Search Results for: sustainability

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.

 

Along the Road to Sustainability

Reposted from EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA Leadership. 

By Bob Perciasepe

Bob Perciasepe official portraitTechnology and open access to data and tools have ended the excruciating choice that generations of unsure car travelers have sometimes faced: forge ahead just a few more miles, or stop and ask for directions? Such stress has largely faded with the advent of dashboard-mounted, satellite-enabled navigation systems and readily available smartphone applications.

Getting to your desired destination is always easier when you have the right information at your disposal. That’s why today I’m excited to announce that EPA has released a tool to help environmental decision makers and local communities navigate toward a more sustainable future: EnviroAtlas.

Read the rest of the post. 

Along the Road to Sustainability

By Bob Perciasepe

Technology and open access to data and tools have ended the excruciating choice that generations of unsure car travelers have sometimes faced: forge ahead just a few more miles, or stop and ask for directions? Such stress has largely faded with the advent of dashboard-mounted, satellite-enabled navigation systems and readily available smartphone applications.

Getting to your desired destination is always easier when you have the right information at your disposal. That’s why today I’m excited to announce that EPA has released a tool to help environmental decision makers and local communities navigate toward a more sustainable future: EnviroAtlas.

More

Sister Post: Net Zero Strategies – Partnering to Promote Sustainability

One of our sister blogs, EPA Connect, the official blog of EPA’s leadership, recently shared a post featuring a Net Zero workshop in Research Triangle Park. We’ve included the first few paragraphs here (you can continue reading over on EPA Connect), and we’ve also included a few extra photos for your viewing pleasure. 

By EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe

How can communities reduce their water, waste, and energy footprints? How can they promote sustainable strategies at the local level while simultaneously fostering economic growth and promoting citizen health and well-being? I was recently given the opportunity to consider these questions alongside EPA scientists and community leaders and while observing cutting edge sustainability work.

This week, EPA scientists and community leaders from across the country came together at the Feb. 25-26 workshop “Promoting Sustainability through Net Zero Strategies.”

The workshop builds on the success of EPA’s Net Zero partnership with the U.S. Army. Started in 2011, the partnership aims to develop and demonstrate sustainable technologies and approaches in support of the Army’s ambitious goal to achieve zero energy and water consumption, and create no waste on its installations. Hence, the name: “Net Zero.”

Continue reading on the EPA Connect blog.

Deputy Administrator Perciasepe tours the solar roof of EPA’s current Research Triangle Park building with U.S. Representative David Price, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment Katherine Hammack, Stan Meiburg, and EPA employees Pete Schubert, Greg Eades, and Liz Deloatch.

Deputy Administrator Perciasepe tours the solar roof of EPA’s current Research Triangle Park building with U.S. Representative David Price, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment Katherine Hammack, Stan Meiburg, and EPA employees Pete Schubert, Greg Eades, and Liz Deloatch.

Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe sitting on the Village Green bench. Learn more about Village Green at http://blog.epa.gov/blog/category/village-green-project/

Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe sitting on the Village Green bench. Learn more about Village Green at http://blog.epa.gov/blog/category/village-green-project/

Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe and others listen to briefing on EPA’s new Research Triangle Park building that is incorporating sustainability principles.

Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe and others listen to briefing on EPA’s new Research Triangle Park building that is incorporating sustainability principles.

Read other It All Starts with Science blogs about Net Zero.

Net Zero Strategies: Partnering to Promote Sustainability

Bob P RTP 1

Deputy Administrator Perciasepe tours the solar roof of EPA’s current Research Triangle Park building with U.S. Representative David Price, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment Katherine Hammack, Stan Meiburg, and EPA employees Pete Schubert, Greg Eades, and Liz Deloatch.

 

How can communities reduce their water, waste, and energy footprints? How can they promote sustainable strategies at the local level while simultaneously fostering economic growth and promoting citizen health and well-being? I was recently given the opportunity to consider these questions alongside EPA scientists and community leaders and while observing cutting edge sustainability work.

