Apps for the Environment Challenge

Green Apps Forum

By Jeff Tumarkin

Almost six months ago I was asked to help manage the Apps for the Environment Challenge. I really had no idea what to expect as this was uncharted territory for EPA. We researched other government challenges and decided the only way we could possibly succeed without being able to offer prize money was to work closely with the developer and mobile user communities; to ask them what they need from us in order to develop Green Apps.

Now, after participating with hundreds of developers, students, open data specialists and government innovators at our “Building Innovation Through Partnerships” forum Tuesday, Nov. 8th, I can fully appreciate the contributions and collaborations from around the country that has created what will hopefully be a lasting foundation for an environmental data and developer community!

The forum included an afternoon of discussions, breakout sessions and recognition for the winners of the Apps for the Environment Challenge. It was amazing to see a room full of such diverse groups, from the young teenagers whose team was awarded Best Student App, to CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, and our own Chief Information Officer Malcolm Jackson, all together to celebrate one vision of putting environmental data into the hands of the public.

The Apps for the Environment Challenge resulted in over 100 ideas from users as to what environmental mobile applications they would like to see, and 38 finished apps. More than 2000 votes were cast for the Popular Choice Award, and the challenge itself became one of the most popular ever hosted on Challenge.gov.

During the Business, Tech and User Perspectives panel discussion, a key point mentioned was that if the federal government acts as a data wholesaler and not retailer, releasing bulk data in any computer readable format, this will lead to success with the developer community
At the end of the day, both Lisa Schlosser, Federal Deputy CIO, and EPA CIO Malcolm Jackson both reiterated that EPA will be looking for other means and opportunities for community building with the green apps community, and by working closely together we can accomplish great things through this continued engagement.

Personally, this has been the most exciting initiative that I have worked on in my 30+ years of working at EPA. Our Team did an amazing job, and it was truly and honor and privilege to work with such a creative and dedicated group of staff and managers. I am very excited about the future as we continue to work closely with developers and users. I am confident that if we continue to work together individuals and communities will benefit by having access to the information they need to make better decisions about their health and the environment.

About the author: Jeff Tumarkin, the communications lead for EPA’s Office of Information Analysis and Access, lives outside Washington, DC in suburban Maryland. When not working at EPA Jeff spends his free time cycling, kayaking, fishing and promoting environmental protection in his own community.

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.

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

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Science Wednesday: Wheels of Progress

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

By Aaron Ferster

Last week I shared a ride to Baltimore with EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Research and Development, Dr. Paul Anastas. My colleague Joanne and I wanted to catch Dr. Anastas’ keynote address at the 21st Meeting of the International Society of Exposure Science, so when he accepted her offer for a ride to the meeting, I was able to tag along.

According to the official biography on EPA’s web site, Dr. Anastas is: Known widely as the “Father of Green Chemistry” for his groundbreaking research on the design, manufacture, and use of minimally-toxic, environmentally-friendly chemicals.

He’s also my boss’ boss, so it occurred to me as we strolled toward Joanne’s car that the standard travel protocol—calling out “shotgun!” and leaping into the front seat—was not in order.

Luckily, Dr. Anastas graciously suggested I sit upfront so I could navigate while he fielded calls, monitored his e-mail traffic, and put the final touches on his speech. (Just for the record: I’m pretty sure I would have won the passenger seat.)

Along the way, we chatted. Amongst the talk of congressional hearings, exposure models, and Disney princesses (we all have kids or grandkids), Dr. Anastas made a point that stuck with me: it took years of travel before anyone thought to put wheels on luggage.

That stayed with me throughout his talk about innovation, and how EPA research is striving to advance science and engineering for a sustainable future. Dr. Anastas shared how commitments made over the past 40 years have led to cleaner and healthier air, land, and water.

When I got back to the office I did a quick Google and some simple math to conclude that astronauts landed on the moon some 18 years before a handle and two wheels became standard fare for a big suitcase.

I actually found that kind of comforting. While a bevy of EPA scientists and engineers work to bring the required innovative, high-tech solutions that will surely be needed to meet the environmental challenges of the day, they are also working to share EPA data and challenge everyone interested to join the race for solutions.

