Sustainability Science Program

Ross Collins

Ross Collins

Ross CollinsMr. Ross Collins
Sustainability Science Program
Kennedy School of Government
Mailbox 81
Harvard University
79 JFK Street
Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
Office: 502 Rubenstein Building
Tel: (1) 617-496-0739
Group affiliation: Doctoral Research Fellow

Ross Collins is a Doctoral Research Fellow in the Sustainability Science Program and a PhD candidate in the Engineering Systems Division at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research concerns large-scale infrastructure system design that is commensurate with sustainable development. His work uses simulation and scenario planning to model interdependent water and energy infrastructures in Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to uncover strategies that are robust – along social, economic and environmental dimensions – to future uncertainties. The strategy formulation process combines technology detail with macroeconomic analysis, including the state-of-the-art in sustainable development theory and long-term policy analysis. This work is part of a larger collaboration between MIT and the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, called the Center for Complex Engineering Systems. Ross is contributing to collaborative work with the Initiative on Innovation and Access to Technologies for Sustainable Development led by William Clark. Ross also works part-time for the global energy consulting firm IHS CERA, organizing their Energy Innovation Pioneers program each year at CERAWeek, one of the largest executive energy conferences in the world. Before entering MIT as a doctoral student, he worked for former Congressman (now Senator) Edward Markey on the Natural Resources Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ross holds an S.M. in Technology & Policy from MIT, an M.S. and B.S. in Systems Engineering and B.A. in Economics, both from the University of Virginia. Research there included tradeoff exploration of different geographic configurations of photovoltaic installations, risk-scoring of critical infrastructures for the Virginia Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and economic analysis of workforce disruptions during pandemic flu outbreaks. His faculty host is William Clark.

Evaluating infrastructure policy for sustainable development: How will interventions impact the development trajectory of countries over time?
The project’s goal is to construct system dynamic model(s) to project the impacts of infrastructure system interventions and evaluate which are commensurate with sustainable development versus short-term economic growth, and associated tradeoffs therein.

The design of resource-intensive infrastructure systems, including the technology and policies that moderate their usage, has profound long-term implication for the development trajectory of a country. Unfortunately, evaluative frameworks for assessing these sustainable development implications are lacking in the relevant engineering literature. Recent work in Sustainability Science has provided a theoretical foundation for evaluating whether development was sustainable by focusing on the collective movement of capital asset stocks during a past period. The total value of these stocks (including natural, physical and human capital) is called [comprehensive] wealth, and development is shown to be sustainable over a time period if wealth does not decline. This research project will combine the underlying theory of the wealth approach with system modeling and simulation to prospectively analyze infrastructure systems by their effect on wealth and other policy-relevant measures through time. It will help answer whether development will be sustainable following interventions to the current technology and policy base that comprises the infrastructure system today. The approach will be piloted in a case study of water-energy infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, a coupled system heavily reliant on natural capital on which the rest of the economy (and its ability to produce physical capital) also depends. Interventions will thus yield tradeoffs across long-term sustainable development metrics (e.g. wealth) and short-term economic performance metrics (e.g. GNP). Tradeoffs will be furthered explored using scenario analysis, where interventions are evaluated under alternate future conditions. The general approach is applicable to infrastructure systems in other country contexts as well.

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