New Paper in Sustainability

21 02 2017

A new paper by Shyam Ranganathan, Raj GC, and I was recently published in Sustainability. The paper presents a way to advance an interconnected set of SDGs and targets through a multiple-use water services (MUS) approach to rural water delivery.

2017-02-21_13-38-20

Abstract: The 2030 agenda presents an integrated set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets that will shape development activities for the coming decade. The challenge now facing development organizations and governments is how to operationalize this interconnected set of goals and targets through effective projects and programs. This paper presents a micro-level modeling approach that can quantitatively assess the impacts associated with rural water interventions that are tailored to specific communities. The analysis focuses on how a multiple-use water services (MUS) approach to SDG 6 could reinforce a wide range of other SDGs and targets. The multilevel modeling framework provides a generalizable template that can be used in multiple sectors. In this paper, we apply the methodology to a dataset on rural water services from Mozambique to show that community-specific equivalents of macro-level variables used in the literature such as Cost of Illness (COI) avoided can provide a better indication of the impacts of a specific intervention. The proposed modeling framework presents a new frontier for designing projects in any sector that address the specific needs of communities, while also leveraging the knowledge gained from previous projects in any country. The approach also presents a way for agencies and organizations to design projects or programs that bridge sectors/disciplines (water, irrigation, health, energy, economic development, etc.) to advance an interconnected set of SDGs and targets.

Citation: Hall, R.P.; Ranganathan, S.; G. C., R.K. A General Micro-Level Modeling Approach to Analyzing Interconnected SDGs: Achieving SDG 6 and More through Multiple-Use Water Services (MUS). Sustainability 2017, 9(2), 314.

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100andChange Moonshot

3 10 2016

Our proposal for the MacArthur 100&Change ($100 million) grant was submitted this morning. Using the language of Virginia Tech’s Beyond Boundaries initiative, this is our ‘moonshot’ idea. If implemented it could fundamentally retool the global economy to provide everyone with a capital ownership stake in an inherently sustainable economy. Here is the executive summary of our proposal:

Boldly conquering global poverty will require an innovative economic paradigm that provides everyone on this planet with a personal ownership stake in the future. This project aims to transform our economic systems and promote sustainable enterprises by leveraging creativity and innovation. Our forward-looking mechanisms will enable all people to obtain a capital-based income that will supplement their labor income. Using the principles of binary economics, people will acquire capital with credit repayable with pre-tax future earnings of capital (future savings). The approach does not require coercive actions of government or a redistribution of existing wealth. As capital ownership becomes more broadly distributed, the economy will grow as people spend their newly acquired income on inherently sustainable goods and services. Our team’s alliance of academics and expanded-ownership pioneers will demonstrate how universalizing access to capital ownership can reduce inequality and advance sustainable development to create inclusive and sustainable prosperity for all.

In this post, I wanted to reflect a little on how we made it to this point.

My decision to advance a proposal came after listening to Regina Dugan speak at Virginia Tech in August. During her talk, Dugan commented that organizations are often limited not by what they can do, but by what they “believe” they can do. Having initially decided not to develop a 100&Change proposal due to the sheer scale of the grant and significant global competition, her comments and the Beyond Boundaries initiative made me rethink this decision.

I would put my ideas for how to spend this scale of funding into two categories. The first contains those ideas that could lead to siginfnicant progress, but largely within the existing development paradigm. One example would be the creation of an accessible and open data-rich sustainable water decision-support platform that could be expanded to include other sectors of the economy such as energy and agriculture. The second category contains those ideas that are potentially transformative in a macro sense, but are also currently on the fringe of mainstream thinking. One example, and the anchor of our 100&Change proposal, is the theory of binary economics that has been developed for over fifty years, but has yet to receive significant attention.

During her talk at Virginia Tech, Dugan commented that real innovations tend to occur when you feel uncomfortable about what you are doing – uncomfortable in the sense that there is no known pathway to success and there is a high potential of failure. While binary economics inspired the creation of employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), its economic principles have yet to be fully implemented in a way that increasingly broadens capital ownership and creates a sustainable economy. Thus, some could argue that it is an unproven idea. Flying at Mac 20 was also an unproven idea until it was not. With regards to the high potential of failure, I view this in the context of a highly competitive grant competition, rather than failing in terms of the approach. Having spent many years exploring the approach with Prof. Robert Ashford, I feel confident it has the potential to reduce inequality and stimulate significant economic growth. The basic idea is that if everyone received an additional and growing income from capital ownership, they would spend this money on goods and services, stimulating further growth (‘binary growth’). Given the potential negative environmental impacts of this growth, our proposal developed an innovate way to finance the growth of inherently sustainable goods and services. The problem statement from our proposal clearly explains the combination of these two ideas.

