Erb Perspective Blog

by Erb Institute Managing Director, Terry Nelidov

I’m delighted to be joining the Erb Institute this week. I’ve worked in and around corporate sustainability for two decades, and I recognize the unique role that Erb—and the University of Michigan more broadly—play in driving the global sustainability debate. When I think of “sustainability ecosystems”, I can’t think of a more dynamic one than the worldwide network of Erb students, faculty, researchers, alumni, U-M affiliates, and business partners. I believe that I have a lot to contribute, and even more to learn, from this incredible community. I’m honored to be a part of it!

Last week was my move week in Hong Kong! I had called HK home for two great years, working with companies on a range of sustainability issues across China, Central and Southeast Asia. The movers arrived Tuesday and packed up my flat into 34 tidy little boxes, a couch, and a dining table. My last night in HK included a bus ride down the busy Nathan Road to HK Harbor, and a panoramic view over this crowded, and sometimes chaotic, metropolis of eight million people.

I passed in front of HK’s iconic iSquare shopping center, and the blast of super conditioned air pouring out of the lobby and cooling the entire block reminded me of the energy-efficiency challenges HK still faces. The congested traffic (even at midnight); the towering construction on seemingly every block (also working through the night); and the invasion of Euro-luxury brands crowding out age-old local shops … all reminded me of the broader sustainability challenges confronting China, SE Asia, and other emerging economies across Africa and Latin America.

There was a time when many saw the developing world as a sustainability problem to be solved by developed countries. “What about China? It’ll never work!”  The global debate has since evolved to instead understand emerging economies as an indispensable part of the solution. Pioneering solar-energy systems in China; scavenger micro-enterprises mining Jakarta’s municipal landfills for recyclables; Africa’s successful microfinance models being exported to the US and Europe; and Peru’s early adoption of the internet for digital inclusion of some of the country’s most remote villages. These are just a few examples of innovative solutions that are not only adapted to, but rather born of, sustainability challenges in the developing world.

I’m convinced that global sustainability will require a dynamic two-way dialogue between emerging and developed economies, East/West and North/South, and between hard-core environmental techies and lower-tech social and cultural activists.
These are the issues I hope to explore further with the Erb team and partners. My vision is to position Erb squarely at the crossroads of the global sustainability debate, as the “go to” institute for cutting-edge research and hands-on application in industry and community. I would like to further complement Erb’s legacy of environmental leadership with innovative approaches to the social, governance, and human-rights challenges that are becoming ever more complicated as business goes global. And we will look to the Erb ecosystem to help us better understand the complex linkages among all of these issues through systems thinking.

These are my first thoughts. My hope is that they will spark a fruitful debate among the Erb community, and that together we will forge a shared vision for the Institute’s next stage of development. In the coming months, the Erb team will be reaching out to a cross section of students, faculty, alumni, and business partners to include their ideas and concerns first hand in this dialogue. In the meantime, I encourage you to join the discussion by leaving a comment below or by emailing  the Erb team directly.

I realize that global sustainability is a tall order. I can’t think of a community of thinkers and doers better positioned than Erb to take on the challenge!

Terry Nelidov is the Erb Institute’s Managing director.  Read more about Terry here.

Posted in Erb Director | Tagged , , , | 23 Comments

23 Responses to On Leaving Hong Kong

  1. Leah Zimmerman says:

    Terry, welcome! We are grateful to have you join our community. We look forward to folding you into our conversations–formal and informal–about how to create the world we all want. Here’s to building a powerful Erb network that thinks and acts strategically, globally, and with a long-term view!

  2. Rachana (Patel) Shah, Erb '12 says:

    Welcome Terry! Your enthusiasm will certainly match that of the students who are some of the most motivated problem-solvers I have come to know. Excited for you to bring your experience to the community. Enjoy and go blue!

    • Terry says:

      Thank you, Rachana. The same can be said for Erb alumni! I’m pleased to be meeting you and other alumni, at least virtually for now. Hopefully, you’ll join us at an Erb event soon and I can meet you in person. There’s an important role for alumni to play in maintaining Erb’s global leadership.

