Search Results for: sustainability

EPA and the Chickasaw Nation: Working Together to Ensure Long-Term Sustainability and Quality of our Water

By Ann Keeley

Some very exciting events took place last week here in Ada, Oklahoma—EPA’s Robert S. Kerr Environmental Research Center hosted the 50th Anniversary dedication of the Center. A highlight of the celebration included the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between our groundwater remediation and ecosystem restoration scientists and the Chickasaw Nation, a federally recognized American Indian Tribal Nation, also located in Ada.

The Chickasaw Nation will conduct research, lead community outreach efforts, and initiate development and implementation activities in support of the Chickasaw-Choctaw Regional Water Plan and Arbuckle-Simpson Drought Contingency Project that focuses on water conservation, water supply security, and drought resiliency for the communities within the Chickasaw Nation. Our scientists will contribute through research and development activities in support of programs and regional priorities, and the development and analysis of sustainable water and land management systems to improve the environmental quality and community health and awareness in south central Oklahoma.

The MOU being signed at the ceremony

Lek Kadeli  and Bill Anoatubby sign the Memorandum of Understanding between EPA and the Chickasaw Nation during the Robert S. Kerr Environmental Research Center’s 50th Anniversary Event Celebration.

Lek Kadeli, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Management in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and Bill Anoatubby, Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, gave remarks in honor of the signing.

Kadeli confidently predicted that in another 50 years at the Ada 100th Anniversary, this collaboration will be recognized not only for its scientific achievement, but for the water resource management decisions that allowed this region to thrive. “The people of Ada, Oklahoma and the people of our nation will benefit from the collaboration of the Chickasaw Nation and the Office of Research and Development.” Kadeli stated.

Anoatubby shared with everyone how EPA was the first federal agency to develop policies to work with tribes as sovereign nations, and expressed his appreciation for our Agency being on the forefront of these efforts. With sincerity and conviction he went on to say, “Being able to work with the EPA lab will have a positive impact not only for both parties, but also for the surrounding community. The goals of the MOU can’t be separated from the community goals – they are one in the same – ensuring the long-term sustainability and quality of our water.” The ceremony concluded with Kadeli and Anoatubby signing the official written agreement.

Distinguished guests at the event included EPA officials; current and retired colleagues; and leaders from regional, state, and tribal governments. Also attending was the President of East Central University, John R. Hargrave, other local affiliated academics, and business and community leaders.

At EPA’s Kerr Center, we are committed to helping the Chickasaw Nation and other regional federal tribal nations strengthen their ability to manage associated environmental programs. Through our work, partnerships and mission, we ensure that tribes have a voice in decisions that affect their land, air, and water.

About the Author: Dr. Ann Keeley is an Environmental Microbiologist, and Chief of the Ecosystem Subsurface Protection Branch in Ada, Oklahoma. She has a B.S. in Health with emphasis in clinical microbiology, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Environmental Microbiology from Mississippi State University. Her research area is combined treatment technologies. She joined EPA in 1998.

The Nexus of Food-Energy and Water: Critical Steps to Sustainability

By Alan Hecht

three images vertically aligned showing food, energy, and waterEPA is one of several government sponsors for the upcoming Nexus conference (January 19-21) organized by the National Council on Science and the Environment (NCSE).  This timely event recognizes the intricate links between food, energy, land, and water management in today’s complex world:  water supply is influenced by demands from energy and food sectors; food production requires both water and energy; and energy requires water for a large fraction of its production and delivery.

Looking ahead we have several major challenges. Global population is expected to increase by 38%, from 6.9 billion in 2010 to 9.6 billion in 2050.  It is estimated that with a population of 8.3 billion people by 2030, we will need 50% more energy, 40% more water, and 35% more food (source, see: “Can ‘nexus thinking’ alleviate global water, food and energy pressures?” Tim Smedley, 2013, Guardian Magazine).

The Conference will focus on critical questions:

  • How do we feed the 9.6 billion people expected to be alive in 2050?
  • What are the opportunities to improve water and energy efficiency and reduce food waste?
  • What are the strategies for resilience in the face of increased climate variability and other environmental changes?
  • What science and technological are needed to meet these problems?

Government and business must now deal with the nexus of food-energy and water, as well as   economic development, health and wellbeing and environmental protection. This means integrated, systems thinking is needed.   For us here at EPA, partnership is key to the next phase of environmental protection– achieving sustainable outcomes. We are embracing research that strategically engages government-business collaboration as critical foundations for achieving sustainable outcomes.

