Professor: Eric Britton. France/USA

One of those outstanding innovators whose work will have the greatest likely future significance and impact over the long-term . . . and likely remain one of the “key players” in the technological drama unfolding in coming years.     – World Technology 2002 Environment Award citation

Trained as a development economist, Francis Eric Knight Britton is MD of EcoPlan International, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government, industry and civil society on policy and decision issues involving technological, environmental and social changes which are creating new circumstances for decisions of public policy and private practice.

Born in Mississippi, he studied liberal arts and physical science at Amherst and Columbia College, and later the doctoral program of the Graduate Faculty of Economics at Columbia University, with a dissertation on technology, economic development, job creation and public policy in the Italian South (PhDc). Over this period he was an Amherst and Columbia Scholar, winner of the Dante Alighieri Prize, and later in the Graduate Faculties was named an International Fellow. He was awarded a doctoral research grant from the Italian government for his work on the prickly policy problems in the Italian Mezzogiorno, and later was honored by a Fulbright Fellowship to continue his work for two years running.

Britton’s basic philosophy about his future work and life was strongly shaped by three outstanding people working in the field of economics, development and social justice, two of whom his professors at Columbia. The first of these was Prof. Albert O. Hirschman, an outstanding thought leader in the field of development economics and social science, who was his mentor, thesis advisor and in fact the person whose then-recent appointment brought Britton to Columbia.. The second was Prof. William Vickery whose work in the field of economic instruments and incentives for the fair and efficient allocation of scarce resources was later recognized by a Nobel Prize. Third was the work and personal commitment to the principle of equity  of the Austrian philosopher, polymath and social activist Ivan Illich.

What these three extraordinary men had in common was not only their exceptional originality, intellectual brilliance and outstanding communication skills, but also that each was an independent thinker, a very quiet person, very kind and available to young people and extremely courageous under occasionally very difficult and at times threatening life circumstances.

While completing his course work and exams in economics at Columbia, he taught undergraduate courses in economics (theory, economic history, statistics) at Mills College and New York University’s Department of Economics. Early in his professional career he continued to expand his horizons by participating as a Fellow in a three-week post-graduate program of the Salzburg Seminar on urban and regional planning, and a month-long seminar at the UN (Geneva) on city planning and policy. He has since lectured in undergraduate and graduate programs at universities in Brazil, Britain, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Taiwan, the UK and the US.

In parallel with teaching economics and working on his dissertation at the University of Rome, Eric founded EcoPlan International in 1966, an independent forum of observation, reflection and counsel on issues involving technological and environmental change as it affects people in their daily lives. Over the years in his for-profit work he has initiated, participated in, and carried to completion a wide range of advisory assignments and research and demonstration projects aimed at providing decision counsel to government, business and the volunteer sector on thorny issues of technology, economy and society.

The geographic focus of his work extends to more than thirty countries, with advisory assignments in cities as diverse as the compact Westport CT and path-breaking (but ultimately unbuilt) Ahmanson Ranch project in CA, to advisory work in places as far-ranging as Adelaide, Bilbao, Bogotá, Bridgeport, Buenos Aires, Kaohsiung, Paris, Perth, Saigon, Sao Paulo, Taipei, Toronto, and Zürich. He has served as high level consultant to the United Nations, European Commission, ILO, OECD, and a long list of national and regional government agencies, bilateral aid programs, and as a visiting lecturer at US and European universities.

Britton devotes considerable time to pioneering and supporting public interest projects involving new technology, sustainable development and social justice. A common theme in his work is the strategic adaptation of technologies, products, and institutional structures to changing technological, resource and environmental requirements (and perceptions). Over the last decades he has organized and supported more than twenty international collaborative problem-solving networks which bring together thousands of people and groups around the world that are looking into new and often unusual ideas for sustainability and long-term economic viability in cities. One of the most active of these is the New Mobility Agenda, created in 1988 and for which you can find full information at http://www.newmobility.org.

Britton has published extensively in his recognized areas of expertise, and is a founding editor the Journal of World Transport Policy and Practice (1995), as well as of World Streets and several associated (spin-off) collaborative publications and programs in India, Italy, Iran, China and Portugal).

In June 2002 he was awarded the prestigious World Technology Environment Prize for outstanding achievement. Over 2001-2002 he served as chair of the international jury and senior advisor to the Stockholm Partnerships for Sustainable Cities, a program with which he maintains a long-term interest. In 2000 he and Enrique Peñalosa, then mayor of Bogotá Colombia, were co-awarded the Stockholm Environment Challenge Prize for ‘outstanding socio-technical innovation’.

His most recent collaborative project centers around a series on graduate seminars and projects for international universities and MBA programs on the utterly surprising challenges of Sustainable Development, Enterprise & Society, which you can access here. Among his greater frustrations in 2013 is that he would like to be doing more on his long time interesting of “rethinking work” and tax system reform.

# # #

We have no money gentlemen, so we shall have to think.
I have chosen as the principal theme for my work and hoped-for contributions in 2011 and beyond,  these words of Nobel Prize winning physicist Professor Ernest Rutherford upon taking over the quite broke
Cavendish Laboratory in 1919, in the wake of the First World War. Our challenge enow is quite exactly to learn to do more, with less.

3 thoughts on “Professor: Eric Britton. France/USA

  1. In answer to a question that came in today, asking why an academic like me could hope to have anything relevant to say about what is after all a pressing real-world issue like this, I can offer the following:

    Although I have an academic background the course is primarily the fruit of my advisory work to leading governments, multi-nationals and municipalities around the world and has a real-world rather than an academic approach. This is highly important as ours is not a subject that one can just read about in a book – it is both too intricate and too case-specific a subject to approach with a purely academic lens.

    Participants work with me in an open collaborative environment to learn the real-world applications, models and challenges that companies, governments and individuals around the world are facing in areas as diverse as sustainable transportation, sustainable energy, sustainability by design, sustainable product lifecycles, and more. As someone who has been actively involved in this for nearly thirty years, I have been part of the discussion as it has unfolded from the beginning, and gone from a backroom exchange among “forward-thinking” individuals to the front-page debate involving all stakeholders of society that it has become today.

    Reply
  2. During the course several of the students asked me to explain the “CO2 budget” which I set for myself back in 1993 and have tried hard to respect ever since. If you want a long story on that you can click here to http://www.ecoplan.org/general/responsibility.htm#how. But let me see if I can give it to you in summary:

    My CO2 budget involves all mobility means but of course the biggest chunk potentially and in fact each year has to do with hours of international air travel. So here is how it works:

    In order to justify the environmental impacts of my travel, I have a policy of insisting to remain in that place and work on the sustainability agenda for one day for each hour on the plane that takes me to get there. Thus if I go to Beijing or Los Angeles for a conference, I cannot just simply give my talk and then jet back to Paris. I had to stay there for ten full days and work with colleagues in government or the private or voluntary sectors in order to justify the damage that I am inflicting on the planet.

    This is often looked upon as pretentious, idealistic or, for my hosts, just plain inconvenient. What can I say? In the real world as far as I am concerned this means that more than half the time the invitation has to be rescinded. This I almost always regret since I have difficulty imagining that I would have not had a great deal to learn as well as hopefully to communicate had I been able to work with my colleagues and others in that place. But it also means that I can stay home and get some work done here, so it is definitely not all downside.

    Should you have a CO2 budget yourself? Well, at the very least you might want to think about it?

    Reply
  3. Pingback: YES-DC Congress – Sustainable Mobility in Developing Countries | YES-DC

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