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David H. Marks
James Mason Crafts Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
To the US House of Representatives
The Environmental Technologies Act of 1993
10:30 am to 12:30 PM
November 18, 1993
I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the Subcommittee on the National Initiatives in Green Technologies-Legislative Proposals. At MIT, I am an educator of two different types of students: Those who are preparing for careers as environmental professionals and those whose professional decisions in technology, management and policy will have a great impact on the environment. We have done a good job of educating the former (about 5% of MIT students) for over 100 years. We are just now learning and experimenting with new curricula, subjects, modules, internships in industry and new methods of analysis to educate the other 95%. This is a critical transition as future sustainable development will depend on the knowledge, experiences, methods and attitudes of all our graduates. It is important that the educational portion of the proposed legislation learn from some of the difficulties introduced in this transition such as disciplinary boundary barriers, the lack of critical interdisciplinary research and the lack of awareness of the need for students to understand the social, economic and political context of their technologic and scientific studies. I would like to respond to the questions put to me by the Subcommittee as follows:
1) How is MIT attempting to educate its scientists and engineers generally about integrating environmental sustainability into their analysis?
The important prerequisite was to form an interdisciplinary faculty group interested in integration and development in this area. The purpose of such a group is to insure cooperation across disciplinary boundaries. PEEER (the MIT Program for Environmental Engineering Education and Research) is a "virtual" program. Faculty from different disciplines belong voluntarily drawn by the intellectual challenge and their desires to improve our performance in this area. Together they have helped to build exciting new programs such as:
a. Programs for Environmental Professionals
A new undergraduate degree program in Environmental Engineering Science administered by Civil and Environmental Engineering announces the start of a whole new discipline. The program presently has about 5% of MITs undergraduates enrolled.
The provision of six subject Minor Programs in Environmental Engineering Science for Students in other Engineering, Science, Planning, Management and Humanities students.
Preeminent Professional and Research Oriented Graduate Programs in every aspect of Environmental Engineering Science.
b. Programs for Other Professionals to help them increase their knowledge of how decisions about material selection, technologic process, product use and design and recycling impact sustainable development
New undergraduate and graduate literacy subjects that require few prerequisites have been established. An example has been an award winning series in Chemicals in the
Environment covering sources, controls, movement in the environment, toxicology and regulation and policy.
The introduction of new introduction of small environmental modules and examples into basic professional subjects. We want to send the message that every professional has, among his/her responsibilities, concern for the environment.
New professional and research degrees for other science and technology majors. We have developed a new Masters degree in industrial ecology which features an internship in industry and integrating knowledge about life cycle analysis. We have developed new research and educational programs in environmentally-sound technologies, in green design, in recycling, business and the environment, and in energy and the environment.
Both these programs are increasingly interacting with industry and government to put students into intern situations in industry, to bring practitioners back to the university and to bring professional tools and approaches (like TQM) into education.
Through this mechanism we have been able to make these opportunities available to all our students. (Please recall that even the poets at MIT take a year-long core of calculus, physics, chemistry, biology and other science- and technology-intensive subjects freshman year.) Thus our students bring strong reprequisite knowledge and problem solving skills to these difficult problems.
2) How many other colleges and universities also have well developed programs to integrate environmental sustainability into_traditional science and engineering education?
We see other schools attempting to do similar things, although most have focused on research first and education second. (Tufts and Michigan are notable exceptions.) All have to fight the battle of how to bring faculty from different disciplines to cooperate. Our experience tells us it is better to let this grow in a "bottoms up" voluntary manner than to force it from the "top down" with permanent artificial structures such as Departments or Schools of the Environment. Programs based on this legislation should attempt to grow and demonstrate voluntary cooperation instead.
There is still missing knowledge to keep the process growing - which this legislation should attempt to address through research for education. Life Cycle Analysis has many unresolved information and philosophical issues. Industrial organization may impede technologic process. Firms are also interested in goals of lower cost, higher quality, better worker safety, reduced liability, and global competitiveness as well as sustainable development. How does one design for all these goals? The bill should encourage the building of this new knowledge and the free interchange of new materials and concepts between universities as well as between government, industry and public
3) How could the federal government best catalyze this type of educational activity nationally?
A) Encourage at participating universities the building of "voluntary infrastructure" to bring together the many disciplines needed to make this process work. Provide these organizations with incentives for new activities based on cooperative action.
B) This education is important for all students, not just those who want to be environmental professionals. For those who are on other tracks, influence them through literacy subjects, modules in existing subjects, and environmentally-oriented design exercises. Make sure that students learn the social, economic and political context of their technologies as sustainable development is about making difficult choices among alternatives in multi-cultural settings with different values.
C) Build strong links within academia and between academia, industry, government and public groups. Mechanisms are incentives for bringing students and faculty into contact with "real problems", and for bringing professionals back to campus.
D) Help provide the basic knowledge needed to expand life cycle analysis, industrial metabolism and industrial ecology concepts from rough sketches to fully understood methodologic tools with the data and case studies needed to use them.
I would like to thank the Subcommittee for this opportunity to give my views on this important piece of legislation, and I will be pleased to respond to your questions.