Working with our partners, we have advanced a guiding definition of sustainability as a goal and a process for meeting the challenges of the 21st century. The goal is to protect our future generations; the process involves use of technology, tools and approaches to achieve sustainable outcomes.

One example is our partnership with the U.S. Army to support their Net Zero initiative,  while dramatically lowering—or eliminating—energy consumption, water use, and waste generation on military bases.

To support such efforts and help local communities, Agency researchers have already developed hundreds of decision support tools to assess the potential impacts of decisions and advance actions that can promote healthy and sustainable communities well into the future. For example, our recently released “Green Infrastructure Wizard” (GIWiz) provides an interactive web application connecting communities to a wealth of EPA Green Infrastructure tools and resources.

As is evident from the conference, in the world today we must recognize the nexus of land, water, energy and food and must aim for sustainable outcomes. The goal today at EPA is that “sustainability isn’t part of our work, it is a guiding influence for all of our work.”

About the Author: Alan Hecht is the Director for Sustainable Development in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.



A Sustainability Rendezvous

By Michael Slimak

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining some of my colleagues from the European Union at an event in Washington, DC to present information and share examples of how we are all making strides to better understand and assess the environment.

The gathering, A Sustainable Future for All: EU and US Efforts to Measure and Assess Progress Towards a Sustainable and Resource Efficient Economy, was an opportunity to explore how countries on both sides of the vast Atlantic Ocean see a pathway to cleaner, healthier communities and a more prosperous future for us, our grandchildren, and beyond.

One of the great aspects of the rendezvous was listening to the common themes emerge from different perspectives and across a diversity of organizations. EPA research is at the forefront of forging that confluence of thought.

EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities research program was among the first explicitly organized to build bridges across traditional research disciplines—uniting ecologists, public health experts, toxicologists, and social scientists—to illuminate the connections between a healthy environment and specific, identifiable aspects of human well being. We work to connect natural ecosystems and the “services” they deliver such as climate stability, clean air, fertile soils, and watershed functions with critical aspects of livable communities: public health, environmental justice, economic opportunity, and long-term prosperity.

Simply put, we are working to empower communities and make things better for people.

EPA's Report on the Environment.

A section of EPA’s interactive Report on the Environment. Go to to explore more.

An important way we do that is to develop the information, data, and tools that individuals and communities need to assess and monitor the environment. At the rendezvous, I shared one of our latest examples: EPA’s Report on the Environment. The European Environment Agency produced a similar effort in the European Environment, State and Outlook 2015 (SOER).

EPA’s report is an interactive resource that shows how the condition of the environment and human health in the United States is changing over time. It presents the best available indicators of national trends in five areas of interest to EPA: AirWaterLand, Human Exposure and Health, and Ecological Condition.

The Report on the Environment is an example of the kinds of scientific, environmental indicator-based resources EPA researchers are developing to provide transparent, open access to the information decision makers need.

Like our European counterparts, we are working together to embrace the concept of sustainability as a way to change the paradigm of environmental protection from something apart from traditional economic calculations to realizing opportunities in efficiencies and long-term solutions. Resources such as EPA’s Report on the Environment are helping us make that happen, and it was great to learn that we have committed partners to work with across the globe.

Portrait of Michael SlimakAbout the Author: Michael Slimak, Ph.D., is the national program director for EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities research program. An ecologist by training, he has worked on issues ranging from strategic research planning to aquatic and terrestrial contamination and risk assessment.




The Last Year of an Environmental Educator’s Career: Reflections on Sustainability

Introduction by Kathleen L. Fenton

I’m fortunate to manage EPA Region 7’s Environmental Education Program. I get to meet folks like Dr. Michael Hotz, who work tirelessly to ensure today’s students understand, value and enjoy learning. Dr. Hotz is one of those exceptional teachers who students remember long after they’ve graduated, an educator who makes a lasting impression. Most importantly, he’s influenced students to realize that science, technology, engineering and math are subjects they can understand and have fun doing, while actually learning – and it’s knowledge they can keep and use for years to come.

Dr. Hotz is a model teacher and representative of many fine teachers across the Heartland. I had the honor of watching him receive his Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. I wish him well on his career’s final year, and hope the teaching profession can employ more teachers like him. Thank you, Dr. Hotz, for an impressive 31-year run!

