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Robert Underwood Ayres

Professor of Management & the Environment
Director, Centre for the Management
of Environmental Resources (CMER)
 

Institut Européen d'Administration des Affaires
77305 Fontainebleau France
Te. +33 (01) 60 72 40 11 Fax: +33 (01) 64 98 76 72
Email: robert.ayres@insead.fr

Trained as a physicist at the University of Chicago, University of Maryland, and Kings College at the University of London (PhD in Mathematical Physics), Robert Ayres has dedicated his entire professional life to advancing the environment, technology and resource end of the sustainability agenda. His major research interests include technological change, environmental economics, and such jawbreakers as "industrial metabolism" and "eco-restructuring". At various times he has acted as a consultant to the White House, National Goals Commission, Office of Management and Budget, Transport Canada, OECD, Statistics Canada, and numerous UN agencies. He is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of Ventana Corporation (Venture Capital Fund), and set up and ran for several years the innovative program on Technology, Economy and Society at IIASA, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxemburg Austria.

In addition to his teaching and research load as founder and director of the Centre for the Management of Environmental Resources at the European Business School, he is kept busy as a speaker, advisor and writer, with a very large number of books and publications to his credit. Here taken from one of his latest booksTurning Point: The End of the Growth Paradigm (London: Earthscan, 1998) is a clue to his thinking:

There is a potential for confusion here between technological progress and "progress" in the more general, even more undefined sense. Along with many others, I have long tended carelessly to equate economic growth with that kind of undefined progress. Though aware of the difference, I nevertheless assumed for convenience that the one is virtually a surrogate for the other. The time has come to try to sort out this confusion.

In a certain simplistic sense the difference between growth and progress is all too obvious: It is the difference between "more" and "better". In challenging the growth paradigm itself I am not assuming that growth necessarily means "more" physical goods. Far from it, I insist that the true measure of economic output is not the quantity of goods produced, but the quality and value of final services provided to the consumer. What is most wrong about the "growth syndrome" is not its tendency to consume material resources (as Barry Commoner, for instance, assumed). What is wrong with it is that growth of the kind now occurring in the US and Europe is no longer making people happier or improving their real standard of living.

It is possible to have economic growth - in the sense of providing better and more valuable services to ultimate consumers - without necessarily consuming more physical resources. This follows from the fact that consumers are ultimately not interested in goods per se but in the services those goods can provide. The possibility of de-linking economic activity from energy and materials ("dematerialization") has been one of the major themes of my professional career.

Robert and his mathematician wife, colleague and frequent co-author Leslie Ayres, divide their time between their home outside of Fontainebleau and a working retreat in Majorca. He often cycles and occasionally runs the eighteen kilometers that separate his home and his office at INSEAD, and has complained that he needs more time to devote to his painting.

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