if nothing else it is quite clear, we all benefit tremendously from hearing each other's perspectives on these issues. It is quite clear that there are a lot of complicated issues that are all intertwined, and if we are going to make progress on these things, we need to work together.

Speaking for myself personally and my company, we are very happy to be here and to be a part of this discussion, and we would like to continue to engage in the discussion with you.

Brian Flannery
Section Head, Exxon Research & Engineering Company

Nazli asked if we would make a few comments. My role in following this is my usual one. I follow the science and the international processing climate change with works at MIT on research on that issue. And by and large in that, our role in industry is observer, and my presumed role at this meeting also was observer to see where the debate had moved in sustainable development. But I would like to make a couple of comments more as a scientific issue.

"Sustainable development" does have in it a number of ideas. They are difficult to make operational, and they are also difficult to use for setting priorities. I think one thing that would be very important is looking at the time scales that may be involved -- both the time scales of the issues in terms of what the physical or environmental impacts might be and the time scales in terms of response options, as one of those ways of looking at how we can begin to think about setting priorities.

And in that regard we have heard a lot about technology. We have heard a lot about the need to move from depletable resources (and I am with Exxon and we do produce oil, gas, coal -- they are definitely a depletable resource). But we heard a lot about the need to replace them because they would soon be gone. And I would just like to put that in the context of technology.

There are a number of innovations that occur in technology -- and this is a moving target. Is it good news or bad news that the existing supplies of oil are today far larger than they were 10 years ago when we thought we would run out? And they can be produced far less expensively. And that is as a result of application of techniques like 3D horizontal drilling which is an innovation in our industry. That may make it more difficult for those competing technologies to, in fact, enter the commercial marketplace.

But on the other hand, the good news is there is a very large scale of abundant, relatively cheap fossil fuels which can be used in most applications in a way that is getting cleaner, through the appropriate use of technology. But this is good news only if we ignore the potential issue of climate change and the greenhouse effect -- which are long-term issues.

The question then is: how fast do we need to develop and move in to a sustainable cycle in each of the different sectors that may be affected? And what are the implications for cost and priorities? And I leave that as a very powerful thought that you need to think about because we cannot do everything simultaneously.

Anne Condon
Director, International Programs, General Electric Company

I will comment very specifically, from my perspective, on what I thought was missing from this discussion over the last two days. And I think that there were a couple of things.

We talked a lot about the growth of private finance in the world and the flows of cash that are going into the developing world. We did not have a lot of discussion about which countries that is going to. That is a very important piece of this discussion. And we did not talk about who was left out and why. And those again were hinted at a little bit by the speaker from the Swiss bank. But some of those issues are very fundamental to why money is going to a particular place and why investment is going to a particular place.

And then the next question is: why is it that so much of the money that is going into places like China and India is not being used at least in part for sort of environmental improvements?

And the only answer I can give you as somebody who has watched a lot of those investments is that the political will to do on the part of the people who are really controlling those investments, which are usually the government entities which are approving them, is not there to do it.

So my own perspective -- nothing to do with GE -- is that the way you have got to get to and build the political will at that level is two things:

One is some level of education of the local population so they demand it. And the other level is some insistence by political leaders that if you are allowing an investment into your community, you are requiring that the infrastructure to support that investment is there.

These are issues that were not talked about or discussed in this meeting. It is just my perspective as somebody who has watched a lot of investment into a lot of developing countries.

Kenneth Prewitt

Thank you very much. The next speaker is someone who is asking to speak. You are certainly encouraged to give comments but also direct questions, if you wish, to any of the panelists.

Jeremy Eppel
Counsellor, Environment Directorate, OECD

I really just wanted to react quickly to one of the asked for speakers in the last little group, specifically George Lauer from ARCO, who made the very interesting comment about technology having been the constant recurring word in this meeting.

Clearly that was a very major recurring word. But I also heard the word behavior a lot yesterday. And I think what I was getting from this was a message, particularly in the last few presentations, where we were hearing about some really exciting technological innovations, was the need to bring together the behavioral sciences and the physical sciences even more than we have seen in this fascinating gathering that we have had. And I really congratulate Nazli for what she has been able to bring together.