Programs such as the Apps for the Environment Challenge and the upcoming Apps for the Environment Forum aim to inspire the environmental equivalent of wheels on luggage. This could be your chance to join the race for environmental solutions. Whose got shotgun?

About the author: Aaron Ferster is the senior science writer for EPA’s Office of Research and Development, the editor of Science Wednesday, and an excellent navigator.

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.

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

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

Science Wednesday – Apps for the Environment: The New Way of Communicating Science and Information

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

Want to know the weather tomorrow, the next movie showing, or the latest Hollywood gossip? There’s an app for that! In the age of smart phones, answers are literally at your fingertips on your iPhone or Android device. There’s no need to scour the internet for solutions when you can simply download an app that will gather the relevant information for you in a user-friendly application on your phone.

Working in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, I constantly hear of the developments and data that Agency researchers and scientists have produced. These scientists work diligently year around on protecting the environment and human health as outlined in Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s Seven Priorities. What better way is there for communicating the resources and discoveries of EPA researchers than in an easy-to-use app on your mobile device?

challengebanner_MThe EPA Apps for the Environment Challenge invites software developers to use EPA data to develop apps so the public can understand or protect the environment in their daily lives. Want to know the air quality where you live or which cars have the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions? There could be an app for that!

EPA has a lot of data that is publicly available. This data includes information from the Toxic Release Inventory which tells you facilities that dispose of or release toxic chemicals, real time air quality monitoring, green vehicle guide that gives environmental performance guides for vehicles, a Superfund website, and chemical toxicity information from the ToxCast database. Because these datasets are overwhelming for those with less technical and scientific knowledge like me, EPA held a series of webinars where data owners explained the information.

If you’re like me and don’t know the first thing about developing an app, you can still participate by submitting ideas for apps. These ideas are useful in providing developers and researchers a window of insight into the needs and wants of the public.

For more information and rules, visit the Apps for the Environment website. The deadline for submissions is September 16. In the meantime, you can find out the latest information on Twitter, just search #greenapps.

About the Author: Jing Zhang is a student services contractor working with the science communications 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.

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

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

There Ought to Be An Environmental App for That!

By Guy Tomassoni

I live in a community off the Chesapeake Bay and I love practically anything to do with being on or near the water! But I like different conditions for different activities. Sometimes I like wind and a high tide for windsurfing. Other times I like it still with a low tide for finding fossil shark teeth along the beach, and sometimes I like a changing tide for fishing. In addition to the water conditions, it’s also nice to know if storms are coming so I can get off the water before lightning strikes, and how sunny it’s going to be so I can make sure to bring my hat and sunscreen. And if I get lucky and catch some fish, it’s nice to know the minimum fish size I can keep and whether it’s safe to eat.

I know that EPA as well as other federal and state agencies already provide Internet access to lots of information I could use to help plan these and other adventures. But it sure would be great if the information was more easily and readily available! My wish for more and better environment apps is coming true!

Today, EPA is launching an effort called the Apps for the Environment Challenge that encourages private software developers to make Apps that use EPA’s data (and other sources of data) to help people and communities make decisions that affect their lives. The Apps for the Environment web page provides all the details (like rules and judging criteria), and lots of helpful resources like links to EPA’s data, ideas for new apps, a list of existing environmental apps, and even a discussion forum!

So how you can you get involved? If you are a developer, enter the challenge! If you know developers, tell them about our challenge and encourage them to enter. Or if you’re not a developer but like me, you have an idea for an app that you wish existed, post your idea on the discussion forum for developers to see and consider!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8j5L1Cdq4Q[/youtube]

EPA is sponsoring this exciting new challenge as a way to put environmental information in the hands of people and help them make environmentally-informed decisions. I’m hopeful for some apps for my water adventures, so I guess I better start looking at those waterproof smart phones!

About the author: Guy Tomassoni has been working for EPA since 1992 spending most of those years in the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response working on hazardous site cleanups. For the last 2.5 years, Guy has been working on improving access and understanding of environmental information in EPA’s Office of Environmental Information.

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.

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

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