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Notes from the Lab


The adoption by Massachusetts and New York of California's "zero-emissions vehicle" rule has raised much controversy regarding the efficacy of requiring that two percent of all vehicles sold be electric powered starting in 1998.

To determine whether such a strategy makes environmental sense, MIT researchers led by Stephen Connors of the Energy Laboratory examined the impacts on air emissions of four hypothetical electric vehicle (EV) fleets in New England. The task required predicting both the emissions eliminated when EVs replace internal combustion vehicles and the emissions created when power plants are used to produce electricity to charge the EVs' batteries.

Even with increased operation of today's not-so-clean power plants, the team found that EV fleets can reduce the net regional emissions of most pollutants. Although the reductions are not large, the research identifies ways to enhance them-and changes that eliminate the savings. The team also concluded that while EVs may not be the most effective means of achieving region-wide reductions in ozone, their use in cities could contribute to improved air quality and human health.

The work was sponsored by six New England utilities through the Energy Lab's Electric Utility Program, of which Connors is director.

Nancy Stauffer, Energy Laboratory


Historically, the market and government regulation have been the dominant forces shaping the actions of private firms with respect to the environment. Today, however, a new influence is emerging as companies collaborate with environmental advocacy groups to develop environmental codes for corporate practices.

MIT's Technology, Business and Environment Program (TBE) has launched a research initiative to study the way companies are adopting such codes, how these codes have evolved and whether they are working to improve environmental performance.

Different from regulations that are often cumbersome for companies to manage, these codes are industry-driven and manifest themselves as goals to help change corporate values and enhance performance. Examples of such codes are "Responsible Care," developed by the Chemical Manufacturers Association, and "ISO 14000," part of the International Organization for Standardization.

So far, the researchers led by TBE research associate Jennifer H. Nash have observed four types of companies that have become leaders in developing and implementing such codes: 1) very large companies that are often scrutinized by regulators; 2) companies with a history of environmental abuse, trying to improve their image; 3) companies with more "intimate" relationships with the public, such as consumer product manufacturers, and 4) companies that inherently have strong environmental values.

(Source: Technology, Business and Environment Program)

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 15, 1995.

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