This week, EPA scientists and community leaders from across the country came together at the Feb. 25-26 workshop “Promoting Sustainability through Net Zero Strategies.”   More

Sustainability for All

By Deeohn Ferris

Untitled-2In many of our communities, if sustainability is going to be sustainable, our nation’s green economy and the investments that flow from those policies must reflect the undeniable fact that all communities are not at the same starting point.  In far too many of our neighborhoods, people who are raising families and working hard to make ends meet face a combination of environmental, social and economic challenges that result in grave hardship.  If the race to sustainability is a race to the top, some of our communities can take the elevator.  Others only have stairs, and some of them have asthma too!

Regarding what’s going on locally and on-the-ground, equitable development is the central point from where the hard issues within sustainability must be dealt with up front.   The real on-ramp to sustainability means recognizing and addressing the inter-relationship of the challenges in our communities. Negative environmental impacts, disproportionate impacts, vacant properties, brownfields, health disparities, blight — these conditions are ubiquitous in neighborhoods where people of color and people with low incomes and less wealth live, work, learn, worship, and play.  Achieving equitable and sustainable development means thoroughly rebuilding our communities – not just the bricks and mortar – but really rebuilding the country’s social and economic fabric.

Untitled-2Thus, to make a fairer starting line for all in our country, we need to recognize opportunities to support the communities that have the greatest proportion of pollution and public health problems. For example, minimizing health disparities by deliberately providing fairer access for health care in low income and minority communities would save these residents billions of dollars in averted medical costs and gained productivity. Ameliorating such persistent inequities is critical for bringing about stability in communities—increasing fair access to housing choices, better schools, better jobs, sustained economic growth – and thus improving their overall ability to achieve community sustainability.

All across the country, dedicated folks are working to address these disparities.  But people of color and low-and-moderate income populations are still struggling for opportunity. Reversing this unfortunate trend necessitates a national transition to sustainability and the emerging green economy, which provides important new ways to tackle community revitalization as well as opportunities to do so in an equitable manner. Some examples of green economy priorities and tools that could address these disparities include:

  • Ensuring the right to a clean, safe environment for everyone.
  • Establishing inclusive decision making structures that provide resources and facilitate community engagement in planning and investments.
  • Making certain that decision-making is democratic, transparent and fair.
  • Distributing the economic and health benefits of energy conservation through green housing and retrofits.
  • Creating jobs that are safe, green and upwardly mobile.
  • Emphasizing workforce preparedness, development, and training.
  • Providing financial and other incentives that encourage entrepreneurship and local ownership of renewable energy and renewable energy technologies.
  • Guaranteeing that there are sufficient transportation options, including affordable public transit that gets people to jobs.
  • And ensuring the highest quality education and food security for all of our children.

Untitled-3Which neighborhoods are built and rebuilt and how they are built and rebuilt have far-reaching consequences in the race towards sustainability. Prioritizing historically disadvantaged and distressed communities to engage and benefit from sustainability outcomes is an investment in the future.  I believe everyone in our nation should have the same opportunity to flourish.  But achieving such a lofty goal requires community sustainability with conscious linkages to social and economic equity goals, green economy tools and environmental justice.

About the author: Deeohn Ferris is President of Sustainable Community Development Group, a not-for-profit national research and policy innovator dedicated to advancing sustainability and public health through equitable neighborhood development, smart growth and the green economy.  She is a former EPA enforcement lawyer, now a renowned provider of equitable development expertise and technical assistance that tackles sustainability in communities of color and low wealth neighborhoods.   Deeohn was on the ground floor of drafting the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 and the first Chair of NEJAC’s Enforcement Subcommittee.   

Putting Sustainability within Reach of Environmental Justice Communities

By Carlton Eley

Untitled-1I am an urban planner who works on environmental justice at the EPA. I believe certain things to be true: professional ethics require speaking up for citizens who may not have a voice in local decision-making; public service is a public trust; and expansive strategies are required for encouraging sustainable communities.  Also, I believe equitable development is one of the key solutions for making a visible difference in communities.

