Search Results for: sustainability

Sustainability: the Sky’s the Limit

By Joan Hurley

Kite shaped like a snake with fangs

“The Queen Viper”

“Go fly a kite!” While that phrase has become a euphemism for not-so-politely telling someone to buzz off, the scientists, engineers, and others working in EPA’s Western Ecology Lab in Corvallis, Oregon recently challenged local school students to do just that.

As part of the lab’s 2013 Earth Day activities, the EPA staff held a juried kite contest called “The Sky’s the Limit” that invited local sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students to build a kite that sends a message about sustainability, recycling, or another environmental theme. Students could enter one of two categories: functional (a kite that flies), or decorative (a display kite with an environmental message or design); kites also had to contain at least one recycled element.

Each participating school selected six semifinalists from each category. Finalists, along with their teachers and parents, visited the lab on Earth Day for a reception and a chance to show off their entries to a panel of judges that included lab director Thomas Fontaine, local artist Zel Brook, and Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning.

Kings Valley Team (200)

Team members from Kings Valley Charter School.

“We made everything with reusable materials. It flies really well and we spent a lot of time on it. It sends a message that all animals are important to Earth, even if they are kind of scary,” wrote Andi Beck, who along with fellow Kings Valley Charter School classmates Victoria Fite and Sairah Ziola took home top prize in the functional category. You can see their kite—which they named “The Queen Viper” because of its resemblance to a snake—in the picture above. “The body is several segments of fabric sewn together, with triangles of fabric sewn on top of the segments to the end of the snake,” adds Sairah Ziola.

The winners of the artistic category are from Franklin School.

The winners of the artistic category are from Franklin School.

In the artistic category, the judges selected the kite made by Anabel Chang, Lucy Meigs, and Travis Hinz, which uses Chinese calligraphy to convey a message about the importance of sustainable energy. “The middle characters mean energy, the top means water, and the white means wind,” explains Anabel Chang. “It says that we should use energies that are better for our environment,” adds Lucy Meigs, while Travis Hinz points out the kite “is in the shape of a wind turbine, with three wings.”

These grand prize winners received a unique “recycled” trophy designed and constructed by EPA scientist Bill Rugh. Going along with the sustainable energy theme, the trophies function as wind speed generators! All participants also received Olympic-style medallions made from used coffee cup lids.

The artistic kite winner.

The artistic kite winner.

“The Sky’s the Limit” contest helped the lab and the local community engage in a fun-filled learning experience for all. The scientists and others at the lab got to share a little bit of what they do to advance environmental research, and the students got to learn about sustainability and help spread the word about why it is important. It’s enough to make you want to go fly a kite!

About the Author: Joan Hurley has worked at EPA’s Western Ecology Division lab as an Information Specialist and helping run outreach events, such as Earth Day, since 2005.

Around the Water Cooler: P3 Promotes Student Innovation and Sustainability Science

By Sarah Blau

In Washington, DC this week? Then come on out to the National Mall today and tomorrow, and meet the teams of college students gathering to compete in EPA’s P3 competition as part of the National Sustainable Design Expo.

“P3” stands for People, Prosperity and the Planet. Working in teams, students strive to solve environmental challenges in ways that benefit people, promote prosperity and protect the planet—all at the same time. P3 competitors are outside-the-box thinkers and continually inspire us with their innovation and ideas.

The competition has two phases. In Phase I, student teams and their faculty advisors submit research proposals for a chance to win seed money to research and develop designs for sustainable solutions to current environmental and human health challenges. In Phase II, winning teams receive additional funding to start developing marketable prototypes of their sustainable designs.

Embry-Riddles Aeronautical University students demonstrate their design.

