sustainable development

Creating “Years of Sustainable Development:” Anticipating and responding to Mega Trends

By Dr. Alan D. Hecht and Barb Walton

Taking ActionLate last year, Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs pronounced 2015 the “Year of Sustainable Development,” reflecting the United Nations’ efforts to identify goals and agree on greenhouse gas emission targets for the decades ahead.

The increase in greenhouse gas emissions and anticipated yet unquantifiable impact on climate change is one of many major global trends that governments at all levels and corporations need to address.

The full suite of such “global mega trends” challenges all of us to find ways to achieve “years of sustainable development.” EPA, the World Environment Center and the Wilson Center are hosting an Earth Day seminar (April 22 from 3 to 5 pm) on Mega Trends to encourage discussion of the following:

  • What major long term trends (mega trends) will have the most profound impacts on society?
  • How can Government, business and civil society best prepare and respond to these trends?
  • What science and innovation would help reduce risk and prepare for the future?
  • What issues require public dialogue to improve policy decisions and promote better business-government cooperation?

Joining us to share thoughts and lead the discussion will be Jennifer Turner of the Wilson Center, Banning Garrett, adjunct faculty at Singularity University, and Terry Yosie of the World Environment Center.

Together, we will share our views on such topics as: projected trends and impacts from climate change; extreme weather; urban growth; and energy, land, and water use.

EPA has been leading the responsive to a number of such emerging issues, notably to climate change, the management of new chemical wastes such as endocrine disruptors and nanomaterials, the evaluation of biofuels, and the effectiveness of green infrastructure. Our Climate Change Adaptation Plan recognized drought as a major vulnerability to human wellbeing.

EPA has also launched new academic grants requesting proposals for new strategies to improve the Nation’s readiness to respond to the water scarcity and drought anticipated in response to climate change.

Working closely with other agencies, we are also sensitive to the stresses and interactions of energy demand and water use. Accordingly, the Agency has developed a set of principles and actions to advance energy-water use in a more sustainable way.

And on urban growth, EPA is attuned to the potential impact on human health and on disadvantaged communities. EPA has identified 51 communities where it will work to respond to past, present and future issue affecting society wellbeing.

The challenge of achieving sustainable development requires multiagency cooperation, business-government partnerships and full public understanding of the potential impacts. To prepare for Earth Day in 2030 and for Years of Sustainable Development, we need to:

  • Set Clear Sustainability Goals
  • Focus on states, cities and communities
  • Promote business innovation
  • Support “Nexus” among government programs
  • Overcome traditional legislative silos in programs
  • Overcome business-government conflict and create effective collaborations and partnerships.
  • Be flexible and innovate within the existing legal framework.
  • Promote innovation in science and technology.
  • Enhance public understanding and support.

We and our partners are meeting those challenges. To learn more and join the discussion, I invite you to attend the Wilson center event in person or by video. For more information, please visit: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/promoting-years-sustainability-responding-to-mega-trends.

About the Authors: Alan D. Hecht is the Director for Sustainable Development at EPA. Barb Walton is the Assistant Laboratory Director for the Agency’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Lab.

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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The Bronx’s Via Verde Wins a Well-Deserved Smart Growth Achievement Award

The exterior of Via Verde, showing off its stepped roof

The exterior of Via Verde, showing off its stepped roof

By John Martin

For people old enough to remember, it’s hard to believe how far the Bronx has come since the 1970s.

Between 1970 and 1980, the South Bronx lost over 300,000 residents, as crime spiked and people made way for the suburbs. The borough became synonymous with urban decay, a stigma it continues to fight decades after it began its dramatic rebound.

Today, the Bronx is flourishing, as the public and private sectors continue to make the borough a healthier and more pleasant place to live. It’s hard to find a better example of how far the borough has come than Via Verde— the mixed-income housing development in the Melrose neighborhood that opened in 2012. Since then, it has earned international acclaim for its bold design and its focus on creating a green urban environment for its residents.

The project, which sits on a cleaned-up former rail yard, provides 222 units of living space, views of the Manhattan skyline, and healthy-living amenities galore. A string of green roofs dot the building’s terraces, as do solar panels, which provide electricity to all the building’s common spaces. Residents have access to shared gardening beds, a children’s playground, a fitness center, and an outdoor amphitheater. Throw in the building’s easy access to subway and bus lines and it becomes easy to understand why Via Verde has been held up as a model for environmentally sustainable development.

As of today, we can add the EPA to the list of those who have officially recognized Via Verde’s accomplishments. This morning, the EPA announced that Via Verde received an Honorable Mention for the 2013 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in the category of Built Projects. Of the 77 Smart Growth Achievement applications the EPA received from across the country, Via Verde was just one of seven to be recognized.