I was not going to put a plug in for the OECD, but I cannot resist it just for one second because we have, to an extent, begun to recognize key behavioral issues in some of the work we have been doing on changing consumption patterns. Clearly we have seen the need to look at the behavioral issues.

This is especially true in some work we are doing on transport and consumption. We have had two workshops bringing in exactly psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, social geographers with economists, engineers and so on. And we are very happy to make that work available if it would help. It will be eventually up on the Internet and on OECD's own publications.

But if it would help to feed some summary of that into the proceedings of this I would be delighted to do it. So, you know, there is a sense that we need to bring some of these disciplines together and I think if I have any suggestion for another meeting that Nazli might organize, it might be to bring in some of those behavioral scientists even more.

I know there is a strong field in that here at MIT and elsewhere, but I think it could be even more strong. Because, after all, it is people that use technology, and if people are not interested in the technology, do not see the benefits, or cannot relate to it in terms of their culture or psychology, it is not going to penetrate very fast.

And if you want innovative technology to go far and fast, you need people to be receptive to it.

Anthony John Fairclough
Capacity 21 Advisor, UNDP

I am one of a small group of advisors to the UNDP on its Capacity 21 program, which is a program designed to encourage and assist countries to develop their human resources and build capacity for sustainable development. And I wanted to intervene for two reasons:

One is that I think though there have been a few references to the importance of capacity-building, I do not believe it has been sufficiently stressed during this meeting the vital importance if we are going to have any chance of promoting sustainable development in the developing countries to assist them in developing their own resources for promoting sustainable development. 

The second reason I wanted to intervene is it seemed to me one or two of the comments in this last round were very, very apt indeed. Somebody said the "political will is lacking." That is why investments do not go in favor of environment, in favor of sustainable development.

This is a point which emerged clearly in a meeting in Morocco a couple of months ago reviewing three years of Capacity 21. And there were examples of countries where there is political will, China being one of them, where things were moving fast in launching programs of sustainable development, and many other examples where the political will was not there and where progress was much slower.

The other point that was made which is, I think, very important and which is of the essence of Capacity 21 Program is the importance of involving local populations, local leaders.

The whole essence of the Capacity 21 Program is to motivate -- and is to involve people in a participatory process which is inevitably slow, inevitably long, and involves debates and discussions and dissension. Consensus building is a slow process. And this answers another point that was just made, namely, where are we going? Where do we want to be? What will sustainable development look like when we get there?

Now, there is no general answer to that. It will be different for every country, every town. But it is very important, it seems to us, and that is why I was so glad to hear this point made. But the people affected are intimately involved in a process of deciding for themselves what it is and what it involves and where it should be.

They may get it wrong. But if they do not get to a decision, there is no chance of it being given reality.

Kenneth Prewitt

It is important, though, to underline that sometimes the absence of political will when you get up close turns out to be the absence of capacity. We have got a lot of countries that do not have that basic capacity.

Conrado Bauer
President, World Federation of Engineering Organizations

I am President of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations. I have profited from these meetings in these two days. I think it is very important. And I congratulate MIT to take the lead of activity in this field of sustainable development. I think as an engineer. And I think that engineering is one of the forefront activities to create and use technology and so to develop a real sustainable development or the opposite. Because of this I think it will be very important as a practical move to sustainability to use engineers as a group to create this sustainable development.

We must use information. We must train engineers. We must establish the capacity in developed countries to use better resources, to use better energy. In developing countries we must push to fill the gap between developing and developed countries.

For sustainable government we need also sustainability in the social world. With this increasing gap between rich and poor, the situation will be worse year by year.

Because of this I ask all of you to improve the capability of the developed world to aid developing engineers to mobilize them to be real agents of sustainable development. I think we can use information technology and means. We can use training activities, but we must push in this field in developing countries to convince engineers to change their minds and to convince them that we engineers are really competent to deal with sustainability.