By Dr. Michael Hotz

As I begin the last of 31 years of teaching young people, I reflect on sustainability. Through the last 19 years in the Kansas City, Kan., Public School District, I’ve had the opportunity to create a school garden/outdoor classroom, conduct long-term watershed studies, create an aquaponic system where tilapia grow and greenhouse plants are nourished, and conduct energy audits to save more than $100,000 in utility costs.

Dr. Hotz and his wife, Catherine, at PIAEE award ceremony

Dr. Hotz and his wife, Catherine, at PIAEE award ceremony

It’s been a great experience, and I have an EPA employee to thank for, as she says, “planting the seed of ideas.” Roberta Vogel-Luetung sat with me as we brainstormed ideas over 15 years ago at an in-service meeting conducted by EPA. We discussed how an empty, unused courtyard at Wyandotte High School could be used for teaching environmental content. Since that meeting, the courtyard has been turned into a school garden and outdoor classroom with 20 raised beds, an automated sprinkler system, all-weather walkways, flower gardens, a water feature, and composting facilities.

Students were challenged and stepped up to the task of designing, building, and financing this area, which they also help plant and maintain. These students, as well as others, have reaped the fruits of their labors. Joanne Postawait has taken over the responsibility of planting and harvesting this area, while I continue to help with its hardscape maintenance.

School garden/outdoor classroom

School garden/outdoor classroom

The EPA video “After the Storm” inspired me to create a “challenge-based” learning experience for the Small Learning Community in which I teach at Wyandotte High School. Through collaboration with my fellow educators Ms. Hornberger (Math), Mr. Willard (English), and Mr. Zak (Engineering), we created a long-term project around Big Eleven Lake in Kansas City, Kan.

Each year, students study their watershed in my science classes. We bring the studies down to the local level of what the students can do themselves to help the watershed. They’ve been taught how to conduct water testing, and then go into the field and test Big Eleven Lake, Kaw Point (at the convergence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers), and other lakes in the area. Comparisons are made and reported to the Kansas Health Department. All of the curriculums are tied into this experience. Standardized test scores demonstrate that significant gains have been made because of this program.

I was also a member of the EPA Urban Lake Testing Group where EPA provided water testing techniques and equipment, and samples were sent to EPA laboratories for analysis. I was then able to train residents of the Big Eleven Lake area, who belong to the Struggler’s Hill/Roots Neighborhood Association, to do the water testing. These neighborhood association members were helpful in sharing their lives and experiences around the lake, and the EPA employees were just as helpful with the testing and field work.

Aquaponics system

Aquaponic system

We developed a pilot aquaponics program where tilapia are grown. The water from these tanks is sent to trays where plants are grown, establishing a symbiotic relationship between the fish and plants. Wastes from the tilapia nourish tomatoes, herbs, squash, and other plants in our greenhouse. This type of organic, non-polluting growing system is 10 times more efficient than traditional methods and saves water.

I initiated energy audits and plans to save on utility costs. Students use testing equipment to monitor lights, electricity, and temperature and then develop plans to reduce usage. More than $100,000 was saved in a single year. A recycling program also is in place, which is operated by our Environmental Club and is part of the Green Schools Program of the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education.

Aquaponic system

Aquaponic system

These programs helped me to be recognized as a proud winner of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE). EPA and its employees have been instrumental in the development and teaching of these programs.

I am honored that my former student and 2015 graduate, Karina Macias Leyva, wrote the following in her letter of recommendation for the award: “When Dr. Hotz teaches anything that is part of the environmental education field, even with the smallest projects, he inspires students to gain awareness of their environment and acquire knowledge, skills, values, experiences and also determination, which will enable students to act individually and collectively that will lead to solving present and future environmental problems.”

I’m currently working with Towson University, investigating how environmental education happens in and out of the classroom and what impacts student understanding and attitudes about the environment and environmental science.

As I plan for this final year of teaching, my major concern is sustaining these programs. I’m training and encouraging other teachers at Wyandotte High School to keep them going. Our environmental future depends upon the teaching of young minds here in the Heartland and across the nation.

I have enjoyed and am thankful for the relationships that have been made with EPA, and I look forward to working with all of you at EPA during this final year.

About the Introducer: Kathleen Fenton has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education grants, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

About the Author: Dr. Michael Hotz has been a teacher at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kan., for the past 19 years, as part of his 31-year teaching career. He was awarded the PIAEE in 2015.