For a borough that has come so far and fought so long to create livable, thriving communities, Via Verde is a crowning achievement and an inspiration to urban areas everywhere.

To read more about Via Verde and the other projects receiving National Award for Smart Growth Achievement, visit: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/awards.htm.

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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Six Steps Closer to a Sustainable World

A blog post by Dr. Alan Hecht, Director for Sustainable Development for EPA’s Office of Research and Development, was recently featured by the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation. A portion and a link are reposted below. (Please note: reposting here does not imply endorsement of the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.) 

SIX STEPS CLOSER TO A SUSTAINABLE WORLD

By Dr. Alan D. Hecht

“Addressing the problems of the 21st century will require a combination of strategies, including creative use of existing environmental policies and regulations, innovative application of science and technology, and collaboration among stakeholders.”

Read the post.

About the Author: Dr. Alan Hecht is Director for Sustainable Development, Office of Research and Development at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(EPA). Views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the EPA.

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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Saving the Rainforest…with Data

By Betty Kreakie, Ph.D

EPA's Betty Kreakie in Suriname

EPA’s Betty Kreakie, Ph.D in Suriname.

Managing big data is difficult.

Well, let me rephrase that slightly: Managing high-quality big environmental data is really, really difficult.

But, you may ask, if it is so difficult, why bother?  Because if you are able to successfully generate and manage high-quality environmental data in a Geographic Information System (GIS), you can save the rainforest.  And then… the world!

This was the sales pitch I used during my Embassy Science Fellowship in Paramaribo, Suriname.  Suriname is a small country located just north of Brazil.  The goal of my three month fellowship was to assist the Ministerie van Ruimtelijke Ordening, Grond en Bosbeheer (RGB) (Ministry of Physical Planning, Land and Forestry Management) with the development of a spatial data management plan.  RGB is a relatively new ministry (founded in 2005) and faces the same daunting concerns as many other land management agencies, such as limited resources and high workloads.  Incorporating new data management concepts into an established, busy agency is challenging.  And for a country that is still 80% pristine rainforest, environmental data management will be critical for sustaining growth while preserving natural resources.

My efforts focused on three main areas to build a strong data management foundation: strategic data planning, logistics and organization, and implementing new softwares/technologies.  First, strategic data planning helps ensure that data collection is in line with specific management goals and the agency’s mission.  Second, having logistical protocols in place that explicitly state how data are collected and processed increases efficiency and reduces confusion.  And finally, I introduced some new cost-effective software that would help streamline data processing and increase quality control.

To those who attended my workshops, this material was not immediately compelling.  For some reason, people do not find data management beguiling.  And this is where my sales pitch came into play.  Building a high-quality database of environmental information in Suriname will allow land managers to preserve their amazing natural resources while still allowing for development opportunities.

With big environmental data, Suriname can achieve true sustainable development while preserving one of the world’s few last intact rainforests.

About the AuthorBetty Kreakie, Ph.D., is a research ecologist for the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development in Narragansett, Rhode Island.  Her work focuses on the development of spatially explicit, landscape level models that predict how biological populations and communities will respond to anthropogenic influences such as nutrient and contaminant inputs, climate change, and habitat conversion.

Editor’s Note: The Embassy Science Fellows is a partnership between U.S. federal technical agencies and the Department of State to provide scientific and engineering staff to serve in short-term assignments in U.S. posts abroad. The goal of the program is to provide expertise in science, mathematics, and engineering to support the work of embassies, consulates, and missions of the State Department while providing international experience to EPA staff.

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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Seizing the Opportunity in Rio

By Scott Fulton

Olá!  A few days ago, I arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the United Nation’s Conference on Sustainable Development (a.k.a. “Rio+20”).   I’m excited and humbled to be a part of this milestone event, which marks the 20th anniversary of the first UN Earth Summit.  Rio+20 offers an important opportunity to consider anew the global challenge of sustainable development and to provide guidance and inspiration for the path ahead.  While I’m here in Rio, in addition to attending Rio+20 itself, I’ll be participating in many satellite events designed to make the most of this opportunity.  Just a few examples:

  • On June 16, I participated  in the Rio+20 Colloquium on Environmental Law & Justice, a panel discussion of the Role of Courts in Environmental Compliance and Enforcement over at the Supreme Court;
  • Over the next few days, I will attend the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability in Mangaratiba. This meeting of judges, prosecutors and auditors from around the world immediately precedes the Rio+20 Conference.
  • On Thursday, June 21, I will participate in a meeting led by the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, “Rio+20, CCICED +20, Sharing the Achievements, Embracing the Future.” This promises to be an interesting opportunity for an exchange of ideas with our colleagues in China.

