sustainability

Earth Day Festivities…Waterfowl, Stream Impairment & Smokey The Bear…Oh My!

By Amber Tucker

Earth Day was last month but since we like to tout that every day is Earth Day here at EPA, I am safe in posting this now.  We also love it when the “official” Earth Day rolls around.  Each year on April 22nd, people across the globe participate in various events and activities to raise awareness and promote the environmental movement.  2014 marks the 44th Earth Day Observance.

Prior to the first Earth Day in 1970, there was no EPA, no Clean Air Act, no Clean Water Act. There were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment.  It was legal and even common for black plumes of toxins to fill the sky, and tons of hazardous waste to be dumped directly into waterways.  These practices had gone on for so long, that finally the detrimental effects on environmental resources could no longer go unnoticed, and concerned citizens felt compelled to take action to protect their environment. In spring 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day as a way to force this issue onto the national agenda. Twenty million Americans demonstrated in different U.S. cities, and their efforts paid off tremendously!  In December 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

earthday

In response to the expanding public demand for cleaner air, water, and land, President Richard Nixon and Congress established the U.S. EPA.  EPA was tasked with the challenging goal of repairing the damage already done to the environment and to establish guidelines to help Americans in making a cleaner and safer environment a reality.

Fast forward 44 years to today…from its 20 million strong 1970 roots, more than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world, according to the Earth Day Network (http://www.earthday.org).  On a local scale, EPA is fortunate to be able to participate in local community events each year.

julia

Julia helping out with the Impaired Waterways activity

The Sac & Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska held their 2014 annual Earth Day event on Tuesday, April 22nd at their community building in Reserve, KS.  The Sac & Fox Environmental Department has hosted this event for several years in an effort to actively engage children of various ages in learning about the environment.  They have worked closely with and invited outside agencies to participate in this important event.

On Tuesday April 22nd, approximately 90 children ranging from 1st through 3rd grades came to the Sac & Fox community building to celebrate Earth Day.  Three staff members from EPA Region 7, Julia Cacho, Heather Duncan, and Amber Tucker, were privileged to be able to attend and take part in these festivities.  The Sac & Fox Environmental Department secured presenters on a variety of environmental topics such as surface water quality, air quality, Brownfields, recycling, Squaw Creek Waterfowl, and the water cycle.  Environmental Department staff also developed program specific presentations to showcase the Sac and Fox Nation Environmental Department and its functions. All of the attendees were able to soak up some Vitamin D out on the lawn during lunch, where lunch was served (in recyclable brown boxes). The day was topped off by crafts activities and a very welcomed appearance from Smokey the Bear.  Smokey was a big hit, and took pictures with the children, which were printed and incorporated into one of the crafts for the children to take home.  At the end of the day, 90 happy kiddos and several tired presenters were evidence of a successful Earth Day event!

Smokey

Julia, Heather, Smokey & Amber

For additional information about Earth Day, please visit http://www.epa.gov/earthday/index.html.

Amber Tucker is an Environmental Scientist who serves as a NEPA reviewer for EPA Region 7.  She is a graduate of Haskell University and serves as Region 7′s Special Emphasis Program Manager for Native American Employment Programs.

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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Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Environmental Justice: Majora Carter on Creative Leadership

By Sherrell Dorsey  

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Click to watch video

I had the privilege of interviewing Majora Carter—the TED Talk sensation whose Greening the Ghetto presentation catapulted her work in environmental equity into global recognition and made even the most apathetic to green living consider the consequences of climate and community neglect. Carter’s public narrative and highly visible media persona represents only a small sample of how she is self-actualizing leadership in the work towards building sustainable communities one day at a time.

Charting her own path, she has set aside the proverbial soapbox for innovative entrepreneurship in environmentalism while meeting the challenges facing under-resourced communities today. She founded Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx) in 2001, to do just that. SSBx played a major role in training local young residents to clean up massive areas of abandoned open space and transform it into the South Bronx Greenway, which has significantly increased the recreational space, expanded the waterfront access, and improved transportation safety in the South Bronx.

However, during this time she started to see the integral connection between the environmental injustices in the Untitled-1community, and the lack of sustainable jobs that help avoid unwanted pollution in the community. That’s why her new agenda is an endeavor that establishes a framework for financial literacy and entrepreneurship within the Hunts Point community. Carter has her sights set on eliminating the “digital divide” by dipping into the burgeoning technology sector with her new project, StartUp Box #SouthBronx.

The growing gap between the poor and rich in society has been evidenced by the digital divide—a concept that refers to a portion of the population who do not have access to computers or the internet.  Without access to technology, entire communities are left behind. Increasingly, computer literacy and the internet have become pathways for higher education, employment and entrepreneurship.