Few people today produce enough to take care of themselves or their families. Labor, the main source of economic productiveness prior to the industrial revolution, has declined in relative productiveness as labor-displacing technology advances and becomes hyper-productive in comparison to labor [see the Second Machine Age]. These trends are driving the growth in inequality and the erosion in labor earning capacity, with the ownership of productive wealth being highly concentrated, and with most people owning little or nothing. Attempts to generate equitable growth via government stimulus or austerity programs have failed.

A second critical and related problem is the negative environmental impacts that accompany technology-fueled growth. The Rio+20 promise of a Green Economy has yet to truly materialize, but simply going green is not enough. A new, inherently sustainable industrial revolution is needed, where products and services are produced, used, and disposed of in closed-loop, hyper-efficient systems. A major challenge, however, is the creation of markets for these next-generation products and services. These markets need to provide all people with an equal opportunity to earn incomes from their labor and from a capital ownership stake in the inherently sustainable products and services they benefit from.

When put together, these two macro problems – i.e., inadequate income and the negative environmental impacts of growth – underlie most of the major challenges facing humankind. The fundamental problem addressed by this proposal is how to create Inclusive and Sustainable Prosperity for All.

Since we decided to advance a 100&Change proposal in the first week of September (four weeks ago!), I needed to recruit help to make this proposal happen. I decided to focus my sustainability seminar on the topic of binary economics and asked my graduate students to help structure the content of the 100&Change ‘pitch’ video. They willingly agreed to help and spent several weeks reading, learning, and struggling with the ideas before developing what I considered to be a firm understanding of binary economic principles. The pictures below capture some of the ideas we discussed during this learning process. We also developed a number of concept videos that can be viewed here and here.

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While my students helped develop the video (with technical support from TLOS), I was fortunate to have colleagues in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), the Office of International, Research, Education, and Development (OIRED), and the Institute for Policy and Governance (IPG) who both understood the approach and worked hard to help craft a viable project (described below).

This project will make the ownership of capital – a critical and growing form of income – more inclusive by using future capital earnings (future savings) to finance broadening capital acquisition to provide growing numbers of people with capital income. The new capital income will target inherently sustainable goods and services, stimulating innovation and supporting long-term sustainability. As production becomes ever more capital intensive, providing everyone with an ownership stake in capital will be critical to broadly increasing purchasing power, reducing inequality, and fostering sustainable communities.

Because most people lack the capacity to generate past savings, there must be a shift to using future savings to finance new capital. Presently, almost all capital acquired by corporations is acquired with the earnings of capital, and much of it is acquired with borrowed money. The new mechanisms developed by the project team will open to all people the techniques of corporate finance that will broaden capital ownership and provide beneficiaries with a growing capital income. Because present demand for the employment of capital and labor is dependent on expected demand for goods or services in a future period, a voluntary pattern of steadily broadening capital acquisition promises more production-based consumer demand in future years and therefore more demand for a fuller employment of labor and capital in earlier years. Further, the targeted use of newly acquired capital income to purchase inherently sustainable goods and services will significantly expand the market for these goods and services, creating powerful incentives for innovation.

What is perhaps most interesting about this experience is that while I initially viewed the challenge of creating a 100&Change proposal as a moonshot, the more we worked on the idea and began to form the team, the more it became a realistic possibility. My graduate students proved to be the best critics of the ideas we were exploring and played an important role in framing the approach to the project. In many ways, as the proposal evolved, so too did the team’s confidence in what we could accomplished with binary economics. Our final 90-second video (below) is ‘one small step’ towards a broader understanding of the approach.

After completing our proposal, I started watching the other 100&Change videos on YouTube and realized that our approach could finance those ideas focused on the creation of inherently sustainable goods and services. Thus, if you find yourself wondering what inherently sustainable means, take a look at the available videos and get inspired.





Working Group Discussion ‒ Developing Countries

8 05 2015

Please find below the presentation I will give during the working group discussion on “Developing Countries: Challenges on the Path to Sustainability,” at the TRB conference on Transportation for Sustainability.

Prezi

Please click on the image below to access the shared Google Doc that we will use during the working group discussion from 10:15am to 12:00pm on Friday, May 8, 2015.