On June 16, I was also given the opportunity to moderate the Environmental Governance and Social Inclusion program at the U.S. Center in Athletes Park.  It was a successful and lively discussion with an extremely well qualified panel and an engaged audience. Some of the issues we touched on included:

  • Key features of effective systems for environmental governance at the national level, such as access to environmental information, public participation, law reform, and implementation and accountability mechanisms including robust enforcement systems;
  • The critical importance of efforts to engage vulnerable communities to promote social inclusion and environmental justice; and
  • Steps we can take to enhance cooperation, coordination and collaboration on strengthening environmental governance in countries around the world.

I think these concepts are integral to the notion of sustainability. After all, when we talk about Environmental Governance we are talking about the very real building blocks of a governance system that can make all the difference in the world—the difference between the concept of environmental protection expressed as written law and the reality of cleaner air and water, healthier people, and a secure a future where these benefits can be sustained for future generations.

And when we talk about environmental justice we are talking about the kind of social inclusion that allows us to reach an end state where no one’s environmental health is compromised because of his or her race, national origin or income level, and all have equal access both to the environmental decision-making process and to a healthy environment in which to live, learn and work.

To read more about environmental governance, click here: http://inece.org/resource/foundation/

About the author:  Scott Fulton is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s General Counsel.

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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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 http://conx.state.gov/event/rio20/ 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.

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 at Rio+20: The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development

by Assistant Administrator Michelle DePass

Next week EPA will join people from across the US government to participate in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20.  Our team of experts will be engaged in government-to-government negotiations, while also connecting with partners from the US and around the world to identify steps we can take as individuals, as institutions, and as a global community to make our world more sustainable and prosperous.

Rio+20 is an opportunity to not only set a vision for the next 20 years of sustainable development, but also strengthen global cooperation at multiple levels – including non-profits and community organizations, students of every age, Fortune 500 companies and small businesses. Rio+20  also gives us the chance to utilize the incredible progress in technology and social media in the last 20 years to engage in a new ways and bring more voices to the discussion. The commitments and actions taken by everyone participating in Rio+20 – physically and virtually – will be as important as any negotiated document, so please take part by visiting http://conx.state.gov/event/rio20/ over the coming weeks!

Here are a couple of items to watch for:

  • There has been considerable discussion about reforming international institutions that focus on sustainable development. We believe that efficient and effective global coordination on sustainable development can be achieved by strengthening existing institutions like the UN Environment Program (UNEP), rather than creating a new institution.
  • We have called on each conference participant to bring their own voluntary commitments to sustainable development. Making clear and transparent commitments, when linked together and made accessible through a global platform, can advance sustainable development by showing what everyone – governments included – can do.  This broad list of commitments should reflect the spirit and goals of the Rio conference, using modern technologies and platforms to share information and increase transparency and accountability.

Keep track of what EPA is doing on the ground by checking back here and following us on Facebook and Twitter using our hashtag #EPArio.

About the author: Michelle DePass, Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs, US EPA. Michelle DePass has spent her career working to support environmental progress here at home and around the world, at EPA she remains committed to expanding the conversation on environmentalism and ensuring access to clean, safe and healthy communities.

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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A Future Without Trees?

Recently, I was listening to a radio show in which commentators were talking about the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing. I remember that evening very well. I watched the images of that historic milestone with my great grandmother in Puerto Rico. She was 84 then and we discussed how the world had changed during her lifetime. She described seeing the arrival of the first cars to the Island. She contrasted those developments with the news-breaking story of that evening on July 20, 1969, when the first man landed on the moon. Looking back to these 40 years, we’ve witnessed great technological advances and innovations we now take for granted. Travel in space, communications, and nanotechnology are just some of the things that have changed in the past forty years. And that brings me to the subject today.

I’ve always been attracted to the concept of the future. In the sixties, I remember going to the World Fair in New York and watching several exhibits which forecasted how life was going to be in the 21st century. In fact, one of my favorite cartoons, The Jetsons, was an animated science fiction sitcom which portrayed life in the 25th century as conceived by the producers back in 1963. There were robots, electronic contraptions, and flying cars. If you come to think about it, other than the flying cars, some of their futuristic ideas have become a reality. However, in remembering this series, I noticed something recently which made me pause and think. There was hardly any vegetation in that “future.” There were hardly any trees. No greenery. Is that how life will become in the 25th century?

When you come to think about it, a future without trees or vegetation would not only be scary, but deadly for all mankind. Many animals, including human beings, would not survive without any vegetation on Earth. Plants are necessary for multiple reasons—they provide us with oxygen and they are at the foundation of all food chains. Furthermore, they play a fundamental role in ecology—they cleanse the atmosphere of excessively large quantities of carbon dioxide emissions. So, when we think of sustainable development and environmental protection, these are not the fads of the moment. They are essential to our survival. We can all start working to protect our planet by pledging to take action in favor of our planet on Earth Day and every day.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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