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Re-engineering our economy to be sustainable and profitable

Madison, Wis. - If you dropped the word “sustainability” in a crowd of business executives five years ago, most of them would have pegged you as an aging hippie, then scrambled away to avoid any lectures about riding their bikes to work.

Today, sustainability still carries some linguistic baggage, but those same business execs might stick around to talk because there's no avoiding a rational conversation. Global climate change, constraints on some resources, and restrictions on waste and emissions are changing the face of business - and the technologies that drive it.

Examining those challenges and possible market-based solutions will be the focus of a Nov. 30-Dec. 1 conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Fluno Center for Executive Education. Current and former business leaders from some of the world's largest corporations will join with leading academics for “Engineering Sustainability in the Global Enterprise,” a forum produced by the UW-Madison College of Engineering and the Department of Engineering Professional Development.

The forum promises to be timely as well as informative. Within the last month, a report issued by Britain's government urged that economic growth and environmentalism can go hand-in-hand as the world seeks ways to head off the worst effects of global climate change. A separate report warned of the possible depletion of fisheries worldwide, and a chorus of scientists suggested a 21st century “Manhattan Project” to dramatically increase research and development of energy technologies.

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The UW forum recognizes those challenges and more, but suggests they need not be crippling to either the environment or the economy if they are properly managed through technical leadership, innovation, and good business sense.

“This will provide an in-depth discussion of sustainability's challenges and opportunities over the next 20 years,” said Thomas W. Smith, program director of the Department of Engineering Professional Development. “Our speakers and panelists will share the science behind the headlines as well as industry efforts to implement sustainability strategies.”

The conference is aimed at chief technology officers, directors of engineering, research and development directors, global product managers, and other engineering executives. Among the speakers who will take part are:

• Sanjay Correa, global technology leader for energy and propulsion technology at GE Research. Correa is a principal in GE's Ecomagination initiative.

• Allan Emkin, the principal author of the paper guiding the $140 billion sustainability commitment of the California State Teachers Retirement Fund.

• Jonathan Foley, director of the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at the UW-Madison.

• Robert Hirsch, senior energy adviser for SAIC and a former vice president of the Electric Power Research Institute. He has also worked at RAND, Atlantic Richfield, Exxon, and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

• Horoshi Komiyama, a leader in Japan's industrial sustainability movement, is president of the University of Tokyo.

Divestment pattern

Academic and industrial research into energy technologies has taken on renewed importance as federal research in that realm has declined. “Real” federal spending for all energy research and development - not just the research aimed at climate-friendly technologies - is less than half what it was a quarter-century ago. It has fallen to $3 billion per year in the most recent budget from an inflation-adjusted $7.7 billion in 1979, according to recent studies.

President Bush wants to increase energy research to $4.2 billion in 2007, but most experts believe industry and academia, working together, must accelerate the R&D process. Unless the search for non-polluting energy sources and systems becomes more urgent, the world may confront stepped up climate change - and the political, economic, and social fallout that will accompany it - sooner than later.

The UW-Madison's forum is an example of the Wisconsin Idea at work. It extends the borders of the university to include leaders from private industry and beyond. Sustainability need not be a phrase that scatters business-oriented crowds, but one that pulls them together in a search for business-smart solutions.

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Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. To learn more about “Engineering Sustainability in the Global Enterprise,” visit epd.engr.wisc.edu or call 608-262-1299.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

Comments

Georgia Gromov responded 8 years ago: #1

Solving the current challenges requires the consious attention of those who would build our thinking about sustainability to include a whole brain model at the core of its development. To do otherwise does not position design at a greater level than our current state.

We have the power to move with greater intelligence. There is considerable research and complimentary data that suggests a whole brain approach creates sustainability in an of itself while being exceedingly beneficial to both top-line and bottom-line figures and performance over time.

Our 25 years of research shows that gender balanced whole brain teams will out think and out perform those teams who have not given this matter thoughtful organization. It appears from this article we have yet another intersection of business intelligence coming together that has the potentional for significant contribution being orchastrated without engineering what we already know will produce a catalyst environment. What is holding us back? For we surely have the knowledge base to get unblocked. How will can we weight our time, energy and resources at conferences like this with orchastration that produce extraordinary return in favor of stainable future? The answers to a future or not, will be a long time to arrival in 21st Century forums patterned off living in the Roman Empire. We need forums smacking of our intelligence and the brighness of the year 2006.

We have what we need to make this effort successful beyond what any other age has had to offer.

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