In the Bronx, where the median income is $34,300 (compared to $57,000 for NY State), less than 40 percent of residents have access to broadband internet. As the technology sector begins to grow, both the internet and mobile technologies provide economic development opportunities for those with the 21st century digital skills needed for the jobs that are coming.

Untitled-3With the launch of StartUp Box, Carter plans to leverage the new technology and education project to tap underutilized talents in inner cities. To do this, they have partnered with New York City-area computer games industry leaders to train local youth for quality assurance testing service jobs. This is an excellent way to train young people in jobs that will be relevant well into the 21st century, by providing them with exposure to a range of software development skills without advanced math or computer sciences education requirements.

Not only does this provide jobs to youth in areas where there may be few opportunities, but it also attracts software services businesses and other high tech investors by creating a local workforce with world-class tech, design, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship education.

Carter has established a rubric formula for creating sustainable impact that serves as a model for current and future leaders in social entrepreneurship seeking to scale their solutions to meet the needs of the communities they work in. Although she has accomplished so much to advance environmental justice, equity, and opportunity across the country, she says her work is just beginning. “We look at what is out there and not try to level the playing field. We have to get people on the field. Forget about leveling. They’re still in the parking lot. They’ve got no ticket to get into the stadium.”

Sherrell Dorsey is a writer, social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social and economic equity in underserved communities. Recently, Sherrell was awarded a Zoom Fellowship in public policy and serves in the office of Mayor Bill Finch in the City of Bridgeport where she leads the implementation of indoor air quality programs across the school district and coordinates the city’s green jobs task force. She contributes frequently to Inhabitat.com and Triple Pundit.

 

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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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.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Design for the Environment Teams up with Business Leaders

It’s always exciting and encouraging to see companies across the country recognize the benefits of sustainability goals and expand the availability of products with improved environmental characteristics. At the 2014 Walmart Sustainable Product Expo, dozens of leaders and thousands of attendees came together with non-governmental organizations and EPA representatives to learn about sustainability initiatives, share information, and build a network for constructive collaboration and leadership. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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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

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Environmental Standouts Are Celebrated

By Mike McGowan

Eva Sanjurjo receives her award.

Eva Sanjurjo receives her award.

Recently, Region 2 honored its 2014 Environmental Quality Award winners, who work at improving the planet every day.

EQA winners from New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were hosted at R2 headquarters in lower Manhattan to showcase their good work. Among them:

  • Chris Bowser, who has made “glass eels” (young American eels migrating from the Atlantic Ocean into freshwater streams) the focus of an unique environmental education project that goes from building knowledge about eels to promoting stewardship of this fish and the habitats essential to its growth cycle;
  • Ironbound Community Corporation, which, since 1969, has worked to create a healthy and sustainable environment in one of Newark’s culturally rich neighborhoods. The ICC monitors air quality, provides environmental justice tours and organizes an active community to speak out for environmental protection in New Jersey’s largest city.
  • Dr. Ralph Spezio, a public school principal from Rochester, who helped found the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning, an education and advisory group dedicated to eliminate lead poisoning in Monroe County, New York. His work has helped reduce blood lead levels in Rochester’s children.
  • Eva Sanjurjo, a founder of the Hunts Point Awareness Committee, took on polluters in her Bronx community in defense of all the neighborhood children who were suffering from asthma. Among other projects, she started an educational program called “Greening for Breathing” which planted hundreds of trees in the neighborhood.

These are just several of the awardees, all of whom made a special and lasting impact on the environment in the last year. We’ll be reporting on some of the other winners in subsequent blog posts.

About the Author: Mike is Chief of the R2 Intergovernmental and Community Affairs Branch in Public Affairs. He is a 10-year veteran of EPA.

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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EPA’s P3 Student Design Competition: Sowing the Seeds of a Sustainable Future

 

Reposted from EPA Connect, the official blog of EPA’s leadership.

 

“The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.”  -PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

 

By Lek Kadeli

KadeliEach spring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides the nation with a glimpse of America’s winning future through our P3 student design competition for sustainability.

“P3” stands for People, Prosperity and the Planet. Working in teams, students and their academic advisors devise innovative solutions to meet environmental challenges in ways that benefit people, promote prosperity, and protect the planet. Through that work, the competition engages the greater academic community and the next generation of environmental scientists and engineers in the principles of sustainability.

The competition is a two-phase process. In Phase I, teams submit design proposals for a chance to receive grants of up to $15,000 to research and test original sustainability projects. In addition to research funds, winning teams earn the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC to publically showcase their designs and prototypes at the National Sustainable Design Expo.

During the Expo, teams also showcase their work to a panel of judges for a chance to enter Phase II of the competition—which includes up to $90,000 in additional grant money to help bring their designs and products to the marketplace. Successful P3 projects ultimately benefit the economy and create jobs in our communities.