Kenneth Prewitt

Obviously, as American universities really develop a culture of commitment to sustainable development, whatever that may turn out to be, we do want to remember the number of foreign students who are being trained in our schools of technology -- enormously high now.

In some of our schools 70%, 80% are non-Americans. So part of the mechanism by which that will get transferred back to a number of other countries will be through the training systems that are really in the West.

John T. Preston

Technology has both been praised and beaten up recently. At any rate, I thought I would make a comment because in eight to ten minutes it is really hard to convey some complex thoughts.

Behavioral issues have not been ignored by those of us who are trying to build businesses around technology; multimetals today are worth a billion dollars. We would not make success with technology commercially if we did not think about the behavioral issues of the people who are going to adopt those technologies and pay for them.

And the key point is that if you look at fundamental behavioral issues, people would like to have certain commodities or energy or whatever at the lowest price possible.

The question is: can we come up with technologies that create the lowest price possible so that we do not have to change their behavior? I think it is important that we have behavioral sciences look at the problems related to the environment, but I think it is particularly acute on the regulatory side, where we have somewhat bizarre and historical reasons for certain -- for example, as Maurice Strong said during his lunch address, $300 billion dollars worth of subsidies for fossil fuel consumption. Is that really so? Or is that suppressing the development of solar energy or other alternative fuels that are more environmentally benign?

The key point is that I am not trying to develop technologies for the sake of pushing technologies out there.

What we are trying to do is accommodate (a) the way people naturally behave with (b) the technological solutions that are superior from an environmental point of view.

Kenneth Prewitt

Thank you. It is obviously getting close to the closing hour. You will have noticed in your program that at 3:30 we were to turn the podium over to Nazli. And she has actually asked me to close down the session.

Collaborators and Co-Sponsors
I would like to say that though MIT should get the disproportionate amount of praise and/or blame, depending on your judgment, of the symposium, it is very important for you to take notice of a number of co-sponsors and collaborators who have been involved in putting this together. I will not read the list. It is on the front page of the program.

Speakers, Chairs & Organizers
But as we go away from here, let us remember that this kind of activity is really only as good as the number of institutions and individuals who lend their resources and time and energy to it. It is also true all of you know who have ever put together a meeting like this that even though the person who is most visible (in this case Nazli) does get lots of appreciation, she would be the very first to want me to emphasize -- and I would like to emphasize -- the kind of staff work that has to go into an activity like this. And it has been extremely well put together.

And then it would be of course ideal if I could close this meeting with a succinct definition of sustainable development. But I cannot. Nor will I even try to summarize the meeting. It is a work in progress, this activity that we are all engaged in, our institutions and so forth.

People & "Proceedings" 
I am reminded of the number of times when someone says about a dissertation student, someone who is outside of the academy, that that is just one more dissertation that is going to go on the shelf and gather dust and no one is ever going to read it. And my comment always when I am in the presence of that observation -- which is often true, by the way -- is that the person who wrote the dissertation is not going on the shelf.

The person who wrote it is going to go out in the world and try to do some things based upon the discipline and knowledge that they have acquired in the process of writing that dissertation.

Well, it is true of symposia. You know, you look at them and you think, "Well, finally, did they really get where they wanted to get and did they make it happen? Did they summarize? Did they synthesize? Are they just one more symposium that goes on the analogy of the dusty shelf?"

Institutions & Actions
But the symposium is the people who were here and presumably were all rearranged in some of our thinking; and it is the institutions we are responsible for and so forth. So I think that this is not one more symposium to go on the dusty shelf.

It is really the set of actors who have been here and given their time and energy, thought about it, made some presentations, had some arguments, had some side conversations, and so forth; and either we go out and sort of do the next three or four years a little better than we did the last three or four years, or we do not.

And if we do not, there is nobody else out there to do it. We really are a large subset of the set of actors who have got to try to make this happen. So with that I do thank the co-sponsors, MIT of course, Nazli and her staff, and thank you all.