Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sustainability is Sustainable and Good for Business, Our Health, Our World

I returned a short while ago from NYC where yesterday I took part in an extraordinary conference -- The New York Times 2013 Energy for Tomorrow Conference.

The full agenda of the conference can be accessed directly here.

It was an intellectual feast that brought together mayors, an Academy Award winner, thought leaders, scientists, environmentalists, investors, policy makers, and decision-makers, corporate employees from IBM to Google, as well as a farmer/former NBA player/MacArthur Fellow -- and these were just some of the speakers. In the audience, I met a colleague from Cornell (now retired), a diplomat from the Chinese embassy in DC, a Georgia Tech professor, numerous journalists from as far as Singapore, affordable housing advocates, urban planners, students, a researcher at MIT, head of the electric vehicle taxi program for NYC, and a financier in private equity, to single out just a few.

The conference began with a stimulating breakfast session (the food was good, too) on smart vehicles, but time was too short for me to be able to ask the question that I had -- what about cybersecurity issues in this product domain? I was thrilled that even operations research was mentioned -- indeed, where would transport studies be without OR?!

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of NYC, who needs no introduction, was introduced by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of The New York Times, and both were absolutely brilliant.

With the paralysis in Washington (Congress) regarding environmental action, mayors and cities are leading the way.  This is the first truly urban century and cities have to (and many are) taking action. We must unlock human creativity and take actions to mitigate risk. Mayor Bloomberg chairs the C40 group, which actually consists of 60 cities.

Mayor Bloomberg had 4 major points with the first one being that one must develop a plan with goals and metrics -- you have to be able to measure. He has done much to improve air quality and water quality and, along with the Sierra Club, has been instrumental in retiring many coal-fired power plants.

750,000 trees have been planted in NYC with a goal of planting 1 million and he gave credit also to Bette Midler.

He noted how sustainability provides good economic value -- being environmentally friendly improves your brand and helps in recruiting -- vibrant, smart employees want to work in places where they can breathe clean air!

He mentioned how he, with Al Gore (former VP and of the An Inconvenient Truth fame), climbed up on a rooftop and painted it white -- with white rooftops reducing energy costs by 20% -- a quick payback.

He also emphasized private-public partnerships -- closing roads to traffic -- something I have written about, spoken about, and even been interviewed on, and how we should be stealing the best ideas in terms of transport and sustainability from around the world.

What really intrigued me is when he said that China will become a leading environmentalist in the next 10 years  He, as several others yesterday, emphasized resiliency and that we must prepare for extreme events. Hurricane Sandy was noted several times during the conference.

The next panel was the Mayors panel and the panelists were engaging, and very  entertaining with one of my favorite quotes being "cars are the next cigarettes."  The theme that people will vote with their feet (want to live and work in a sustainable location) continued.

We were then treated to a conversation between Andrew Revkin and Jeremy Irons, who has garnered not only an Academy Award, but numerous other awards for his acting. His passion for the environment resonated as did his eloquence. The night before the conference, the movie Trashed, which he was the Executive Producer of, was screened, and more info on what is being done to our globe because of garbage can be found here.  He noted that he is using the actor's power to address important problems and even emphasized electronic recycling and packaging -- his knowledge impressed me. He noted that a film can inject a feeling of purpose. He also emphasized that it is about education and that industry should prove that what it is making is 100% safe. Since my research group does a lot of work on sustainable supply chains his message was near and very dear to me. Coincidentally, Revkin is a fellow Brown University grad and I heard him deliver the Daffodil Lecture at UMass a while back.

Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times then led a panel on renewable energy with experts from the US and abroad, including the CEO of ConEd, Kevin Burke. Joe Nocera, also of The New York Times, followed with a panel on the role of technology and innovation and I was especially moved by Stephen Kennedy Smith, who spoke on agribusiness and urban food supply. I managed to talk with him later and mentioned that when I got my PhD from Brown his nephew, John F. Kennedy Jr., received his undergraduate degree. There are also other school ties which I noted.

During lunch, we ate (a very healthy spread) and discussed the urban food supply and since one of my most recent papers was on competitive food supply chains (with Min Yu), which was published in the European Journal of Operational Research, this topic was mesmerizing. Will Allen, the Renaissance man -- farmer and MacArthur Fellow, regaled us with his work in inner cities and urban farms.

I had to then take off since it was time to get ready for the Transport and Traffic panel that I was speaking at, which was moderated by Joe Nocera, and I had terrific company!

Below are several of my fellow panelists as we get ready in the "Green" room which actually had a red door.

The day concluded with breakout sessions in which we brainstormed and a closing session Dealbook: Investing in the city of tomorrow -- provocative and timely.

Prior to that we also got to hear Bill Keller of The Times in conversation with Carol Browner -- the former energy czar. She also spoke about resilience and noted the importance of physical infrastructure, nature, and communities -- simply fabulous

The conference was videostreamed and you can access the videos of the various panels on the conference website.  The Transport and Traffic panel that I was part of can be accessed directly here.
I had to bring in the Braess paradox into the conversation as well as congestion charging and transport congestion policies dating back to Roman times -- when chariots were the problem!

And I could not resist posting photos below taken of me with Professor Richard Schuler, professor emeritus of Cornell, and of  Dr. Yajun Fang of MIT taken at the reception at the end of a very exciting day. Professor Schuler is the academic father of Professor Ben Hobbs of Hopkins, an INFORMS Fellow.

New York City was as vibrant, exciting, and stunning as always and I share with you the additional photos that I took while walking as a very happy pedestrian in NYC!

And, on the way back to Massachusetts, via Amtrak on the Vermonter, as I strolled back to the dining car for a cup of tea I heard a greeting --"Hello, Anna!" and it was one of my favorite Isenberg School of Management colleagues, Professor Glenn Wong, of sports law and sports management fame.