Professor Roland Clift

(CBE., FREng., FIChemE., HonFCIWEM., FRSA)
President-elect of the International Society for Industrial Ecology

I first met Walter Stahel, founder of the Product-Life Institute, in January 1991. The occasion was a conference on “The Emerging Pollution Prevention Paradigm” at Santa Barbara, California, organised by the US Engineering Foundation. At the time I was Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Surrey and Chair of the UK National Research Programme in Clean Technology. However, I was increasingly becoming frustrated by the limitations of conventional engineering research, and its seemingly limited ability to impact on the consequences of the human economy.

Walter Stahel was the very first speaker at the conference. He talked inter alia, about life-cycle thinking, the service economy, production life extension, re-use, remanufacturing… - in fact, the approach of the Product-Life Institute has since come to be recognised as part of the bedrock of industrial ecology. Without the slightest exaggeration, I can say that this came as an inspiration to me; Walter Stahel opened up new ways of thinking which I have been trying to pursue ever since. On return from the conference, I resigned as Department Head and started the process which led, 18 months later, to founding the Centre for Environmental Strategy. The existence of CES – which has since grown to be larger than many conventional departments at the University of Surrey – is thus a direct result of the work of the Product-Life Institute. I have acknowledged this debt in a number of public lectures.

Through research and a unique industrial doctorate programme, CES has had an acknowledged impact on thinking and industrial practice internationally. In addition, we now have a cohort of more than 100 doctoral graduates who are in influential industrial positions. Walter Stahel has continued to be part of this work, as a Visiting Professor. His lectures are regarded by the students as inspirational.