Since its inception in November 1993, The Aspen Institute Series on the Environment in the 21st Century has brought together leaders of business, government, and environmental and other public interest groups to engage in a dialogue about developing a new environmental management system for the United States. The Series reflects the belief on all sides that current environmental protection and enhancement strategies are not sufficient to meet the environmental challenges of the next century.
The Aspen Institute Mission
The Series epitomizes the mission of The Aspen Institute, which is to improve the quality of leadership through dialogue about the values and ideas essential to meeting the challenges facing societies, organizations and individuals. The Institute's programs typically take the form of small meetings, which foster candid exchange among people of diverse viewpoints, backgrounds and cultural traditions. These meetings raise difficult questions that require cross-cutting, interdisciplinary debate and that challenge participants to avoid easy or oversimplified responses. By encouraging participants to express their own views rather than those of their companies or organizations, Aspen leaders hope to create a more relaxed and uninhibited atmosphere that nurtures creative thinking and problem solving.
The Series on the Environment normally meets four times a year at the Institute's campus in Aspen, Colorado. The Institute invites a cross-section of thirty to thirty-five leaders in government, business, and environmental and other public interest groups. About fifteen to twenty-five percent at any given meeting are first-time participants; this provides for continuity of discussion while allowing for the continual infusion of fresh ideas and experiences. People from over a hundred organizations have been a part of the Series.
Theoretical discussions are leavened with case studies, which effectively ground the dialogue in the experience of individuals working in new methods of environmental management. Outside facilitators help to structure the discussions, but participants themselves, individually and in small groups, prepare and edit draft documents that become the focus of the meetings.
The Series itself is in one sense a microcosm of the stakeholder process the group has defined as part of an alternative method of environmental protection. Choosing to be broadly inclusive of varied viewpoints rather than to seek an easy consensus among like-minded people, the Series has accepted the challenge of working through seemingly intractable differences. The occasional heat of the argument tempers the consensus being forged, with the result being a stronger product that is less likely to shatter under attack from parties not at the table.
The Aspen Institute recognizes the importance of taking the ideas generated by its programs into the policy arena-translating thought into action. This can take the form of appropriately disseminated and publicized reports such as this one. It can also occur through the process of participants themselves carrying ideas to a broader audience or implementing them directly.
During the past three years, due to the efforts of Series participants from the executive branch and Congress, supported by business and environmental participants, ideas fleshed out in the Series on the Environment contributed to portions of a key presidential speech on reinventing regulation, to provisions of bipartisan congressional legislation proposing a new approach to environmental management, and to Project XL, an EPA pilot program to demonstrate alternative methods of environmental protection.
As this phase of the Series concludes, participants have decided the discussions should continue. With environmental policy discussions often polarized, and with compromise often considered a sellout rather than a success, the Aspen process offers an opportunity to build bridges. Facing each other in a meeting room rather than a courtroom, former adversaries have become friends, arguments have become dialogue, candor has led to increased trust, and common ground has been discovered. In 1997, the Series will begin an examination of some of the broader issues reflected in the basic Aspen Principles, including setting clear and measurable national environmental goals, seeking alternative approaches to natural resources issues, and changing the economic and financial drivers that help or hinder the achievement of environmental goals.
The Aspen Institute and its Program on Energy, the Environment, and the Economy want to acknowledge the very important role of the sponsors of the Series on the Environment in the 21st Century. Without their generosity, support, and confidence, this exciting dialogue could not have continued and borne fruit. Thus we gratefully acknowledge and thank the following:
The Joyce Foundation
Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Arizona Public Service Company
Denver Research Group
Merck & Company
Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation
Pacific Gas and Electric Corporation
Public Service Electric & Gas Company
Union Carbide Corporation
The Series on the Environment was suggested to the Institute by Charles M. McLean. His creativity and energy have shaped and sustained the process, and we are grateful to him.
We also want to thank all of the participants for bringing their expertise and viewpoints to the table, and for their considerable efforts during the course of the Series. Hard work during the meetings was often rewarded by requests to do additional drafting or reviewing between sessions. This report, and the difficult negotiating and drafting that led to it, reflect this expertise, hard work, and dedication.
John A. Riggs
Program on Energy, the Environment, and the Economy
This report is issued on the authority of The Aspen Institute and its Program on Energy, the Environment, and the Economy. It reflects the collective views of the many and diverse participants in the Series and the agreements they have reached during the past three years and as such reflects numerous compromises. Many participants were not present at one or more meetings at which agreement was reached on some of the principles or recommendations contained herein, and thus no individual should be presumed to endorse every word, nor should the participation of individuals imply the endorsement of their organizations.