Sharing Best Sustainability Practices with Communities

One of the most rewarding parts of my job here at EPA is the work we do with climate and energy program staff from communities and tribes across the country. These sustainability professionals are tireless organizers, skilled problem solvers, and endlessly enthusiastic about helping residents and businesses reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, improve air quality and public health, create jobs, and save money. Despite common challenges they face I am always impressed by how much local sustainability professionals are able to accomplish with so little. By taking action on climate in their own back yards, they are building stronger and healthier communities – and looking out for all of our futures.

Part of our job here is to help local government employees achieve success. Our Local Climate and Energy Program conducts continued outreach by hosting webcasts, sending out newsletters about resources and funding opportunities, and producing resources and tools of our own.
Our latest round of resources are written by communities, for communities. Each resource was driven by community needs, inspired by actual implementation experiences, and informed by staff who have developed successful climate and energy programs. They provide practical steps for communities to follow when building or growing a climate and energy program. These new resources are the result of strong relationships we have built with communities and tribes across the country who have invested in achieving climate and energy results in their own backyards.

Local Climate Action Framework

This online guide provides step-by-step guidance and resources for local governments to plan, implement, and evaluate climate, energy, and sustainability projects and programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change impacts. It captures lessons learned and effective strategies used by local governments, breaks down program implementation into concrete steps, and curates resources to help local governments find the information they need. The framework was developed with extensive input from local government stakeholders, including our Climate Showcase Communities.

Effective Practices for Implementing Local Climate and Energy Programs Tip Sheets

This series of nineteen tip sheets was developed based on the experience and feedback of our Climate Showcase Communities. Each tip sheet focuses on a different aspect of program operation and highlights best practices and helpful resources discovered or used by these communities. Topics include marketing and communications (effective messaging, traditional media strategies, community-based social marketing, and testimonial videos) and working with specific types of stakeholders (institutional partners, contractors, experts, utilities, early adopters, volunteers).

Local Climate and Energy Program Model Design Guide

This guide was developed for local climate and clean energy (i.e., energy efficiency, renewable energy, and combined heat and power) program implementers to help create or transition to program designs that are viable over the long term. The guide draws on the experience and examples of our Climate Showcase Communities as they developed innovative models for programs that could be financially viable over the long term and replicated in other communities.

Although climate change is a global issue, many critical actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to promote resilience can be initiated locally. Cities and towns across the U.S. are taking real action against climate change by talking to other communities and sharing practical step-by-step advice on planning and implementing local climate and energy programs,. I am thankful for the valuable input EPA received from local and tribal government stakeholders as we developed these resources and welcome feedback about the new materials.

About the author:

Andrea Denny is the Local Climate and Energy Program Lead in the State and Local Branch of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. The branch focuses on supporting state and local governments that are developing policies and programs to address climate change.

Bike to Work 2015: Pedaling Toward Sustainability

By Lek Kadeli

One of the best aspects of my job as the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development is when I get to serve as a “science ambassador” representing the innovative work that our scientists and engineers do to protect the environment and public health. Requests from across the country and around the world roll in constantly asking for us to share our results.

For me, meeting those requests can mean long plane trips, a day or two spent sharing presentations inside nondescript conference rooms, followed by long flights home. Sometimes, I end up spending more time in the air than I do sharing our science. But the miles traveled and the time away from home melt away when I see how EPA research is making a visible difference in local communities.

I made reference to the satisfaction I feel attending distant conferences when I was in Shkodra, Albania last year at an international gathering entitled Local Community Resilience for the Sustainable Development of River Basins in Southern Europe. I noted the Old Chinese proverb “A long journey starts with a single step” to open my talk. But it turns out that I could have tweaked that a bit to “A long journey starts with a single pedal stroke.” Last Friday was Bike to Work Day, and as I blogged about last year, I am a dedicated bike commuter. On this trip, I was in for a real treat!

Commuting by bike is great almost anywhere.

Commuting by bike is great almost anywhere.

Shkodra touts its reputation as the leading cycling city in Southeastern Europe. Its compact size, broad boulevards, and flat topography make it a natural for such distinction. Decades of communist rule that outlawed private car ownership fueled a proud tradition of self-reliant travel.