P3 sustainability projects span the gamut of environmental topics—from air quality to water availability to harnessing solar energy. Since we’re chatting “Around the Water Cooler” today, here is a quick glimpse at just a handful of the water-related 2012-2013 P3 grant recipients:

  • Loyola University of Chicago students are designing a unique green process to treat byproducts of biodiesel production, using a combination distillation and wetlands system to treat and reuse contaminants onsite. Their goal is to make biodiesel production fully sustainable. (Phase I)
  • Working with a university in the Philippines, Manhattan College students are developing a treatment system that uses solar power to remove salt from seawater to produce potable water and is made with concrete from local materials. This work addresses the lack of clean drinking water that is one of the most significant health issues in many countries around the world. (Phase I)
  • University of Florida students are designing a process to “harvest” essential crop nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium from liquid waste while ensuring the final harvested nutrients are free of pharmaceuticals. They expect to produce a cheaper, renewable fertilizer that reduces the costs and harmful impacts of wastewater treatment. (Phase I)
  • Embry-Riddles Aeronautical University students are designing a foldable solar power water purification system that can fit into a backpack for easy transport for use after a disaster that affects the drinking water supply. (Phase II)

For a complete listing of all P3 teams for the year, click here. And if you’re in the Washington DC area, be sure to stop by and say “hi” to these passionate students!

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

A Practical Way of Thinking about Sustainability

By Neftali (Nef) Hernandez

The term sustainability is commonly used in the environmental field.  In general, it is defined as the capacity to utilize resources and goods in perpetuity without adverse impacts to our environment, economy, or social settings.  However in practice, sustainability has hundreds of definitions rendering it rather ambiguous.  I want to examine one practical way of looking at sustainability … through the lens of Asset Management.

Can you think of a common factor that allowed ancient civilizations and today’s largest cities to be built and grow?  If I were to pick just one, I would have to say it is WATER.  Civilization depends on fresh water.  This is why London is located on the Thames, Rome on the Tiber, New York on the Hudson and Kansas City on the Missouri.  This is the case for nearly all established cities, from ancient civilizations like the Maya to today’s largest metropolitan areas.  In addition to an abundant water source, these cities relied on sophisticated networks of aqueducts to deliver water to their people.  We depend on this asset, high quality water, and will for as long as I can imagine.

But if civilization depends on these networks, how do we ensure that they are sustainable for years to come?  One way could be through establishment and implementation of an Asset Management Plan.  If you are in the financial industry or transportation sector, you might be familiar with Asset Management, but I will illustrate using a simple example most of us can relate to, the exterior of a home.

In this case, assume I want to sustain the outside of my house, which is my asset.  To keep the value of my asset, I have to manage items like the roof, the siding, and the windows.  Say my roof is rated to last 20 years and the replacement cost is about $2,000 (Yes this is really low, but remember I’m trying to make this a simple example).  The siding should last a long time if painted every five years at a cost of $500 (assuming I do it myself), and the windows will last 35 years with a replacement cost of about $8,000.

I want my home to last forever, or to be sustainable so my great-grandchildren can one day live in the same home.  In order to plan for the management of my asset, I plan to set-aside the money to pay for the maintenance and replacement of the exterior on a monthly basis:  For the roof [$2,000/(12 months x 20 years)]= $8.33 per month;  For the siding [$500/(12 months x 5 years)] = $8.33; and For the windows [$8,000/(12 months x 35 years)]= $19.04 per month.  So my Asset Management Plan, indicates that to sustain the exterior of this house I have to set-aside almost $36 every month.  Of course this example is extremely simple and ignores inflation and other realities (like a hailstorm that could give you a roof sooner than you expected).

Returning to my original point, this concept of asset management can be scaled up when you think about the sustainability of water services. Water utilities consist of many discrete yet interconnected elements often comprising a network of underground aqueducts and infrastructure of various ages, types, and condition located miles and miles apart.  Many utilities have started using a fully digital system to track and manage assets. The system stores information about each asset such as pictures, status, description, acquisition date, expected maintenance dates, actual repairs, and costs. A Geographic Information System (GIS) combines data about the asset with its location for better resource management. Our society’s well-being requires properly managing water and water infrastructure, and using an asset management plan will likely position water utilities on the road to sustainability by establishing a framework for long-range financial planning to maintain critical infrastructure.

