Michael Kavanaugh
November 11, 2016
Michael Kavanaugh, NAE, Senior Principal, Geosyntec Consultants, Inc.
Reflections on Sustainable Futures: The Trade-Off Challenge

In 1987, the United Nations World Council on Economic Development published “Our Common Future” (Oxford Press, 1987), the first major international publication outlining a recommended path forward for achieving “sustainable development”.   Since that publication, the technical literature on sustainability has proliferated, with widespread but not universal agreement on the urgency of defining a sustainable path forward globally.  Inevitably, however, all economic development decisions confront a “trade-off” problem, encapsulated in the second law of thermodynamics.  For environmental professionals, who often have a lead role in development projects, the “trade-off” challenge has become more complex over the past 50 years.   When the Cuyahoga River caught on fire in the late 1950s, obvious changes were needed to halt unsustainable economic development. In the 21st Century, both the geographic and temporal scale of impacts dramatically increases the complexity of decision making in permitting development projects.   In this lecture, I will provide reflections on the evolution of the sustainability paradigm in the U.S. over the past decades, drawing on case studies illustrating the “trade-off” challenge, and on two recent National Research Council (NRC) reports that provide guidance on how sustainability concepts could be integrated into U.S. EPA environmental decision making.  The so-called “Green Book” (“Sustainability and the U.S. EPA”, NRC, 2011) recommends a sustainability and assessment process for EPA decisions, while the more recent study (“Sustainability Concepts in Decision-Making”, NRC, 2014) assesses the applicability of a suite of tools and approaches for implementing the recommended process.  In the absence of legislative mandates on sustainability goals, I will illustrate, using two case studies, groundwater restoration and desalination, the need for a pragmatic, science-based, adaptive management approach to balancing the many factors in the economic, environmental, and social  pillars encompassing the sustainability paradigm.

Dr. Kavanaugh is a Senior Principal with Geosyntec Consultants, Inc,  located in the Oakland, CA office.  He is a registered professional engineer in California, a Board Certified Environmental Engineer (BCEE), a Fellow of the Water Environment Federation (2013) and an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering (1998).  Dr. Kavanaugh has over 40 years of consulting experience advising private and public sector clients on water quality, water and wastewater treatment, and hazardous waste site remediation issues. In addition to his consulting practice, Dr. Kavanaugh has completed several assignments with the National Research Council including chair of the Water Science and Technology Board and the Board on Radioactive Waste Management. Dr. Kavanaugh is also a Consulting Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Stanford University. He has a B.S. and M.S. degrees in Chemical Engineering from Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, respectively and a PhD in Civil/Environmental Engineering from UC Berkeley.

Time: 2:30 pm

About Elizabeth D. Rockwell

Elizabeth D. Rockwell

A fourth generation Houstonian, Mrs. Rockwell was an Executive Director, Private Client Division of CIBC Oppenheimer Corp. She was widely recognized as an expert in retirement, estate, investment, and tax planning. She was an early proponent of the Keogh and IRA plans, for which she has been nationally recognized.

In 1991, she qualified to be a member of the Million Dollar Round Table as well as the Texas Leaders Round Table. Since 1990 she had authored a monthly column for the Houston Chronicle.

Mrs. Rockwell served as President of the UH College of Business Administration Foundation Board, as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board, and was an Executive Professor for the college. She also served as a member of the advisory board of the Health Law and Policy Institute and as a Trustee of the University of Houston System’s Foundation, as well as a member of the UH System’s Planned Giving Council.

Mrs. Rockwell served on the Board of Governors for the Houston Forum, and as a Board member of the American Red Cross, the Greater Houston Women’s Foundation, the University of Houston Alumni Organization, and the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance. She was a member of the River Oaks Business Women’s Exchange Club, the National Tax Sheltered Annuity Association, the Texas Association of College Teachers, and the Houston Association of Life Underwriters.

Among her numerous honors, she has received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Houston, the Distinguished Alumna Award from the Houston Alumni Organization and from the UH College of Business Administration. Throughout the years she has been recognized for her many achievements by the Education Foundation of Harris County, the Houston Community College System’s Television Station Advisory Council, and the Houston Mayor’s READ Commission.

The Houston Alumni Center is home to the Elizabeth D. Rockwell President’s Suite. In September 1997, the Elizabeth D. Rockwell Career Services Center was opened in the UH College of Business Administration. She endowed the Chair for the Dean of the M.D. Anderson Library.

Mrs. Rockwell was listed in the Who’s Who in the South and Southwest; Who’s Who in finance and Industry; Who’s Who of American Women; and Who’s Who in the World.