While I was at the conference I had the pleasure of meeting Entela Shkreli, the Executive Director of ‘Go2’ Albania, a nonprofit organization working to maintain that tradition in the face of a transitioning economy.  “My colleagues and I are working to incorporate bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure as a way to promote public health, advance sustainability, and help maintain resilient urban mobility in the face of floods or other disruptions,” Shkreli said. So far it’s working. Cycling and walking account for some 73% of trips in the city.

After the conference, I had the opportunity to hop on a borrowed bike and tour some of that infrastructure for myself. I spent a fabulous afternoon riding along spectacular urban scenery and cruising along the shores of Shkodra Lake. While along the banks of local rivers that flow into the lake I recognized some of the same “green infrastructure” features that our researchers are studying to improve stormwater management, reduce runoff pollution, and prevent local flooding.

There is no better way to get to know a place than from a bicycle. Outside, among the elements and under your own power, there is nothing to separate you from your surrounding environment.

And you don’t have to travel all the way to Albania to get the benefits of bicycling. As I blogged last year, I do it as much as I can to commute between my home in Virginia and EPA’s headquarters in downtown Washington, DC. May is National Bike Month, and I invite you to join me and many thousands of others who have started to incorporate cycling into their regular transportation options. Like me, you might find that a single revolution of the pedals is the start of a long, wonderful journey to a healthier, more fun commute.

About the Author:  When not traveling to share science or on some other official business, Lek Kadeli is a regular bike commuter. He is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Northwest Native Youth Lead on Sustainability

Last month, I got to spend time with Americans who have championed sustainability for a lot longer than the 45 years EPA has existed: our northwest tribal nations.

My trip to the Pacific Northwest was the second stop on the Generation Indigenous, or Gen I,Gen-I-LogoCabinet Tour. President Obama launched the Gen-I Initiative at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference to focus on improving the lives of Native youth by removing the barriers that stand between Native youth and their opportunity to succeed. A clean, healthy environment sets tribal nations up for stronger economies and communities where young people can thrive.

groupI had the chance to sit down with the Columbia River Tribal Leadership Council, including the Lummi, Nez Perce, Warm Springs, Yakama, and Umatilla tribes, to listen to their concerns, hopes and dreams. And most importantly, I spent quality time with the tribal leaders of the future when I visited the Lummi and Swinomish nations.

The tribes in the northwest face significant water quality challenges that are threatening their ability to maintain their precious resources: the fish they rely on for nourishment and continued economic stability, as well as their way of life. The visit gave me a chance to discuss next steps in the work EPA is doing with states and tribes to protect resources, like clean water, to which many tribes retain treaty rights.

I also spent time at the Northwest Indian College, talking to students about what a college degree means for their futures and the futures of their tribes. It was amazing to see the hope and pride on their faces, as well as the faces of their remarkable teachers.

boatTribal members welcomed me as part of the extended Swinomish family—I tasted a bounty of native foods, took a boat ride along the Skagit river (the last river in the Northwest healthy enough to be home to all species of wild salmon), rowed a canoe with tribal members of all ages and sizes, and learned a traditional dance. It was a trip I will never forget and didn’t want to end.

Last year, President Obama visited Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, where he heard directly from Native youth who described the challenges their families and communities face. Afterward, he launched Generation Indigenous, or Gen I, an initiative to create new opportunities for our Native youth and to cultivate the next generation of Native leaders. He challenged all agencies to support those efforts.

EPA is proud to support Gen I by engaging with Native youth in a number of ways, including the Tribal ecoAmbassadors Program, which partners EPA scientists with Tribal College professors and students to solve local environmental issues. I was pleased to see the progress the Northwest Indian College Tribal ecoAmbassador Program has made, including the rehabilitation of clear-cut areas of campus into medicinal and rain gardens. A nut and berry forest is used to teach traditional ecological knowledge and is a “living lab” used by students and the community. Since 2011, the Tribal ecoAmbassadors Program has created the opportunity for hundreds of students to gain over 4500 hours of STEM training.

diggingEPA is proud of the progress we’ve made to support tribes, but there’s a lot more work to do. Native American children are more likely to suffer from asthma and other respiratory illnesses linked to air pollution than white children, while more than 1 in 10 homes on Native American reservations lack access to clean water and sanitary sewage disposal—compared to less than 1 in 100 nationwide.

Working alongside tribes to protect public health and the environment is a critical part of EPA’s mission. It’s only when we work with tribes, states, and communities that the benefits of our work will be realized by every American.