President Obama said in this year’s State of the Union address “that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.” This program exemplifies that spirit of innovation.

WeLoveP3Over the past 10 years, EPA has awarded more than 550 grants to university and college student teams across the nation. A number of teams have leveraged their winning ideas into thriving small businesses and nonprofit organizations, sparking job growth as they advance sustainability and public health. For example:

  • An inter-collegiate team made up of students from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and two Chinese universities launched the nonprofit organization One Earth Design (OED) based on their winning project: a solar-powered device that cooks, provides heat, and generates electricity.
  • A team from the University of Massachusetts designed a process for producing a nontoxic flame retardant from cashew oil. The end result provides the benefit of suppressing flames that is as effective as the more toxic synthetic retardants in use today.
  • Students from the University of Arizona designed an irrigation system for small farmers that also serves as a fish farm. Rows of irrigation ditches filled with fish provide a local source of fertilizer that boosts crop yields while yielding additional sources of food and profit.
  • Western Washington University students partnered with local dairy farmers for their project using cow manure as a source of fuel-grade methane for running vehicles.
  • Re-design methods developed by a team of University of Tennessee students have helped transform depression-era housing into buildings that meet both energy efficient, green building standards and strict historical preservation codes.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the EPA’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) program. Both the P3 public displays and the National Sustainable Design Expo will be held in conjunction with the USA Science & Engineering Festival at the Washington Convention Center, April 26-27. Now in its third year, the USA Science & Engineering Festival is the largest science festival in the United States.

About the Author: Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Earth Day Inspiration

By Bonnie Bellow

Put UR foot into the Earth

Put UR foot into the Earth

Each year around Earth Day we are reminded to take stock of the incredible natural resources the planet provides and think about what we are doing to protect them for future generations. Last week, EPA staff heard from a determined young man who represents the future – a fourth-grader from Douglaston, New York who writes his own environmental blog, “Put UR foot into the Earth.” http://i-pure.tumblr.com/

Currently, Eliot is engaged in a project to educate consumers about the importance of recycling their used batteries and increase battery recycling. He has done his research and explains that batteries contain metals and chemicals that can contaminate soil and water if they are not disposed of properly. But battery recycling may be easier to promote than actually do. Eliot had been taking his spent batteries to a store near his home that had a recycling bin. When the store closed after Hurricane Sandy, his mother had to drive him to another store to recycle his batteries. He immediately recognized the contradiction in having to burn fuel in order to recycle. “It felt like a waste of time and energy,” Eliot said. “It was not good for the environment.” Another kid might have given up, but not Eliot. He wrote letters to President Obama, the EPA and the New York City Comptroller asking them to increase the number of battery recycling stations.

Eliot did not seem the slightest bit intimidated in presenting his battery recycling project to a group of scientists, engineers, attorneys and other environmental professionals at the EPA. He fielded their tough questions like a seasoned environmentalist. He is continuing his campaign for a state law that would mandate battery recycling and notes that some companies, such as Toys R Us and Duane Reade, now collect used batteries.

It will take the collective energy and imagination of future generations to tackle the environmental challenges before us. But Eliot’s dedication and determination gives us hope.

About the Author: Bonnie Bellow has been the Region 2 Director of Public Affairs since 1995, responsible for intergovernmental, media and international relations; community engagement; environmental education; Freedom of Information Act requests; social media and public information. She previously served as Public Affairs Director at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, ran her own media production business and worked as a radio reporter. Bonnie received her Bachelor of Science degree at Northwestern University in Chicago, but is a born and bred New Yorker who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

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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Celebrate Earth Day with ENERGY STAR!

Earth Day graphic

By: Brittney Gordon-Williams

Earth Day is here and people across the country are taking a few minutes out of their day to do something good for planet earth. What are your plans? We may be a bit biased, but here at ENERGY STAR we would love for you to make protecting the environment from climate change part of your Earth Day resolutions. Preventing climate change may sound like a tall order, but we’re here to show you how easy it can be to make a difference. And did we mention that it will also help you save money?  I think we now have your full attention. Check out our list of no-cost to low cost ways to save energy at home and at work this Earth Day!

ENERGY STAR’s Earth Day and Beyond Checklist

1.)    ENERGY STAR Lighting- Purchase an ENERGY STAR certified LED! This is one of the easiest ways to make your home more energy efficient. ENERGY STAR certified LEDs use 70-90% less energy and last 25x longer than your old incandescent bulbs. With the prices dropping fast, this is the perfect time to try out the light bulb of the future! Need help picking one out? Check out this video.

2.)    Computer Power Management– Are you reading this on your computer? Have you programmed that computer to go into sleep mode when you are away? Enabling your ENERGY STAR certified computer/monitor’s power management features can save you up to $90 a year.