No task is more important to the future of sustainability in the U.S. than equitable development.  Equitable development expands choice and opportunity, encourages sustainable outcomes, and improves quality of life while mitigating impacts from activities that society considers beneficial.  As a result, the approach advances environmental justice.

Untitled-2

In recent years, the term “place-based” has become a popular watchword among planners, urban designers, and other stewards of the built environment.  In many ways, equitable development is a place-based approach for encouraging environmental justice.  Although the public is accustomed to discussions about environmental justice framed in the context of the law, public health, and waste management, the planning and design professions are equally important means for correcting problems which beset communities overburdened by pollution and remain underserved.

When the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) published its 1996 report Environmental Justice, Urban Revitalization, and Brownfields:  The Search for Authentic Signs of Hope, it clearly outlined the nexus between environmental justice, land use, and sustainability.  Not only did this report identify the environmental benefits of urban redevelopment, but the report also emphasized that the best outcomes from urban redevelopment would come about through an inclusive process.

Obviously, the NEJAC was ahead of itself.  Since 1996, researchers, advocates, allied professionals, and community builders have demonstrated that equitable development does not shift attention from making communities better.  Instead, it results in better community outcomes, especially for underserved populations and vulnerable groups.

Susana Almanza of PODER, Diane Takvorian of the Environmental Health Coalition, State Representative Harold Mitchell, Jr. of Spartanburg, South Carolina, and many more are ‘citizen planners for equitable development’.  The outcomes from their successful projects are evidence of what happens when citizens are audacious in their attempts to do well while doing good.  Because of their examples as well as through the leadership of organizations like PolicyLink, supporters of environmental justice are learning about a broad range of community activity for fixing challenges rooted in a failure to plan, a failure to enforce proper zoning, or the persistent legacy of unequal development.

We have come a long way in understanding, implementing, replicating, and scaling-up equitable development.  Still, more work will need to occur in order to realize full appreciation of the role equitable development plays in the framework of sustainability.

Untitled-3In the interim, public demand for a balanced discussion on sustainability is not being overlooked.  The U.S. EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice is organizing the workshop, “Equitable Development:  Smarter Growth through Environmental Justice.” The workshop will be held at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference in Denver, Colorado, on February 13, 2014.  Equally important, the NEJAC will revisit the themes of equitable development, environmental justice, and sustainability when it meets in Denver on February 11-12, 2014.

Finally, the Environmental Justice in Action Blog will explore the topic of equitable development through a series of posts in advance of the conference in Denver.  The dialogue about environmental justice for the next twenty years starts here.

Carlton Eley works for EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice.  He is an urban planner, sociologist, and lecturer.  Carlton is credited for elevating equitable development to the level of formal recognition within U.S. EPA as an approach for encouraging sustainable communities.  He interned with EPA’s Environmental Justice Program in Region 10 as an associate of the Environmental Careers Organization in 1994.

Biking for Sustainability

By Shannon Bond

GT_Banner

I strap on my helmet, slip into my gloves, and sling my hydration pack across my shoulders. It’s time to find adventure. I swing my leg over the saddle and click my right shoe into the peddle. A lot of the time I find my adventure on the back of a mountain bike, flying down all of the single track dirt trails I can find. Rocky climbs, fast descents, quick and flowing terrain, it’s all meditative.

I’ve ridden for years, but since coming to the EPA a few thoughts have lodged themselves into my consciousness. One of those thoughts creeps into my mind on every ride; as my muscles are screaming and I’m focusing on, well, my focus, I think about sustainability.

Merriam-Webster defines sustainable as, “of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sustainable)

Trails and parks are a perfect example of sustainability. They not only provide a refuge for wildlife, they also provide a refuge for people. These areas work well as an escape from the daily barrage of work and technology, a personal connection with nature, or a great way to exercise. Sustainability isn’t just about our physical environment, though; it’s about us, too. On the EPA website, it describes sustainability in the following way:

“Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.” (http://www.epa.gov/sustainability/)

I would say that these trail systems definitely promote that productive harmony, as well as fulfill some of our social needs. I’ve come to understand that these trails don’t happen by themselves though. Parks don’t just sprout up for people to hike and explore, and bike-friendly urban environments don’t just happen, they are built. A lot of planning goes into public use areas, and a lot of maintenance is required to keep them going.