Asset Management Plans provide the structure to operate, maintain, rehabilitate, repair and replace things of value for a particular group or person; geospatially enabling them can further aid in scare resource allocation, planning, and growth.  Asset Management Plans can be applied to a wide variety of resources including infrastructure and the environment, and can be adaptable to meet the needs of a scale; from your home to a large utility, from a single tree to the land, air and water upon life depends.  Asset plans are a practical reminder of how we can strive towards our own sustainability by saving and planning right now.

About the Author: Neftali Hernandez grew up in Puerto Rico and is an Environmental Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Drinking Water Branch.  He is a member of EPA’s Water Emergency Response Group and has a bachelor of science degree in biology and a masters of science degree in environmental health from the University of Puerto Rico.

Urban Sustainability:Role of Small Manufacturers

By Natalie Hummel

Recently, I attended an urban manufacturing tour in Philadelphia with a dedicated group from Philadelphia’s Department of Labor, Commerce and Water, University of Penn, Drexel University, Peoples Emergency Center and the Pratt Center (NY). It was an exciting opportunity to step outside my busy cubicle and experience a world where products are designed and crafted locally —which provided real meaning to the logo “Made in the U.S.A.”

Our initial stop was a small family owned textile company that produced ergonomically enhanced military gear to protect the lives of our military members. Military apparel carrying grenades and high end equipment were redesigned to improve effectiveness. Our group heard how “lean manufacturing” improved operational efficiencies to eliminate or reduce waste while reducing costs.

The open conversation between management and employees enhanced productivity and team incentives and provided employees with an opportunity to enhance skills and knowledge. More importantly, the President of the company, a graduate of the University of Penn’s Wharton School of Business recognized the importance of keeping jobs in Philadelphia.

Along with many creative solutions, we highlighted E3: Economy, Energy, and the Environment, a collaborative framework by local, state, and federal partners to address manufacturing sustainability and profitability. E3 companies that have participated received technical expertise to improve processes, energy use, environmental stewardship, worker safety and competitiveness. Technical assistance through E3 can help companies make more money, retain and hire new workers, and protect public health and the environment, all at the same time.

As a result of the work that this company had done, lives will be saved, product life will be extended and operational costs will be reduced.

This is only one company and many other small and medium sized urban manufacturers are making an enormous impact promoting regional sustainability, livability, and economic competitiveness. Through collaborative programs such as E3, economic, energy and environmental improvements will benefit many.

About the author: Natalie Hummel holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and has been with the EPA for over 9 years.   Natalie joined the Agency as a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) , and completed rotational assignments at the Chesapeake Bay Program and the National Park Service working on urban stormwater and coastal estuary environmental issues.  She has extensive experience in budgeting, performance measurement, policy, and planning.   Currently, Natalie is in the Pollution Prevention Division managing E3 efforts in NY, PA, WV, VA, and MT.

The National Atlas for Sustainability and the Durham Pilot

By Jing Zhang

Open window overlooking sunshine and forest. I always thought that one of the few, if any, benefits of having a cubicle with no view of the world outside was that I could pretend that it’s not really as nice as it actually is outside. In this sense, the temperature inside the buildings helps with my illusions of a frigid day.

Little did I know, however, that views of the natural environment or “green space,” which includes trees, shrubs, grass, and other herbaceous plants, have many benefits to human health and well-being. Studies show that people who interact with nature are less stressed, have improved concentration, and even heal faster from illness and injury.

Access to green space is one of the issues that EPA researchers are tackling in the National Atlas for Sustainability.

As I sat in one of the plushy chairs of Durham City Hall listening to EPA researchers Annie Neale and Laura Jackson explain the National Atlas and its urban component, the Urban Atlas, to local government officials and city planners, I found myself interested in finding out how much green space was in my town and how easy would it be to walk there. Are there areas in my community that lacked green space? How hard would it be to create green space in those areas? What other benefits would be gained from the addition of green space?

