Monthly Archives: May 2008

Question of the Week: What’s the best thing you ever did to protect the environment?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Each of us – at home, at work, or at play – affects the environment in different ways and as such, we do different things to help protect it or reduce pollution.

What’s the best thing you ever did to protect the environment?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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More Things We Knew When We Were 5 Years Old

About the author: Viccy Salazar joined EPA in 1995. She works in our Seattle office on waste reduction, resource conservation and stewardship issues.

I’m back. What did you think about over the last week? Did you come up with any rules for yourself? Here are a couple more that I thought about over the week. Practicing the rules last week made me realize that it isn’t easy. But it IS doable. I just have to make it a priority. Here are a couple more rules to consider.

Take only what you need. Remember when we used to fill our plates to overflowing with our favorites foods but really were not hungry enough to eat it all? That is what I feel like we are doing to our lives with stuff. The environmental benefit of not buying something in the first place is huge. You don’t have to extract the resource, you don’t have to transport it, you don’t have to market or sell it and you don’t have to dispose of it when you are done. Always think before you buy and ask yourself if you really need it.

Do unto others. For me, this is the most important of the lessons. When I think about my everyday environmental choices, this is the lesson that hits home. I struggle every day with the balance of my ‘wants’ with what I think is right for the ‘others’ – other species, other people and most significantly, other generations. I feel I owe it to them to leave them what was left for me. To do this, I recycle, compost, take the bus, buy energy efficient appliances and all the basics and still don’t feel like I am really leaving the world as good as I got it.

So, I’ve decided “Do unto Others” is my Earth Day goal for 2008. I want to go beyond the basics and really reach for something extra to reduce my environmental impact. Some ideas I have for myself are travel less, eat more sustainable foods, use less energy and water at home, recycle more, buy less and actually track what I am doing. I know I won’t get it all right (or even all done), but I am going to try. Wish me luck and I’ll let you know how I am doing.

What have you decided to do?

Here are some ideas.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Diablog = Dialogue + Blog

About the author: Molly O’Neill is EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Environmental Information and Chief Information Officer.

I just made that up… is it catchy? My friends and family are always catching me making up new words. Last week, my blog entry described the National Dialogue for Access to Environmental Information and I have been busy listening to several groups of stakeholders. We had a media related focus group who described both their frustrations working with EPA on tight deadlines, as well as what types of information they look for on a frequent basis. To this group, one of the most important access vehicles is finding the right expert at EPA quickly. We need to work on this and this group gave suggestions on how we might address this issue. Thanks!

A bridge through a forestI also attended the Exchange Network National Meeting and invited these participants to not only join in the Dialogue, but also to listen and learn with us. The National Environmental Information Exchange Network (Exchange Network) is a partnership between states, tribes, and EPA that exchanges environmental data securely over the Internet using web services. I like to think of it as an environmental information superhighway where these partners can exchange data more easily and more often because they are not bound by format. Not surprisingly, this partnership came together because of information access and sharing challenges. Building this Exchange Network is important because it is putting information in the hands of federal, state, and tribal regulators more quickly than ever. While the Exchange Network is still growing and maturing, this community is finding great uses of available data.

One of my favorite examples of this is where the Washington Department of Ecology is exchanging their data with not only other state environmental agencies, but also with the Washington Department of Health. Health scientists and officials can more easily determine if metals found in fish tissue samples might relate to health issues reported in specific areas of the state.

I look forward to hearing more thoughts on the future applications of the Exchange Network to improve access to broader audiences. For those reading this blog, I invite you to submit your comments on how we might enhance access to environmental information on our National Dialogue web site.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Let’s Just Call This Your Last Day

About the author: Marcus Peacock is EPA’s Deputy Administrator.

Not long after coming to EPA I was asked to meet with a new group of employees whose purpose was to help first-line supervisors “thrive, not just survive.” Having a group of people who care enough about an organization to get together on their own and figure out how to improve it is like finding a vein of gold. I was anxious to meet them.