Google_Doc





Advanced Urban Infrastructure Planning

8 07 2014

This fall, I will be offering a new course on Advanced Urban Infrastructure Planning (UAP 5854G) with Yehyun (Hannah) An. The course description is provided below. The course can be counted as an elective for the Graduate Certificate in Global Planning and International Development Studies.

ImageDescription: Urban infrastructure systems play a critical role in facilitating economic development and raising quality of life. However, the resource, energy, and capital-intensive characteristics of infrastructure can result in negative environmental and social impacts. Over the past two decades, the concept of sustainability and how it can be incorporated in the planning, design, and development of new infrastructure has gained significant attention. Sustainability principles have also been applied to the management of existing infrastructure.

This course will explore the emerging concepts, principles, and methodologies used to advance sustainable urban infrastructure planning. In particular, it will study national and international cases of infrastructure development, with an emphasis on projects in the US and India.

Upon completion of the course, students will be able to:

  1. describe an infrastructure system using accurate terminology;
  2. demonstrate an understanding of the main concepts and principles of infrastructure planning;
  3. identify the key features of a sustainable infrastructure system and explain how they promote sustainable development;
  4. apply analytical tools for infrastructure planning;
  5. critically evaluate infrastructure cases/projects/proposals through the lens of sustainability; and
  6. identify the gaps between theoretical principles of sustainable infrastructure and their application in practices.

Time: Tue & Thu 11:00am─12:15pm

Location: Architecture Annex 111

Credits: 3





Teaching Sustainability

24 06 2014

Last Wednesday, I joined Joe Zietsman (Texas A&M), Damon Fordham (Cadmus), and Ann Xu (Georgia Tech) in New York for a discussion of Education and Practitioner Training to Promote Sustainability. We were invited to speak at the TRB ADC60 summer conference on Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure.

To prepare for my presentation on “Teaching Sustainable Development/Transportation in Institutions of Higher Education,” I reviewed the past decade of research captured in the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education. I also read papers from journals such as Sustainability Science and the Journal of Cleaner Production. For those new to this subject area, I recommend the following articles that provide useful frameworks or discuss important pedagogical approaches:

BrainstormingAfter absorbing this material, I tried to visually capture the various approaches, theories, competence areas, etc. that emerged (see photo). This visual patchwork of ideas laid the foundation for my presentation that focused on the following four questions:

  • —What knowledge and skills do students need to learn?
  • —How should we promote ‘Sustainability in Higher Education’ (SHE) – e.g., top down vs. bottom up?
  • —How do we change the hearts and minds of faculty?
  • —What should be the role of non-academic entities – e.g., government agencies, private businesses, and NGOs?

While I was only able to briefly respond to these questions in my presentation (below), the literature I cite on my slides (and listed above) should provide a useful starting point for anyone interested in learning more about theories on how to teach sustainability.

ADC60

 





Analysis of TRB RNS Database for Sustainability Research

7 01 2013

As part of my role as the research chair for the TRB Transportation and Sustainability Committee (ADD40), I undertook with the support of my graduate research assistant Erin Puckett, an analysis of the TRB Research Needs Statements (RNS) database (http://rns.trb.org/) to determine the extent to which the topic of sustainable transportation is addressed in the proposed research projects listed in the database.

Figure for blogThe intention of this exploratory analysis was to identify the type and scope of projects being proposed and which TRB committees are supporting sustainability-related research proposals in one or more areas. The results from this analysis should help the Transportation and Sustainability Committee (ADD40) determine which proposed research needs to support, which committees to initially engage with, and where opportunities exist to propose new research projects.

Overall, it was found that many RNS records address some area of sustainability, whether openly acknowledged or not. It was much less common to find records proposing research that truly addresses sustainability in a comprehensive way, with emphasis on environmental, social, and economic impacts.

Over the last six years there does not appear to have been a steady increase in the number of records that are related to sustainability (see Figure 4 above). Further, while there seems to be an overarching idea that transportation research should have some sustainability-related focus, individual records do not always address this explicitly in their goals or objectives. Perhaps this is partially due to the lack of an overall guiding definition of sustainability/sustainable transportation that all TRB committees can adopt.

This analysis has led to several recommendations for advancing the research portfolio of the Transportation and Sustainability Committee that are included in the full report. The raw data that was used to support the analysis is also provided below.

Full Report (PDF)

Raw Data (Excel file)

Presentation (PDF)





Book Review: Cents and Sustainability

25 05 2012

I recently published a review of Cents and Sustainability: Securing Our Common Future by Decoupling Economic Growth from Environmental Pressures, in the Journal of Planning Education and Research (JPER), June 2012, Vol. 32, pp. 240-242.