Members of the world’s two largest energy-consuming countries met at the University this weekend to discuss and highlight progress in global sustainability and green technology.
Professors, professionals and students from the United States and China participated in the 2011 Global Sustainability Conference, a University-sponsored symposium held at Rackham Auditorium that focused on developing partnerships between the two nations and fostered discussion about environmentally friendly technology and governmental policies in relation to poverty, climate change, water conservation, alternative energies and pollution.
David Sandalow, assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy, opened the conference by explaining the significance of past agreements between the U.S. and China, including the 1979 Agreement on Cooperation in Science and Technology and the seven clean energy initiatives announced by U.S. President Barack Obama and China’s President Hu Jintao in November 2009.
Dr. Xiangli Chen, president of General Electric China Technology Center, explained how sustainability has caused companies like his own to work not just for their own gain but to increase collaboration with others around the globe in order to make a positive impact on the world and to encourage growth.
Many speakers emphasized that the key to sustainability is a correct combination of technology and government policies. In a plenary discussion, Ma Jun, founding director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs and author of “China’s Water Crisis,” talked about the necessity of keeping people informed about the state and purpose of sustainability projects.
“At this point, the businesses will not talk about their green products and green strategies,” Jun said. “We need companies to come with a full disclosure of their data, the performance of their products, as well as the discharge data of not just the manufacturing but the whole cycle … all the way down to disposal. This whole life cycle process.”
Jun said he thinks the biggest obstacle is that corporations need to be motivated to do their part to use funding for sustainable initiatives, and that it’s important for the general public to encourage them to do.
“We created all these goals and standards but enforcement remains to be weak … Our environmental challenges cannot wait for that … I believe that we need public participation to supplement (the) lack of motivation,” he said.
J. Carl Ganter, director and co-founder of Circle of Blue — a group of journalists, scientists and data engineers working to fix the global water crisis, said he believes that publicity is necessary for people to understand why sustainability matters to them.
“One of the most important things when we talk about sustainability is we have to create a relationship of relevancy,” he said.
Neil Hawkins, Dow Chemical Company’s vice president of sustainability and environment, said in an interview after the event that sustainability is an essential goal because the current rate of population growth indicates that the world population will be about 10 billion by the year 2050.
“There’s such a strong growth in population … and that puts an enormous stress and strain on the ecosystem of the planet,” Hawkins said. “The increase in population’s driving a global sustainability challenge for the planet … It’s going to take a lot of innovation, a lot of critical thinking and a lot of cooperation to make (solutions) happen.”
Hawkins also lauded the University for its work in sustainable research and business, not only in Michigan, but also internationally through various partnerships.
“(There are) elite world-class centers of excellence here,” he said. “And you look at the universities in China that Mary Sue Coleman and others are partnering with. These are the best minds in the world on both sides. And bringing that together in this meeting, it’s really a fantastic opportunity.”