They wanted to talk about the most pressing concerns of first-line supervisors. I didn’t know what they would put at the top of the list. I figured it might be lack of resources or training, but the first thing the group mentioned was that the agency was not doing a good job of dealing with poor performers. As they explained it, a poor performer not only affects the work of one person, but also the people around them. In some cases, one or two people can demoralize a whole office.

I have no doubt EPA can do better at dealing with poor performers, but I also think it is a myth that EPA does not already take on this sometimes difficult task. This week one of EPA’s senior managers sent out a memo that I thought did a nice job of addressing this straight up. Here it is, in shortened form:

One of the areas of concern . . . is a belief among federal employees that supervisors do not deal with conduct and performance problems. I understand why this is a common notion; such matters are handled in a highly sensitive and confidential matter. . . . I think it important that we all occasionally hear about what is done to address conduct and performance issues . . . I want to share some information with you about disciplinary actions which have been taken . . . over the last few years.
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We are public servants, and as such, we each have a personal responsibility to maintain levels of behavior and performance that conform to the highest ethical standards and which promote the best interests of EPA and the federal government . . . . I expect each manager and supervisor to take appropriate disciplinary and performance actions when necessary. We practice progressive discipline, which means that we try to give employees as many opportunities as possible to correct behavior or improve performance.
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[E]mployees have been reprimanded and/or suspended for conduct relating to misuse of Agency equipment, e.g., inappropriate internet use. Employees have also been disciplined, including suspension or proposed removal, for misusing official authority or information for personal gain. Discipline has been taken for inappropriate use of the government credit card or failure to pay the bill after having been reimbursed. Attendance-related problems and/or failure to follow leave procedures have lead to discipline, including reprimand, suspension, and removal. Employees have been disciplined for what I would generally call unprofessional behavior . . . . Finally, discipline is not limited to staff. Some supervisors have found themselves subject to discipline for misconduct.

I thought it important for you to know that the myth that nothing ever happens to employees with conduct and/or performance problems is just that, a myth. Let me assure you that supervisors do not seek out opportunities to take disciplinary actions . . . . Addressing conduct and performance issues is ongoing; we are focusing time and effort to further address conduct challenges and there is room for improvement. I expect supervisors to continue to attend to this critical element of their jobs. Our mission is too important and our resources too limited to do anything else.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Home is Where the Start Is

About the author: Maria T. Vargas joined EPA in 1986 and is EPA’s ENERGY STAR® communications and brand manager.

Having worked at EPA for over 20 years, it’s exciting to see that Earth Day still commands attention as people come together to learn how to better protect the environment. This year, on Earth Day we encouraged all Americans to do more to help fight global warming this year by pledging to make changes in their home at the new Change the World, start with the ENERGY STAR website. I think people often forget that each of us can make a difference in protecting our environment and helping reduce greenhouse gases is no exception!

Maria VargasI try to bring the energy-saving practices that I’ve learned at EPA into my own home as much as possible. We’ve changed all our bulbs to ENERGY STAR qualified compact fluorescent bulbs, and we’ve installed a programmable thermostat to automatically set back the heat and air conditioning when we are not at home. Since heating and air conditioning can account for as much as half of the energy used in a home, we’ve upgraded our system to a high efficiency HVAC model and keep the filters clean and the ducts sealed to make sure it is running at peak efficiency.

My kids are great about remembering to turn off the lights in their room when they leave (OK – most of the time!), shutting off the TV when we are not watching it and turning off the water while they are brushing their teeth. And my hi-tech husband is a good sport, too — he agreed to wait for the new, more stringent ENERGY STAR television specification before he bought the wide-screen LCD TV that he had his eye on.

Take the Energy Star pledgeTo see what you can do in your home, take the ENERGY STAR Pledge now and see how you can save energy, save money on your utility bill, and help fight global warming. It is a great way to make every day Earth Day.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Beyond Translation, a successful Hispanic initiative at EPA

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Lea la versión en español. Some links exit EPA.Exit EPA Disclaimer
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I recently attended a briefing on the new National Survey of Hispanic Voters on Environmental Issues (PDF) (9 pp, 4.8 MB), jointly sponsored by the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change and the Sierra Club.