The northwest tribes are working toward a brighter future every day, using both traditional and scientific ecological knowledge to safeguard their natural resources and their way of life. EPA is proud to partner with them to help continue their commitment to sustainability for many years to come.

Sustainability and Resilience: Making the Connection

By Alan Hecht, Ph.D. Resilience

When most people consider “resilience,” they think about bouncing back from some sort of unwelcome catastrophe. Whether it’s “super storms” devastating coastal communities and disrupting millions of people along the east coast, wildfires in the mountain and western states, or natural disasters and related, human-caused emergencies such as the tsunami and Fukushima meltdown, recent events have magnified the importance of being prepared to ride out hard times.

For many, that has meant storing caches of nonperishable food, water supplies, and plenty of extra batteries. An emergency plan and meeting spot for all family members is also a great idea. But what is the best way to define resiliency for society as a whole? Can we incorporate actions into plans that not only make our communities more resilient to future catastrophes, but make us more prosperous and healthy now?

My colleagues and I at EPA have been exploring ongoing research to consider resiliency in a broader context, linking it with programs that help us and our partners identify challenges and advance a more sustainable future.

In January of 2013 EPA in cooperation with the National Science Foundation, the National Council for Science and Environment, and Dow Chemical hosted a workshop on resilience and sustainability. Papers from this workshop are now highlighted in a special issue of the Solutions Journal.

What's the best way to define resiliency?

What’s the best way to define resiliency?

In a featured paper in this issue: Resilience: Navigating toward a Sustainable Future, we share what we have learned and offer a new, forward thinking definition of resilience for communities, companies, and others to consider and strive for: “the capacity for a system to survive, adapt, and flourish in the face of turbulent change and uncertainty.” Along with my co-authors Joseph Fiksel (who also served as the journal’s guest editor) and Iris Goodman, we explore a variety of solutions for strengthening both resilience and sustainability in urban communities and industrial enterprises.

We are not alone. The concept of resilience and its relationship to sustainability is now attracting a great deal of attention:

  • EPA is looking at research tools and approaches that address and advance community resilience and climate adaptation.
  • Policy makers, business executives, and community leaders are incorporating resilience into their planning operations.
  • Major companies are systematically strengthening the resilience of their global supply chains.
  • A network of urban planners, architects, designers, engineers, and landscape architects are developing creative and practical strategies to increase the resilience of cities.

These and many other leading organizations are taking steps today to prepare for the next “super storm” threatening their operations, while helping us find ways to achieve a sustainable future for us all. Read more about how leading government, non-government and business organizations are working toward a sustainable future in the face of climate change and global urbanization: Resilience: Navigating toward a Sustainable Future.

About the Author: A leader in sustainability research, Alan Hecht, Ph.D. is the Director for Sustainable Development in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Promoting Sustainability through Community Engagement in Jamaica: A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

By Kevin Fath

My experience while serving as a Peace Corps agribusiness adviser in Jamaica provided me with unique opportunities to learn, engage, and research at the community level. I served in Bluefields, a small coastal farming and fishing village in Westmoreland parish in southwest Jamaica. I worked primarily with a group of organic farmers, promoting sustainable agriculture and introducing climate change adaptation strategies through community engagement. As a participant in the Peace Corps Master’s International program through Texas A&M University, I also conducted research on the vulnerability of local agricultural livelihoods to climate change.

As part of the community integration and learning process, I facilitated an assessment with the Westmoreland Organic Farmers Society, a local organization engaged in production agriculture and home economics. The results of the assessment helped us to better understand factors affecting the economic and environmental sustainability of their livelihoods. Through informal discussions with farmers, I also gained awareness of how changing weather patterns, such as variable rainfall, increased risk for these small-scale farm families.

In October 2012, Bluefields community organizations were given the opportunity to apply for small grants to support the development of livelihood opportunities more resilient to climate change. Designing a project and submitting a successful proposal was easier because we had already collectively identified and prioritized the needs and interests of the organization.


Kevin Fath working with two members of the farmers group (Westmoreland Organic Farmers Society Ltd) to set up the main irrigation lines during the development of the organic demonstration farm.

Kevin Fath working with two members of the farmers group (Westmoreland Organic Farmers Society Ltd) to set up the main irrigation lines during the development of the organic demonstration farm.


