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.

Designed to support researchers, educators, people at all levels of government, non-governmental organizations, and interested citizens, EnviroAtlas is a web-based, interactive tool that provides insight into the many benefits that people derive from natural ecosystems (“ecosystem services”). EnviroAtlas paints a picture of local environmental resources, and how decisions—such as road building and other development—will impact not just those resources, but the suite of benefits they provide to local communities.

Using powerful web application tools, EnviroAtlas lets users generate customized maps and images that show the condition of their community’s air, water, and landscape alongside related, spatially-based demographic data such as population density. For example, users can investigate land cover patterns and how ecosystem services such as tree cover and other green space reduces pollution.

The EnviroAtlas combines hundreds of separate data layers developed through a collaboration between EPA researchers and their partners from around the country, including the U.S Geological Survey, the U.S. Forest Service, states, and a number of non-profit organizations and universities.

While the complexity of natural ecosystems and environmental decision-making are far more challenging to navigate than picking the best route for a summer road trip, EPA researchers and their partners are working to provide the same kind of powerful, easy-to-use tool that most of us routinely have on our dashboards. The release of EnviroAtlas is a major step in that direction, helping ensure that we all continue to enjoy the economic, social, and environmental benefits of ecosystems well into the future.

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