These are the questions that EPA researchers hope to help communities answer through their tools and models. EPA and the city and county of Durham have partnered in a collaborative Durham Pilot project where researchers are applying the tools developed in order to make sure that they are both beneficial and relevant to community decision-makers and local officials.

The event at Durham City Hall on the National Atlas was just one of the events and tools that EPA is using in Durham. Earlier in the summer, researchers from the Durham area gathered together for an informal “Science Swap n Meet” where they shared their sustainability-related research with Durham staff, academics and non-profit representatives, looking for areas of collaboration and outside input.

The feedback from the community in the Durham Pilot project will enable EPA researchers to improve their tools, models, and methods so that they better meet the needs of communities across the nation.

Lucky for me, even though I can’t interact with nature from the confines of my cubical, I can always take a break and walk around the lake outside the EPA building.

About the author: Jing Zhang is a student services contractor working with the Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Project in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Building Bridges for Sustainability and Environmental Justice

By Sue Briggum

I’m sharing this video because in my experience, when members of the business community sit down with community members and environmental justice leaders; listen, learn and share candid conversation, they learn a lot about being a better neighbor and a better company.  At Waste Management, our engagement with community and environmental justice leaders over many years has given us critical insights into how we need to shape our business plan to focus on recycling and renewable energy and become part of a more sustainable future.  If a company wants to be sustainable, it must be a constructive community partner and an advocate for environmental justice.

There are many businesses committed to constructive engagement with community and environmental justice leaders and governments, which have been working together in the Business Network for Environmental Justice. I would encourage community members to reach out to members of the business community and begin the dialogue – and encourage businesses to do the same. The message I want to convey through this video is simple: Pragmatic conversations among stakeholders are the best forums to shape sound public policy.

About the author: Sue Briggum is Vice President of Public Affairs for Waste Management.  Sue served on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s NACEPT Superfund Advisory Committees in 1994 and 2004; Title VI of the Civil Rights Act Advisory Committee; Compliance Assistance Advisory Committee; and  Environmental Justice Advisory Council (as Council or work group member) from 1994 to 2012. She co-chaired both terms of the National Environmental Policy Commission, convened at the request of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

Youth Sustainability Challenge Winners

On May 2nd, 2012 EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson blogged about the Youth Sustainability Challenge. This project challenged American youth to submit a video that shared what they are doing to encourage sustainability in their communities and to make an America built to last.

Today I am excited to share the winning videos:

Best Overall Video: A Generation of Energy: Georgetown Energy

Best Contribution to Sustainability Concepts: Everyday Actions, Enduring Results

Most Innovative Approach: Operation Gulliver International

Best Communication of Sustainability: Carmel Green Teen Micro-Grant Program

Popular Choice Award: GROWTH.

You can watch all videos submitted at the Youth Sustainability Challenge website: What are you doing to make your community – and the world – more sustainable?

About the author: Lisa Jackson is the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Share Your Sustainability Stories for Rio+20

by Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

This week I join colleagues from across the US and around the world at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. On the 20th anniversary of the 1992 UN Earth Summit that set an early course for sustainability across the globe, we are working to shape the next 20 years of sustainable development with the help of governments, businesses, students, non-profits and global citizens.

Our work will be focused on new strategies to reinvest in the health and prosperity of urban communities. Today, more people around the world live in cities than in rural areas. As that trend continues in the coming years, we will stretch the limits of our transportation systems and energy infrastructure, and be challenged to meet crucial needs like supplying food and clean water, and safely disposing of waste. We’re taking this opportunity at Rio+20 to develop strategies for both improving existing infrastructure and building new, efficient, cutting-edge systems. Innovations in water protection, waste disposal, energy production, construction and transportation present significant opportunities for new technologies, green jobs and savings for families, businesses and communities.

During my time in Rio, I plan to talk about the great work happening in communities across our nation. I will be sharing the stories of individuals and organizations that are implementing new environmental education programs and creating the green jobs of the future, and we’re preparing to unveil videos submitted through the Youth Sustainability Challenge. We want to hear from you as well. Please send us your stories of sustainability this week on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #EPArio so that we can share them with the world.