Among other things, the funds we received went toward establishing an organic demonstration farm, where the group erected a structure to catch and store rainwater for a drip irrigation system. The farm was also used to host a Farmer Field School where community members learned about organic farming practices, the potential impacts of climate change, and possible adaptation and mitigation strategies. The group was also able to purchase improved processing equipment and received food safety training, important steps toward establishing a formal agribusiness.


Brian (Kevin’s Rastafarian supervisor left, in blue hat) teaching how to make compost at one of the Farmer Field School sessions held at the demonstration farm.

Brian (Kevin’s Rastafarian supervisor left, in blue hat) teaching how to make compost at one of the Farmer Field School sessions held at the demonstration farm.

The group continues to develop and improve the farm, as well as their processing capacity. More importantly, they are increasing resiliency by adapting new technology to their own cultural norms and practices. Working side-by-side with my Jamaican friends to establish the demonstration farm was not only one of the joys of my life, but also showed me how difficult it is to cultivate marginal lands with simple hand tools; a reality for millions of men and women around the world.

During my service, I also designed a study to assess the vulnerability of local agricultural livelihoods to climate change. My hope is that the results will illuminate areas where targeted programs can improve farmers’ resiliency and increase incomes. The data I collected can also be used to measure changes in vulnerability over time. I hope the change we’ll see in Bluefields will be that of more sustainable livelihoods through environmental stewardship and human empowerment. This is a very possible outcome if the Jamaican men and women I worked with in the farmers group are any indication.

 About the author: Kevin Fath of West Salem, Ohio served as an environment volunteer in Jamaica from 2012 – 2014. During his service, Kevin worked with Jamaican farmers on sustainable agricultural practices. A participant in the Peace Corps Master’s International program, Kevin will receive his master’s degree in International Agricultural Development from Texas A & M University later this year. Kevin is also a veteran who deployed twice during his 8-year enlistment in the Army Reserve prior to joining the Peace Corps.

Community Resiliency Supports Community Sustainability

By Gregory Sayles, Ph.D.

The three pillars of sustainability

Figure 1. The three pillars of sustainability

Whether it’s the residents of lower Manhattan recovering from flooding and power outages in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, entire municipalities evacuated from areas surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, or California’s farming communities adapting to long-term drought conditions, everyone’s talking about “resiliency”—what it takes to bounce back once a community has been impacted by a natural or human-made disaster.

Reducing environmental risks and restoring environmental services are essential components of resilience.

Last week, nearly five dozen scientists, program managers and community liaisons from across EPA gathered for a two-day workshop to parse through scientific and policy definitions of “resiliency” and examine the critical factors that support community resiliency. The group then brainstormed ways to create indicators and an index that communities might use to evaluate their vulnerabilities to disaster, their capacity to bounce back, and the resources they need to prepare for future disasters.

Our discussions taught us that resilience is built on many community functions and qualities, most of them interdependent.  Brian Pickard, of EPA’s Water Security Division highlighted how community drinking water systems are inter-connected to energy supplies and health delivery systems.  If a tornado, flood or hurricane knocks out electricity, drinking water pumping stations crash and critical care facilities such as hospitals need back-up supplies to continue operating.  Hospitals and emergency rooms must have access to emergency water supplies to manage the casualties and injuries that often result following a disaster.

Strengthening community resiliency means becoming better prepared for the next disaster.

How are resilience and sustainability inextricably related?  Sustainability strives to balance three pillars—economic, social, and environmental—in equilibrium (see figure 1).  Disaster disrupts that equilibrium, and with it the path toward sustainability. Resiliency is building in the capability to restore this balance following a disaster.

According to EPA sustainability researchers Alan Hecht and Joseph Fiksel, “sustainability is the capacity for: human health and well-being, economic vitality and prosperity, and environmental resource abundance” while, “resilience is the capacity to: overcome unexpected problems, adapt to change, and prepare for and survive catastrophes.”

Workshop participants agreed to continue developing a discrete set of indicators that can be used to measure community environmental resiliency and present them at a follow-up workshop in July. Our long-term goal is to deliver a Community Environmental Resilience Index to communities, EPA, and other federal partners. The index will help local and national stakeholders assess and improve resiliency and guide planning for disasters.

EPA’s homeland security research program is excited to be working with partners from across the Agency to help communities understand and shape their own resilience.

About the Author: Gregory Sayles, Ph.D. is the Acting Director of EPA’s Homeland Security research program.