  3. Claudia says:

    Welcome to Erb and Ann Arbor, Terry! Your recounting of your final hours in Hong Kong rekindled memories of my travels to the island a year ago. The transformation that has taken place over a relatively short period was startling to see. Aberdeen Harbor with its quaint market stalls and little sampan ladies has given way to wall-to-wall condos and gleaming white yachts. The view from atop Victoria Peak was nearly obliterated by dense smog until noon. High-rises and traffic snarls were endless. Similar unbridled development is occurring in Vietnam, Malaysia and China. Clearly, the Erb community has work to do around the world.

    • Terry says:

      Oh I couldn’t agree more! China’s sustainability footprint is huge, but your email reminds us not to forget the host of other emerging economies across Central, SE, N & S Asia–key countries for sustainability such as India, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, and many more. Not to forget the similarly important footprint of Brazil in South America, and its increasing commercial ties with China. Exciting linkages, which I hope you’ll help us explore!

  4. Judith says:

    Welcome aboard Erb, Terry. Great to see your blog and interpretation of the global sustainability issues and the East-Meets-West issues. I’ve just started here in Singapore and am beginning to look at sustainability issues for research topics while at Nanyang Technological University. You may or may not know, NTU has identified five Peaks of Excellence, which include ‘sustainable earth’ and ‘new silk road’ (East meets West). Keep us posted on what Erb plans to do as I think there could be some potential link ups.

    • Terry says:

      “Sustainable Earth” and “New Silk Road” … two fascinating ways to frame the sustainability discussion for Asia. I’ll keep you posted on how we intend to broaden Erb’s geographical perspective, with a particular interest in Asia and SE Asia. Please keep us in mind for collaboration opportunities!

  5. Tom Lyon says:

    Terry, it is great that you are bringing sustainability expertise from all over the globe here to the Erb Institute. I am sure this will help us take big strides forward on the “Global” part of our mision.

    • Terry says:

      My conviction is that we can’t talk about a systems approach to sustainability without thinking global. I think this is part of Erb’s unique contribution to dialogue, and action.

  6. Ira Jaffe says:

    Terry –welcome to AnnArbor and the Erb Community. I am sure that all of the Trustees of The Fred A.and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation wish you the greatest success. Ira Jaffe, Chair

    • Terry says:

      Thank you for your warm greetings! Today marks the end of my first week with the Institute. It’s been an exciting–and hectic!–week, and I look forward to many more to come.

  7. Will Morrison, Erb '15 says:

    Terry, great way to kick off your tenure. I think you’ll find the full spectrum – from hard-core environmental techies to lower-tech social and cultural activists – in the Erb community, ready for debate. We look forward to meeting you once we’re all back in the fall.

    • Terry says:

      And I’ll be looking to this full spectrum to contribute to the world-class dialogue that Erb is known for. See you in the fall!

  8. Jerry Davis says:

    Welcome to Ann Arbor! You are joining a great community here.

  9. Congratulations on your new role! I’ve begun to watch what’s going in at ERB and would be pleased to explore potential to collaborate on helping shift the world toward a ‘sustainably flourishing’ future :)

  10. Manish Mehta says:

    Terry – Welcome to Ann Arbor and the UM!
    Having grown up in hustle and bustle of Singapore (a highly ranked self-sustaining city like HK), I trust you are adapting well to the relative sense of “equanimity” you must be feeling in Ann Arbor, aka Tree City! I invite you as my honored guest at the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor North’s Thursday luncheon meetings at the Holiday Inn North Campus. We are involved in many environmental and sustainability causes around the A2 community. Hope you will join us before the craziness of a new UM academic year starts in a month -You will enjoy meeting many like-minded area professionals in a casual setting.

    • Terry says:

      Would love to join you for Rotary. Please come by the office when you’re back in town. Would also enjoy hearing more of your experiences growing up in Singapore.

  11. steve percy says:


    I look forward to meeting you in the fall, and working with you through the EAB. I know you will love working at the UM — the faculty, students, alumni and community are the Best!