Robert Ayres (scientist)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For other people of the same name, see Robert Ayres.
Robert Ayres
Robert U. Ayres 2003.jpg
Born (1932-06-29) June 29, 1932 (age 82)
Plainfield, New Jersey [1]
Fields Industrial ecology
environmental economics
Institutions Hudson Institute
Carnegie-Mellon University
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
Chalmers Institute of Technology
Alma mater University of Chicago
University of Maryland
King's College London

Robert Underwood Ayres (born June 29, 1932) is an American-born physicist and economist. His career has focused on the application of physical ideas, especially the laws of thermodynamics, to economics; a long-standing pioneering interest in material flows and transformations (industrial ecology or industrial metabolism) - a concept which he originated.[2] His most recent work challenges the widely held economic theory of growth.


Trained as a physicist at the University of Chicago, University of Maryland, and King's College London (PhD in Mathematical Physics), 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, "industrial metabolism" and "eco-restructuring". He has worked at the Hudson Institute (1962–67), Resources for the Future Inc (1968) and International Research and Technology Corp (1969–76). From 1979 until 1992 he was Professor of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, except for two years (and six summers) on leave at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg Austria. In 1992 he moved to the international business school INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France as Sandoz (later Novartis) Professor of Environment and Management. Since his formal retirement in 2000 he has been Jubilee Visiting Professor (2000–2001)and king Karl Gustav XVII professor of environmental science (2004–2005) at Chalmers Institute of Technology Gothenburg (Sweden). He is currently an Institute Scholar at IIASA.

He remains an active researcher. He has written or co-authored 17 books, edited or coedited another dozen books, written or co-authored more than 200 journal articles and book chapters not to mention many unpublished reports, on subjects ranging from environmental effects of nuclear war to theoretical economics. But most of his life-work is interdisciplinary. He was a pioneer of a new field, sometimes called Industrial Metabolism or Industrial Ecology. He has contributed to futures studies, technological forecasting, transportation and energy studies, material flow studies (`dematerialization'),environmental technology, environmental economics, thermodynamics and economics, and the theory of economic growth.[3]

Here taken from one of his books Turning 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.[4]


  • Subsequently published (June 1999), "The Second Law, The Fourth Law, Recycling and Limits to Growth", Ecological Economics 29 (3): 473–483, doi:10.1016/S0921-8009(98)00098-6 


  1. ^ "Who's who in the World - Marquis Who's Who, LLC". Retrieved 2013-08-19. 
  2. ^ Ayres, Robert U; Ayres, Edward H (2010), "Brief biography of Robert U Ayres", Crossing the Energy Divide: Moving from Fossil Fuel Dependence to a Clean-Energy Future, New Jersey: Wharton School Publishing, p. xi, ISBN 0-13-701544-5, retrieved 23 November 2010  Alternative ISBN 978-0-13-701544-3 
  3. ^ "insead - faculty & research - Robert U. Ayres". 2002-01-01. Retrieved 2013-08-19. 
  4. ^ Ayres, Robert U (1999), "...potential for confusion...", Turning Point: An end to the Growth Paradigm, London: Earthscan Publications, ISBN 1-85383-444-0, retrieved 22 November 2010  Paperback ISBN 1-85383-439-4 

External links[edit]