Transforming the Industrial State: The Ultimate Complex System Challenge

MIT SDM Systems Thinking Webinar Series

Nicholas A. Ashford, PhD, JD
Professor of Technology and Policy, MIT
Director, MIT Technology and Law Program

Date: October 17, 2011


About the Presentation

The most crucial problem in achieving a more sustainable industrial system is lock-in or path dependency due to (1) the failure to envision, design, and implement policies that achieve co-optimization, or the mutually reinforcing of social goals (economic welfare, environmental quality, and earning capacity), and (2) entrenched economic and political interests that game (and gain from) the present system and advancement of its current trends. It is argued that industrial policy, environmental law and policy, and trade initiatives must be 'opened up' by expanding the practice of multi-purpose policy design and that these policies must be integrated as well. Integration can result in stronger, but not necessarily bigger, government. Sustainable development requires stimulating revolutionary technological and institutional innovation through environmental, health, safety, economic, labor-market, and trade regulation. Greater support for these changes must also be reinforced by 'opening up the participatory and political space' to enable new voices to contribute to integrated systems thinking and solutions. Societal innovations and transformation are also needed, but they are insufficient by themselves to transcend technical, economic, financial, and political lock-in. Law is key to accomplishing both. Insights from a new book: Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development: Transforming the Industrial State (2011, Yale University Press) will inform the presentation.

About the Speaker

Professor Nicholas A. Ashford teaches courses in Environmental Law, Policy, & Economics; Law, Technology, & Public Policy; and Sustainability, Trade & Environment. Ashford is a faculty associate of the Center for Technology, Policy, and Industrial Development in the School of Engineering; the Institute for Work and Employment Research in the Sloan School of Management; and the Environmental Policy Group in the Urban Studies Department. He holds both a PhD in chemistry and a law degree from the University of Chicago, where he also received graduate education in economics. Ashford's courses, jointly listed with ESD/Engineering, the Sloan School, and Urban Studies, draw students from all over the Institute. He has supervised graduate theses in the TPP, ESD, and SDM programs.

Ashford is the co-author of two recent textbooks/readers: Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development: Transforming the Industrial State (2011, Yale University Press) and Environmental Law, Policy, and Economics: Reclaiming the Environmental Agenda (2008, MIT Press). He has published five additional books and several hundred articles in peer-reviewed journals and law reviews.

Ashford was a public member and chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety & Health, served on the EPA Science Advisory Board, and was chairman of the Committee on Technology Innovation & Economics of the EPA National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology. Ashford is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and former chair of its Section on Societal Impacts of Science and Engineering. He served as an advisor to the United Nations Environment Programme and currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Cleaner Production; the Journal of Environmental Technology and Management; the Journal of Environmental Policy and Governance; and Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions.

About the Series

The MIT System Design and Management Program Systems Thinking Webinar Series features research conducted by SDM faculty, alumni, students, and industry partners. The series is designed to disseminate information on how to employ systems thinking to address engineering, management, and socio-political components of complex challenges.

Nicholas A. Ashford

Nicholas A. Ashford

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