Carnegie Mellon University
May 09, 2011

Green Design Remembers Lester Lave

In Memory of Lester

This informal memorial focuses on Lester's contributions to the Green Design Institute.  You can also view the official obituary on the CMU website.

Lester B. Lave, one of the nation’s leading economists and the founder of the Green Design Institute (GDI), died today after a four month struggle with cancer.   Lester taught us all to "work on problems that matter", and lived his life doing exactly that.

Lester photo  As relevant to Green Design, the problems that mattered to Lester were those associated with products and processes with   large externalities over their life cycle, which he believed were a leading indicator of future regulation.  This led to GDI's early work in design for environment, product recycling, and environmental management.

  In the 1990s "Lave et al" (Lester with colleagues Chris Hendrickson (et) and Francis McMichael (al)), analyzed California’s plans to require the adoption of electric cars that would use lead-acid batteries. Their life cycle analysis published in Science found that in recycling the batteries from such cars, more lead would be released into the environment than if the cars burned leaded gasoline.  While vigorously disputed (including calls from industry that "Lave et al" did not understand basic scientific principles), their results were ultimately vindicated, and helped California and the nation move toward better polices for clean cars.  

  Doing cutting edge research often required data that was not available yet.  Lester often remarked that "there was no data so bad that an economist would not use it".  As GDI's early work required data on energy and environmental flows, Lester along with colleagues Chris Hendrickson and Fran McMichael, and GDI student Elisa Cobas Flores, began work on EIO-LCA in the early 1990s.  Subsequent work looked at LCA of infrastructure, transportation fuel, and power systems as well as in improving methods of LCA for heavy metals.

We'll miss Lester's insights, advice, and good ideas.

Lester's legacy continues through the 22 PhD and 10 MS students in the Green Design institute that he helped.

Special thanks to GDI alum Costa Samaras for thoughts on this note.