Even if you can’t be there in person, I hope you will join Rio+20 online. Go to to see and participate in all of the events being hosted by the US government, and be a part of our efforts to build a better, more sustainable and more prosperous future.

About the author: Lisa Jackson is the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Science Wednesday: Sustainability at the U.S. EPA

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Abbey Reller

Earlier this fall I attended the book launch for an effort to incorporate sustainability into every aspect EPA takes to protect the environment: Sustainability and the U.S. EPA, or as it is called around here, The Green Book. I had just begun my internship with EPA in the Office of Research and Development, and this was an opportunity for me to learn about the motivation behind all science research within the agency.

As I looked toward the speaker on stage, I noticed three words mounted on the wall: Wonders of Science. To me it seemed those three words fostered the concept of The Green Book. While sustainability is defined in multiple different ways, I like the language the authors used to describe it, which comes from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA):

“…to create and maintain 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.”

The most important thing I learned that day was how limitless science is because of sustainability. With a growing population and developing technology, there constantly seems to be ways to improve human health and protect the environment.

The one piece of advice I received from various people during my internship: Whatever you want to do, become an expert at it. Wow, way to put the pressure on!

As I looked around at all the people in the Koshland Science Museum during The Green Book launch, I realized exactly whom I was sitting amongst — the science and sustainability experts of the world. I was quite inspired and pleased to attend the event with such remarkable scientists.

One in particular, Paul Anastas, Ph.D., the Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development, describes sustainability as the True North of EPA research. I am thrilled to have gotten to observe his work during my internship. He is a true expert in sustainability and I am quite inspired by his work.

So, when my internship ends I will continue on my journey to becoming an expert in my field of study. With a little bit of passion and a lot of determination, the challenge no longer seems impossible.

About the author: Abbey Reller is an intern in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She is currently pursuing a Bachelors of Public Affairs at Indiana University.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

Science Wednesday: Durham’s Journey to Sustainability

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Jing Zhang

Each time I visit downtown Durham, North Carolina, I am pleasantly surprised and impressed by the improvements and renovations. Areas such as the American Tobacco Campus have successfully incorporated historic buildings and commercial space with modern architecture and design, winning it industry awards including Best Mixed Use Development, Best Renovated Commercial Property, and Best Redevelopment Project.

Durham isn’t stopping there. Through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, the city is working with EPA, the US Department of Transportation (DOT), and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to create a more sustainable community.

The partnership has adopted six “livability principles” that they wish to achieve:

  1. providing more transportation options,
  2. promoting affordable housing,
  3. improving economic competitiveness,
  4. supporting existing communities,
  5. coordinating federal policies and investment
  6. enhancing the value of neighborhoods and communities

Guided by these principles, EPA scientists are working with community leaders to support the city’s needs and goals. As outlined in their strategic plan, Durham’s goals include reducing neighborhood energy use through conservation and efficiency, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing the percentage of solid waste diverted to recycling.

EPA is developing tools and strategies to support community leaders in evaluating the current state of the community, making decisions to address areas of concern, and measuring progress made over time.

The EnviroAtlas is a web-based tool that maps natural resources. Using the Urban Atlas, a finer-resolution component of the National Atlas, community leaders can evaluate the distribution and function of resources such as trees, which provide numerous benefits like filtering air, providing shade, and storing rainwater. Decision makers can also evaluate the trade-offs and benefits associated with alternative management decisions by mapping different “layers” of data to assess the environment under future conditions such as population growth, resource depletion, and climate change.

Durham will be the first community to implement and use EPA’s new tools and strategies. According to project leaders Rochelle Araujo and Melissa McCullough, “The Durham pilot project presents an exciting opportunity for EPA to demonstrate that, with the right information and forethought, environmental decisions can cascade across the community in the form of health and economic benefits. Using state of the art science, EPA can provide communities with support tools and strategies so that diverse community groups can work effectively in concert for sustainability.”

About the author: Jing Zhang is a student services contractor with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.