You don’t generally think about Kansas City and biking, especially mountain biking, but the scene has grown. It’s an exciting time for the bike community in Kansas City. According to the Earth Riders Trail Association (http://www.earthriders.org/) we have at least thirteen maintained trail systems in the K.C. metro area. I know from talking to some of these dedicated individuals that there are even more planned.

 

ERTA Trails

Now that I realize what it takes to maintain these trails, I appreciate them even more, and the folks who get out and work on them. Initially, there has to be an agreement with the land owners. Those owners can be county, federal, or state. Then it takes coordination with the land managers to plan the trail system in an environmentally-sustainable way. After that, a host of volunteers spend countless hours on trail work days. Even after the trails are built, those work days keep coming. All of this behind-the-scenes work is hidden from the everyday user. To lend a hand, though, you can check the group’s websites and pick any number of maintenance days to show up at:

http://earthriders.com
http://www.earnyourdirt.org/
http://www.kansascyclist.com/links/TrailMasonsAssociation.html
http://www.kansascyclist.com/

 

Shannon Bond  is a multimedia production specialist with EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. He has served in a host of roles including military policeman, corrections officer, network operations specialist, photojournalist, broadcast specialist and public affairs superintendant.

Around the Water Cooler: Water Sustainability from Across the Globe

By Sarah Blau

Watersense graphic

Something caught my eye in the ladies’ room of an out-of-the-way restaurant in a small North Carolina town where I spent my July 4th weekend. Pictured in the upper right corner of the ceramic toilet tank was a little blue and green water droplet and the words WaterSense, which I recognized immediately.

WaterSense is EPA’s partnership program designed to protect the future of our nation’s water supply by offering people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products – products bearing the token blue and green label. Despite being familiar with the program, I was still surprised to discover that small symbol of water conservation in such a rural area. I realized that water conservation (as well as many other water resource sustainability issues) is not limited to one city, to one state, or even to one country. Water resource protection is a global issue, affecting everyone, everywhere.

In fact, I recently learned that Singapore’s National Water Agency, PUB, has a water conservation plan with goals very similar to EPA’s WaterSense. According to PUB’s website, their conservation plan “encourages customers to use water wisely,” and as a result, “Singapore’s per capita domestic water consumption has been brought down from 165 litres per day in 2003 to the current 152 litres.”

David Adelman, U.S. Ambassador to Singapore (left), and Chew Men Leong, Chief Executive, PUB (right). Choi Shing Kwok (center), Singapore’s Permanent Secretary for the Environment and Water Resources served as official witness.

David Adelman, U.S. Ambassador to Singapore (left), and Chew Men Leong, Chief Executive, PUB (right). Choi Shing Kwok (center), Singapore’s Permanent Secretary for the Environment and Water Resources served as official witness.

In recognition of the global prevalence of water resource issues and the commonality in water resource goals between the U.S. and Singapore, last month EPA entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with PUB. Signed by the Chief Executive of PUB, Chew Men Leong, and the U.S. Ambassador to Singapore, David Adelman, the MOU paves the way for international collaboration to advance scientific and technical knowledge on pressing water issues.

EPA and PUB are both working toward similar goals for sustainable water management such as providing safe water for the population, promoting industry water clusters (similar to the EPA-supported Confluence), and providing innovative water solutions, jobs, and economic growth. “This partnership will promote safer drinking water and better water resource management,” said Ambassador Adelman. “We’re excited to be a part of it.”

Likewise, I’m excited to hear about this partnership. What better way to confront global water resource concerns than with international collaboration? From the smallest backwoods homestead to the busiest urban business, in this country and across the globe, we share similar water sustainability concerns. So, the wider-spread the research team addressing these issues, the better off we, and our waters, will be.

About the Author: Sarah Blau is a student services contractor working on the Science Communications Team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.