Robert Ashford to Visit VT

13 09 2013

Ashford-Robert Photo 2013I’m pleased to announce that Prof. Robert Ashford will be visiting Virginia Tech in November, during which he will take part in a series of events related to the concept of Binary Economics. The first of these events will be a SPIA seminar on November 6, during which Robert will make the case for “democratizing capital acquisition” by broadening competitive market opportunities to acquire capital with the earnings of capital – see the flyer below for more information about this talk.

Over the past several years, I have had the opportunity to work with Robert, leading to the two papers below published in the European Financial Review.

Ashford_poster-Nov6I first became aware of binary economics when searching for alternative, transformational models of development. The importance of identifying new development pathways has only intensified following the recent global financial crisis that has deepened economic inequality both within and between nations. Robert’s ideas relating to binary economic growth hold great potential to transform and reignite the economy. My interest in this subject, and reason for bringing Robert to VT with the assistance of an AdvanceVT grant, stems from the need to ensure that any surge in economic growth does not also create a surge in negative environmental and social externalities. My hope is that we can find ways to stimulate binary growth while transforming industrial systems towards inherently sustainable practices.





Mindful Learning with Glass

11 07 2013

booksAbout a year ago, I undertook a Faculty Development Institute (FDI) course on Strategies for Mindful Learning that planted the seed for my current project using Google Glass. With the fall 2013 semester approaching, I decided to revisit Ellen Langer’s book entitled The Power of Mindful Learning that accompanied the FDI course in search of mindful learning strategies.

My challenge this coming semester is how to effectively use Glass to augment my seminar on Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development. My initial idea is to record videos that will enable students to follow my thought process in creating the seminar as we go – i.e., to hear me narrate about why I included or excluded certain subjects or material, what advice I was given by mentors/colleagues in the design of the seminar (including, for example, how their facial expressions added weight to the subject matter selected), capturing conversations with guest speakers about what they could cover before they speak in the seminar about a narrower subject matter, etc. The basic idea is to capture the “behind the scenes” aspect of the seminar, which is often where much of my insight and learning occurs.

While the students will not have access to the Glass device, I will challenge them to capture in a blog post (or something similar) how they approached an assignment and what ideas/thoughts came to their mind when crafting their response. The purpose of this reflexive writing is to help students better understand their perspective on the subject matter and provide me with some insight into their frames of reference.

As Langer (1997, p. 138) writes, “When we are mindful, we recognize that the way in which we tend to construct our world is only one construction among many.” For me, this sentence captures the essence of what Langer is writing about. Being mindful is about being open to new information and to new ways of thinking or categorizing information, and recognizing that multiple perspectives are possible. Soderbaum-4As I reread Langer’s text, it reminded me of a productive interaction I once held with Peter Söderbaum about his notion of Positional Analysis (PA) and the importance of conditional conclusions. Any conclusion (or policy, strategy, program, etc.) is conditional in relation to the ideological orientation (i.e., perspective) from which it is considered. Put simply, a conclusion may look promising from one perspective, but have major drawbacks when considered from a different perspective. Peter’s idea is to promote learning by recognizing that there is no best or optional solution, but rather a range of solutions that look quite different depending on one’s ideological orientation.

My challenge this fall will be to mindfully explore with students one of the most important and complex subjects facing humanity – sustainable development. Langer’s strategies to promote mindful learning will surely assist in this task. One of the first discussions I will have with students will consider how our automatic organization of perception/information (see Langer 1997, p. 103) may limit our ability to see potential solutions to the problems we face. [I will also link this discussion to the problem of source amnesia (see Langer 1997, p. 86).] One could argue that our need to simplify or box issues into silos results in the single-purpose design of policies that fail to comprehensively address unsustainable development. In response to this challenge, Nicholas Ashford and I have called for the multi-purpose design of policies that integrate issues such as industrial policy, meaningful employment, environmental protection, competiveness, and trade initiatives into long-lasting sustainable development. It will be interesting to see whether adopting a mindful learning strategy throughout the semester will lead to new insights that can help advance sustainable development. I’m looking forward to the possibilities.  In the words of Langer (1997, p. 5), “Everything is the same until it is not.”





Congratulations Yakhya Diagne!

20 06 2013

In May 2013, Yakhya (Aicha) Diagne successfully defended her thesis entitled “Planning for Sustainable Development in Senegal.” Aicha’s research focused on understanding the complex institutional, legal, and political aspects of sustainable development planning in Senegal and identified options to advance the national planning framework to promote more sustainable forms of development. Aicha received a 2012 ThinkSwiss research scholarship that enabled her to undertake part of her research at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland.Aisha_Paris

Prior to coming to Virginia Tech, Aicha led the Office of Legal Affairs, Communication, Monitoring, and Evaluation in the Senegalese Department of Environment and Classified Establishments. She also managed the Technical Permanent Secretary of the Senegalese National Commission of Sustainable Development from 2008 to 2010.

Aicha is currently undertaking an internship at the West African Development Bank in Lome, Togo. After completing the internship, she will begin a position in the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development in Senegal.

I served as the chair of Aicha thesis committee, along with committee members John Browder and John Randolph.





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)





Kindle Version of Textbook

22 11 2012

A kindle version of our textbook has just been released. For those of you who like to travel light, this might be a more convenient option.





New Papers in The European Financial Review

26 10 2012

Nicholas Ashford, Robert Ashford, and I recently published two articles in the European Financial Review that extend some of the ideas we have discussed previously in our textbook and related papers.

Addressing the Crisis in Employment and Consumer Demand: Reconciliation with Environmental and Financial SustainabilityThe earning capacity of ordinary people can be enhanced by some combination of two contributions; wages earned through employment, and money earned through the ownership of productive capital. The latter includes ordinary investment from wage savings that people might make through the purchasing of stocks, bonds, and property; changes in ownership structures of businesses, employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), and enabling people to acquire capital with the earnings of capital based on binary economics. This article focuses on employment and the restructuring of work to enhance the contributions and productiveness of labor – as opposed to increasing labor productivity by enhancing the productiveness of physical capital.

Broadening Capital Acquisition with the Earnings of Capital as a Means of Sustainable Growth and Environmental SustainabilityThis article expands on the first by taking an explicit look at increasing earning capacity through the ownership of productive capital. The article focuses on the binary economic approach and explains how this approach can enhance not only the capital earning capacity of poor and middle-class people, but also the demand for employment and the prospects for achieving environmental sustainability. The binary economic approach envisions an implementation of an ownership-broadening system of corporate finance that would require no taxes, redistribution, or government command. Corporations would be free to continue to meet their capital requirements as before, but they would have an additional, potentially more profitable, market means to do so.

During the Spring 2013 semester, Robert Ashford will join other scholars at Virginia Tech to take part in a seminar that will debate how a binary economics approach could lead to sustained and sustainable economic development.





Updated Primer on Sustainable Development

11 09 2012

Primer_SustDev_2012-09-11I recently updated the Primer on the Emergence and Evolution of Sustainable Development (1951 to 2012), to include a discussion of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (known as Rio+20), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 20-22, 2012. The updated text takes a close look at the idea of the green economy, which was endorsed by delegates at the conference as a flexible mechanism for advancing sustainability.