3.)    HVAC Maintenance– Check your filter every month, especially during heavy use months (winter and summer). If the filter looks dirty after a month, change it. At a minimum, change the filter every 3 months. A dirty filter will slow down air flow and make the system work harder to keep you warm or cool — wasting energy.

4.)    Build Your Team– You can also “Bring Your Green” to work! Create a Green Team with your co-workers, help build support for energy efficiency in your workplace, and reduce office waste. Set a goal to certify your building as ENERGY STAR.

5.)    Inspire Your Friends– The only thing better than saving energy yourself is inspiring your friends to do it with you. Share this infographic in social media and encourage your friends to get with the energy-saving program!

EarthDay_infographic_Twitter

It’s pretty amazing that simple changes like these can make a big difference in reducing carbon pollution in our environment, helping to stop further climate change. Need some assistance on your energy-saving journey? Take the ENERGY STAR Pledge and let EPA show you how simple it can be to save energy, save money and protect the environment. Try it out today and make this Earth Day the best one yet.

About the Author: Brittney Gordon-Williams is a member of the communications team at EPA’s ENERGY STAR program. This Earth Day she plans on purchasing an ENERGY STAR certified LED bulb.  

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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EPA Unveils the Winner of the National Building Competition!

Battle of the Buildings2

By: Andrea Schnitzer

Have you ever seen the NBC show, The Biggest Loser? It brings together a group of motivated people, who all have one goal in common—a desire to get healthy and lose unneeded weight.  Today, EPA is announcing the winners of the fourth annual EPA ENERGY STAR National Building Competition: Battle of the Buildings, a competition that is inspired by the hit NBC show. But instead of individuals working to lose excess weight, this year-long competition brings together commercial buildings from across the country to see who can reduce the most energy use. Today we are excited to announce this year’s winners and open registration for an exciting new competition year.

The Results are in!

Claiborne Elementary School

Claiborne Elementary School

This year, Claiborne Elementary School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, won the competition by cutting its energy use nearly in half!  But this impressive accomplishment only tells part of the story about the more than 3,000 competitors who threw their hats in the ring this year. The top 15 finishers reduced their energy waste by more than 29 percent, and nearly 50 buildings in the competition achieved at least a 20 percent reduction in energy use. In the end, the competitors saved a combined total of more than 130,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and $20 million on utility bills. To see a list of the competitors and their energy savings, go to www.energystar.gov/battleofthebuildings.

Many were winners. Only one was the biggest loser.

Claiborne Elementary School emerged victorious by cutting its energy use by a whopping 46.9 percent in one year. And they did this largely through low and no-cost efforts, like educating students and teachers about the actions they can take every day to save energy. This included adjusting thermostats, keeping doors and windows closed when the heat or air conditioning is on, turning off lights, and making sure electronic devices are turned off at the end of each day.  The school also fine-tuned automated controls of the HVAC and lighting systems, making sure that lights were turned off in unoccupied areas and that the heating and cooling systems were optimized to run only when necessary.

Small changes make a big difference.  

The results aren’t all that different than what we often see on NBC’s The Biggest Loser. Buildings across the nation compete to work off their energy waste with help from ENERGY STAR. At the end, the building that cuts its energy use the most is declared the winner.

And just like on the TV show, there are ups and downs for every building. Sometimes, drastic measures are needed, but often it just takes small changes every day that add up to big savings. Just like it’s not always necessary to take extreme measures to lose weight, buildings don’t always need to implement expensive technology upgrades to start cutting energy use. Likewise, adopting small lifestyle changes like eating healthier and exercising can make all the difference. Changing behaviors, whether it’s by turning off lights that aren’t being used, not heating or cooling empty spaces, and unplugging energy-wasting equipment, can make a huge impact when it’s done regularly and becomes a lifestyle.

Step on the scale. Repeat.

Of course, one of the most important steps in an energy waste-loss program is stepping on the scale. For buildings, that means entering monthly energy data in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, EPA’s energy and water measurement and tracking tool. By continuing to monitor and track the ups and downs of energy and water use, building owners and managers can find out where they stand…and where they need to go.

Join us for the 2014 competition. Register by May 16!

So who really won this year? The short answer: we all did. When buildings use less energy, the plants that power them emit fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, resulting in a cleaner, healthier environment for all of us.

Want to be a part of the solution? Ask your management to enter your building in the 2014 competition. This year, compete to win EPA recognition for energy and water savings, or join as part of a team competing against other groups to become the next biggest energy or water saver.

Learn more and register at www.energystar.gov/battleofthebuildings

About the Author: Andrea Schnitzer is a National Program Manager with the ENERGY STAR program for Commercial Buildings and Industrial Plants.

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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