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Meeting promotes sustainability pact

MIT President Charles M. Vest led a delegation of 23 professors, researchers and staff from MIT to Japan last week for a major meeting of the Alliance for Global Sustainability.

The Alliance, announced last October, is a joint effort of three university partners--MIT, the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH) and the University of Tokyo (UT)--to pool resources and work with industry and government to address the issues surrounding global sustainability through research collaborations, education and public outreach.

The Tokyo meeting was the first in which principal investigators from all three universities came together to develop their collaborative research projects.

One session featured the presidents of the three universities, Charles Vest of MIT, Jakob Nuesch of ETH, and Hiroyuki Yoshikawa of UT, in a public discussion of the role of universities in promotion of sustainability. Two other university presidents, Heitor Gurgulino de Souza of United Nations University and Wang Dazhong of Tsinghua (China) University also made presentations.

"The formation of the alliance is symbolic of the commitment that all of our institutions have made to working on some of the most urgent problems that the world community now faces," said President Vest.

He cited the global ban on CFCs as a complex sustainability issue that required cooperative work from many sides to succeed: scientific evidence, research to reduce economic and scientific uncertainties, industry's cooperation, research and development of new technologies, and an equitable phase-out of the chemicals.

"These challenges (of sustainability) share certain characteristics: they are large, they are complex, and they lie at the intersection of economic and environmental goals. They transcend borders. No single country can address them alone and no institution whether industrial, public or academic can provide complete solutions. Yet the strength of each can be enhanced by working together," Dr. Vest said.

Other sessions were primarily working meetings for alliance participants. Ten alliance research groups met in planning and discussion workshops on the following topics: global climate changes, sustainable management of environmental resources, mobility, future cities/land use planning, industrial ecology/life cycle assessment/inverse manufacturing, energy, agriculture, framing sustainability and institutional harmonization, cleaner technology and human health.

"We are hoping to build solid critical-mass interactions on sustainability on an international level," said David Marks, professor of civil and environmental engineering, director of the Program in Environmental Engineering and Research and coordinator of the alliance.

Following the alliance meetings was a January 20 session to explore expanding research efforts in the environment and sustainable development in China, as a follow-up to the July 1995 Beijing conference on that topic. This meeting was sponsored by the MIT Science and Technology Initiative (MISTI)/China Program and was co-chaired by Professor Suzanne Berger, head of MISTI, and Professor Marks.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 24, 1996.

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