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« Macroeconomics: growth vs. sustainable growth dynamics | Main

March 07, 2009

Live from the Energy Conference

Surprisingly, it was Lars Josefsson, President and CEO of Vattenfall at the MIT Energy Conference, that made the most compelling case for sustainability. In fact, sustainability was one of the three pillars he envisioned as key to the future for the network of European utilities.

The Sloan Energy and Environment Club and the MIT Energy Club are hosting the yearly energy conference with international leaders and innovators in the field. This year's conference is addressing bio-energy, the next stage of wind power generation, baseload and energy storage dynamics, demand-response for electricity, and energy use in emerging global economies.

So what does this have to do with sustainability? Although there are different definitions for sustainability, the working definition I like is that sustainability is the approach to managing resources (natural, human, capital, and technological) in such a way that our earth will remain habitable beyond the subsistence-level for the next 100 to 200 years. I add the 100 years after having sat through the Sustainable Energy class taught by Professors Michael Fehler, Jeffrey Freidberg, Michael Golay, William Green Jr., Andrew Peterson, and Jefferson Tester last fall. Applying a time frame to sustainability makes it a less unwieldy concept to grapple with, and has consequences for how businesses can conceive of depreciating their assets, the cost of equity and debt, the durability of products, and the health and lifestyle consequences of the labor and consumer markets that they touch.

Mr. Josefsson determined that energy efficiency and a thoughtful addressing of the bi-products problem of nuclear energy generation are issues which are considered under the umbrella of sustainability.

The intersection of economic development, international trade and market growth, and climate change are potentially a point of tension for the generations to come as countries struggle with how to  manage the commons: air, and water. The issue of how we account for our impact will increasingly take on more importance. I was lucky to attend a Sustainable Development presentation by the MIT anthropology department that opened up a new level of discussion among us students about what words like "development", "environment", and "democracy" mean across cultures, and brought to the forefront issues that will be addressed at this year's MIT Sustainability Summit.

The Sustainability Summit, "New Dimensions of Growth" will be held on April 24th and address the economic recession as it effects sustainability, metrics for sustainability, and new opportunities and partnerships created through sustainability.

The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is "to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice." With action-based learning, a customized program and the commitment to a small class size, strong links to the other schools at MIT, including the engineering, social sciences, and new media programs, and global engagement and visibility, this school is uniquely positioned to address the sustainability challenges that my generation and those to come after will face.