Search Results for: sustainability

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.

P2 and Sustainability

By David Sarokin

The theme of this year’s Pollution Prevention Week is P2: The Cornerstone of Sustainability.

Is it? Can P2 really take us to a future we can honestly say is more sustainable?

Becoming sustainable is about much more than just environmental improvement. When I was working on Agenda 21 – the sustainable development action plan that grew out of the 1992 U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro – we had the habit of talking about sustainability as a three-legged stool: environmental, economic and social progress, simultaneously, without improvements in one area interfering with progress in the others. I find that old image still aptly sums up what sustainability is about.

P2’s contribution to environmental progress is pretty straightforward. Use fewer material and energy resources and substitute safer chemicals and processes, and there’s less pollution, less toxic exposure, less mess across the board.

But P2 is also about — and has always been about — greater efficiency too, which is a boon to economic sustainability. Another phrase I’ve used innumerable times over the years (well…decades!) is pollution prevention pays, a message still worth repeating. Less waste means more material goes into finished products instead of into the air, water and landfills, resulting in lower costs for production, waste management and environmental compliance. Energy efficiency not only reduces greenhouse gases, but saves oodles of money during manufacture as well during the useful life of our cars, computers and other energy-consuming products. Energy Star led to $18 billion in savings last year (and I suspect that’s a conservative estimate). Commercial estimates have pegged the market in green chemistry at close to $100 billion!

Lastly, P2 builds more sustainable communities in ways both obvious and subtle. This, too, was part of our Agenda 21 focus, as we worked to add tools for community engagement into the sustainability toolbox. There are very few P2 programs that operate with a you-have-to-do-this-or-else mentality. Most of the accomplishments of P2 are built from a cooperative framework with government bureaucrats (and I use that word proudly) working with industry managers, workers on the plant floor, community representatives and environmental organizations to identify concerns, set goals, find at-the-source P2 solutions and monitor progress. The results improve local environmental and economic circumstances, to be sure. But pollution prevention also builds community relations (PDF) that didn’t exist previously, in an air of trust that, over time, becomes self-evidently effective.

This is sustainability at its best. Pollution prevention is at its foundation. The cornerstone, if you will.

About the author: David Sarokin is a proud EPA bureaucrat with a l-o-o-o-n-g history of working in pollution prevention and sustainability, beginning with his 1986 book, Cutting Chemical Wastes.

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.

Enter our Photo Contest to Help Tell the Story of Sustainability in New York City

By Kasia Broussalian

“I know that the accident of my being a photographer has made my life possible”
-Richard Avedon

This quote, spoken by one of my absolute favorite photographers, has a way of resonating deep in my soul. For one short sentence, it says quite a bit. That’s what a great sentence is supposed to do, right? My becoming a photographer was an accident. For years I had wanted to be a journalist—a writer. Until a college friend handed me a camera and I thought, “Wow, I could go outside every day if I used one of these to tell stories.” Stories. That’s the other part. With a camera, I became a witness to a life so much bigger than my own. From behind the lens I had access where my ordinary eyes would not. For such a small object, a camera moves mountains.

With our New York City blog, “Greening the Apple” just launched, I wanted to share my passion for photography with others. We’ve launched a photo contest,  “A Greener Apple” Photo Contest and we hope you will all participate. The theme for the contest is, “What does sustainability look like in New York City?” Pick your best work, submit your photos easily online, and have a chance at some exposure and recognition on our blog. Photography is story-telling. Share your stories with the rest of us. The deadline for submissions is midnight, August 12, 2011 (EST).

Please read contest rules and guidelines on Greening the Apple

About the author: Kasia Broussalian is a Public Affairs intern for EPA Region 2. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree at New York University, and has been with the agency since 2010.
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: Square Pegs, Round Holes, and Chemical Safety for Sustainability

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

By Jeff Morris, PhD

All our lives we have been cautioned against trying to fit square pegs into round holes. The metaphor itself is constructed to make such an effort seem foolish and just a bit unsavory: forcing the hard edges of a square into the smooth curves of a circle evokes a certain violence and violation of geometric propriety. And the message behind the saying is clear: don’t try to join things that clearly don’t belong together.

However, fitting square pegs into round holes is just what we are doing in EPA’s Office of Research and Development: we are encouraging new collaborations between scientific disciplines to formulate innovative science questions to address chemical safety. We think this is a very good thing, but it does raise questions.

What, for instance, does cultural anthropology have to do with molecular design? Perhaps nothing; or perhaps quite a bit. A cultural anthropologist would be interested in how a society’s institutions shape the tools it creates and how it uses those tools. A chemist or engineer designs a chemical or material object with some intention in mind. (Design implies intent: nobody creates something for no reason). Once designed, how will society use the new chemical or material? Importantly for EPA, will it be used in a way that minimizes impact on, or perhaps even improves, the environment and human well-being? Neither the chemist nor the anthropologist alone can answer these questions. But perhaps the two of them, together with environmental scientists, can. Maybe a fit can be found for a square peg within a round hole.

Finding flex in the square peg/round hole metaphor doesn’t mean forcing fits that don’t make sense. In EPA’s Chemical Safety for Sustainability Research Program, sometimes we will need to just let chemists do their chemistry within their own disciplinary space. However, all the while we can be mindful that sometimes square edges can be rounded off and the walls of circles stretched, and bringing together very different scientific disciplines can lead to the shaping of innovative research questions that take science in new and rewarding directions. Since old ways of working within disciplinary boundaries have not always given us science and technology that has advanced environmental sustainability, perhaps it’s time to not take as given old sayings and metaphors, and see if we can’t fit a few square pegs into round holes.

About the author: Jeff Morris, PhD is the National Program Director for Nanotechnology 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.

Becoming a Sustainability Ambassador in Rural Panama

By Sheng Wu

A week before I was to go with a small team of students to electrify the homes of some of the families living in Chagres National Park, I was excited and nervous at the same time. Installing the solar panels and wiring wasn’t the scary part—I knew we could pull that off. I felt a bigger challenge would be to see if we could use the installation of the solar panel systems as a spark for building an appreciation for sustainability.

The trip was part of our 2007 award-winning EPA P3 project “Solar Photovoltaic System Design for a Remote Community in Panama.”
On the trip, we had the ambitious goal to install solar panel systems for five families in the village of Santa Librada, and then to teach them how to get the most out of their new systems—all in about a day and a half.

Thankfully, David and Maribel—friends from a village where our student group had previously installed systems—accompanied us to help. Besides their skilled hands, our two friends brought their knowledge and experience using the systems. This expertise, which they eagerly shared with the local community, proved to be as valuable as their help installing the panels.

With all the support the people of Santa Librada showed us, the five installations were finished in no time. When their kids were home from school, we taught families how the solar panel systems collect energy from the sun and store it in a battery. And at each house, we were happy to see David and Maribel talking to the families about the importance of sustainable behaviors such as conserving electricity and properly disposing of fluorescent light bulbs.

At the end of the day, everyone was satisfied with what had been accomplished. Community members gained hands-on experience helping install solar panel systems for their own homes. Our team learned how a culture of sustainability can be important in rural Panama. Children and adults alike explored what it means to “live sustainably.”

I’m confident that we successfully shared the importance of watching electricity use and going easy on the batteries so our partner families can financially sustain their solar panel systems.

About the Author: Sheng Wu is a chemical engineering major at Northwestern University (NU). He traveled with NU’s Engineers for a Sustainable World over spring break to work on a solar house electrification project in rural Panama.

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.