Science Wednesday: Nice Dear, But What’s Sustainability?

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About the author: Cynthia Nolt-Helms is the Manager of EPA’s P3 – People, Prosperity and the Planet – Program

image of authorOn vacation last week visiting my husband’s family in Florida, I had to answer a flood of work-related emails and phone calls. By the second day, everyone around me was puzzled and a bit annoyed about what was so important that I couldn’t take even a few days break from my job.

“I’m planning the National Sustainable Design Expo which is part of EPA’s P3 Award Competition,” I told them all proudly.

“That’s nice dear, but what’s that and why don’t they leave you alone,” my mother-in-law asked politely.

I explained to her that the Expo is the culmination of a year’s hard work. The program I manage, EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet Program (“P3” for short) gives me the opportunity to meet and interact with some of the movers and shakers of the next generation. EPA awards grants of $10,000 in the fall to universities for teams of students to design and research ideas for ways to live more sustainably on the planet.

The teams work on their projects and then come to Washington, DC in the spring to the National Sustainable Design Expo to exhibit and compete for an EPA P3 Award and additional funds. The students are bright and passionate about the environment, and their projects demonstrate great creativity and ingenuity. As a long-time federal employee who has worked most of her career for EPA in Washington, DC, I am exhilarated every year by the students’ optimism and idealism. They give me hope for the future.

At this year’s Expo — running this coming Saturday through Monday — we expect to see some amazing ideas: a solar powered water heater, wetlands for cleaning up dairy wastewater, solar panels to remove salt from water, even a method for using the sun to disinfect water.

Hmmm, now that I think about it, we need to plan for sunny weather!

But these are just a few of the 48 team projects and 35 exhibitors from nonprofit and government organizations that will be under the Expo tent on the National Mall between 3rd and 4th Streets, NW in DC. If you live in the area, or are visiting DC this coming weekend, I hope you can join us on the Mall to “See the future today!” I know you will be glad you did.

The 2009 National Sustainable Design Expo featuring EPA’s P3 Award is cosponsored by EPA and Beyond Benign, a nonprofit focused on sustainability and green chemistry.

Expo Hours: Saturday, April 18th – Noon – 5:00 pm; Sunday, April 19th – 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; Monday, April 20 – 9:00 am – 3:00 pm