Among the survey’s findings, over 80 percent of the Latino voters polled said that energy and environmental issues have “a lot” or “some” impact on the quality of life and health of their families. The presenters noted that the survey dispels the common myth that Hispanics do not care about the environment. Here, at EPA, we do not buy into that misrepresentation of our fellow Hispanic- Americans. In fact, over the years, we have been actively reaching out to the Hispanic community via the Web, the traditional Hispanic media and to Hispanic community leaders throughout the nation.

In 2005, EPA launched its consolidated Spanish Web site which has been receiving an ever-growing number of Spanish-speaking visitors from the U.S. and worldwide.

In 2006, EPA Region 6 launched an important Hispanic community forum in San Antonio, Texas designed to promote a greater environmental stewardship among Hispanics. This EPA initiative, Beyond Translation, essentially evolved from EPA’s National Hispanic Outreach Strategy, yet it has gained a life of its own.

As the title suggests, the main objective is to go beyond translating EPA publications into Spanish, but to truly engage the Hispanic community as partners to improve access to environmental and public health information in a relevant manner while fostering greater involvement en nuestras comunidades.

Beyond Translation is gaining momentum. At EPA Research Triangle Park, they have quickly adapted the initiative to the needs of Hispanic leaders and partners in North Carolina and others EPA regions will soon follow suit.

Stay tuned—there might be a Beyond Translation forum near you (PDF) (8 pp, 6.4 MB) in the near future!

Más allá de las traducciones, una exitosa iniciativa hispana en EPA.

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.
Read the English version

Recientemente asistí a una reunión sobre la nueva Encuesta Nacional de Votantes Hispanos sobre Temas Ambientales (PDF, 9 pages, 4.8 MB), auspiciada conjuntamente por la Coalición Nacional Latina sobre el Cambio Climático y el Sierra Club (PDF, 2 pages, 88 KB).

Entre los hallazgos del sondeo, se destaca que sobre el 80 por ciento de los votantes latinos entrevistados dijeron que los asuntos energéticos y medioambientales tienen “muchas” o “bastantes” repercusiones en la calidad de vida y de la salud de nuestras familias. Según los presentadores, la encuesta desvanece el mito común de que los hispanos no se interesan por el medio ambiente. Aquí en EPA, nosotros no aceptamos esa exposición errónea de nuestros conciudadanos hispanos. De hecho, hemos realizado numerosas actividades de alcance público hacia la comunidad hispana vía el Web, los medios hispanos tradicionales y a los líderes de la comunidad latina a través de la nación.

En el 2005, EPA lanzó su sitio Web en español el cual recibe un siempre creciente número de visitantes de habla hispana en los Estados Unidos y del mundo entero.

En el 2006, la Oficina Regional 6 de EPA lanzó un importante foro comunitario hispano en San Antonio, Texas diseñado para promover una mayor protección ambiental entre los hispanos. Esta iniciativa, Más allá de las traducciones (Beyond Translation), esencialmente evolucionó de la Estrategia Nacional de Alcance Público Hispano de EPA, mas ha cobrado vida propia.

Como el título sugiere, el objetivo principal consiste en ir más allá de la traducción de publicaciones de EPA, para así atraer a la comunidad hispana como socios a fin de mejorar el acceso a la información ambiental y de salud pública de una manera relevante mientras también se fomenta una mayor participación de nuestras comunidades.

Más allá de las traducciones (Beyond Translation) está cobrando auge. En nuestras oficinas del Triángulo (EPA Research Triangle Park), han adaptado la iniciativa a las necesidades de los líderes y socios hispanos en Carolina el Norte.

Otras regiones de EPA están siguiendo su ejemplo. ¡Manténgase en sintonía—podría celebrarse otro foro de BT (por sus siglas en inglés) cerca de usted en un futuro cercano!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.