Research Universities Role in Building a Green Economy
UCLA's Chancellor Gene Block on the importance of the research university in technological innovation.
By Gene Block, Chancellor, UCLA
Originally published at SolutionsforourFuture.org
A time of crisis provides opportunity for innovation and growth. The current convergence of global economic and environmental crises has elevated the issue of sustainability to a national stage and makes the following questions more urgent than ever: How do we build a sustainable economy, and how do we create jobs that will address the pressing problems we face?
Research universities play a critical role in answering these questions as they are the birthplace of many of the technological advancements on which we rely today. The Internet, for example, has origins at UCLA, and the first alternative heart transplant was performed here. Through research in clean energy, water technologies, and sustainable manufacturing practices, universities continue to be a nexus of technological innovation, including the creation of the green technology we need for today and tomorrow.
Changing the way our nation manages resources and building a healthy, viable economy will require expertise and initiative on many fronts—business and entrepreneurship, biology, physics, law, public policy, engineering, and more. UCLA is working to form greater partnerships with private industry and the public sector to accelerate the development of technologies and policies that will ensure the sustainability of our civilization and the health of our planet. The collaboration of top research universities, a strong manufacturing sector, and one of the world’s best logistics sectors makes the Los Angeles region an ideal laboratory for this critical effort.
One new groundbreaking collaborative initiative in which universities are partnering with public agencies and business associations in Los Angeles is called Clean Tech Los Angeles. UCLA, the University of Southern California (USC), the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the Office of the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles, the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Business Council, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power are working together to establish L.A. as the global leader in research, commercialization, and deployment of clean technologies.
The initiative’s goals are to create jobs by attracting and retaining clean technology firms that will provide employment opportunities at all levels, including those with career ladders; stimulate demand by facilitating continued growth of a large marketplace for clean technology goods and services; and facilitate environmental solutions by deploying clean technologies to clean up the environment, improve quality of life, and exceed our regulatory responsibilities. This partnership will lay the foundation for Los Angeles to become a hub for emerging clean technology businesses.
As a public research university, UCLA is honored to participate in protecting our environment and fostering sustainable new businesses. It is our responsibility to apply the extensive expertise of our faculty and researchers to address our region’s most pressing problems. Faculty, students, and staff already are highly engaged in addressing these issues and exploring environmental concerns and sustainability from many different angles, including natural sciences, urban planning, engineering, business, nanotechnology, public health, and law.
Faculty members are collaborating in unprecedented ways to generate knowledge and create solutions. Our many research centers encompass a broad array of academic disciplines, research interests, policy concerns, and outreach avenues, including the Center for Energy Science and Technology Advanced Research, the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing, the Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment, and the Institute of the Environment’s Center for Climate Change Solutions and Center for Corporate Environmental Performance.
Our most important form of technology transfer, however, is through our graduates. In addition to our degree programs in areas such as environmental engineering, a new interdisciplinary program called Leaders in Sustainability provides graduate students the knowledge and skills to address sustainability issues in their fields through multidisciplinary collaboration. The program currently has almost 100 participants from departments across the university, including management, law, public policy, urban planning, public health, engineering, medicine, and architecture.
As an institution of higher education, we are also in a position to set an example through our own operations. UCLA’s Climate Action Plan lays out a path for meeting state and University of California greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets eight years early. These initiatives mean a financial payback for the university, which makes the plan feasible even during a budget crisis, such as the one we face now. Through innovative programs in energy conservation, green building, transportation, water conservation, waste diversion, and other areas, and by actively engaging students, faculty, and staff, we are significantly reducing our footprint, despite tremendous growth in our operations.
We welcome these opportunities to develop solutions in the real-world laboratory of Southern California, and we will continue to encourage partnership and civic engagement. I know we can have a significant effect if we work together.
Published: Monday, April 27, 2009