By Michael Slimak
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining some of my colleagues from the European Union at an event in Washington, DC to present information and share examples of how we are all making strides to better understand and assess the environment.
The gathering, A Sustainable Future for All: EU and US Efforts to Measure and Assess Progress Towards a Sustainable and Resource Efficient Economy, was an opportunity to explore how countries on both sides of the vast Atlantic Ocean see a pathway to cleaner, healthier communities and a more prosperous future for us, our grandchildren, and beyond.
One of the great aspects of the rendezvous was listening to the common themes emerge from different perspectives and across a diversity of organizations. EPA research is at the forefront of forging that confluence of thought.
EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities research program was among the first explicitly organized to build bridges across traditional research disciplines—uniting ecologists, public health experts, toxicologists, and social scientists—to illuminate the connections between a healthy environment and specific, identifiable aspects of human well being. We work to connect natural ecosystems and the “services” they deliver such as climate stability, clean air, fertile soils, and watershed functions with critical aspects of livable communities: public health, environmental justice, economic opportunity, and long-term prosperity.
Simply put, we are working to empower communities and make things better for people.
An important way we do that is to develop the information, data, and tools that individuals and communities need to assess and monitor the environment. At the rendezvous, I shared one of our latest examples: EPA’s Report on the Environment. The European Environment Agency produced a similar effort in the European Environment, State and Outlook 2015 (SOER).
EPA’s report is an interactive resource that shows how the condition of the environment and human health in the United States is changing over time. It presents the best available indicators of national trends in five areas of interest to EPA: Air, Water, Land, Human Exposure and Health, and Ecological Condition.
The Report on the Environment is an example of the kinds of scientific, environmental indicator-based resources EPA researchers are developing to provide transparent, open access to the information decision makers need.
Like our European counterparts, we are working together to embrace the concept of sustainability as a way to change the paradigm of environmental protection from something apart from traditional economic calculations to realizing opportunities in efficiencies and long-term solutions. Resources such as EPA’s Report on the Environment are helping us make that happen, and it was great to learn that we have committed partners to work with across the globe.
About the Author: Michael Slimak, Ph.D., is the national program director for EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities research program. An ecologist by training, he has worked on issues ranging from strategic research planning to aquatic and terrestrial contamination and risk assessment.