sustainability

In My Grandfather’s Footsteps: A Worthwhile Summer Spent at EPA 

Every summer, EPA brings in students to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread is proud to feature several blogs written by these interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. Andrew Speckin’s blog launched this series. Our second blog is by Sara Lamprise, who has worked in our Drinking Water, Water Quality, Wastewater, and Pesticides programs.

By Sara Lamprise

My grandfather and I share the same spirit. He is what I think of as a practical idealist. Softhearted, with a deep love of nature, he is not one to turn a blind eye to struggles. As ever, he continues to shape my sense of ethics and accountability.

When I was younger, he told me that idle worry is a way of avoiding responsibility. I never heard him say, “I wish someone would …” If he thought it needed doing, he did it, which meant he was usually busy.

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Sara’s grandfather, Paul Deshotel, on 70th birthday

As an adult, I’ve wanted to be someone my grandfather would respect. I’ve stayed busy, but not always with things I found worth doing. Countless times I thought, “I wish I could …” or “I wish I was qualified to do something else.” Idle thoughts.

I sat on them. And I definitely didn’t tell my grandfather about them.

Meanwhile, I pestered my friends about plastics in the ocean and the erosion of the Gulf coast and fish that change from male to female. It seems pretty obvious in retrospect, but I think my friends caught on before I did. Long story short, I decided to change fields. To do that, I needed to go back to school.

I see a need for skilled people who care about others and the environment. So I’m developing the skills to fill that need. I could have spent my summer learning to fetch coffee … probably. But I wanted a worthwhile experience in a positive environment. EPA was my top choice.

Sara Lamprise at Myrtle Beach, S.C., summer 2012

Sara Lamprise at Myrtle Beach, S.C., summer 2012

I heard that this was a great program, that even as an intern, my work would be relevant and meaningful. I also heard many times that I would be working with great people. Check and check.

Plus, I respect EPA’s strategy. From my perspective, a critical role of EPA is providing the information to make sound environmental decisions. Information can spur action. It can bring about voluntary changes that are enduring and contagious. I know it doesn’t always work that way, and that’s where enforcement comes in. But information is a good Plan A.

Also, I heard tales of a fish grinder that I really want to see in action. Major selling point.

Anyway, I’m stoked. I figure whatever I work on will be time well spent, and something my grandfather will be happy to hear about.

About the Author: Sara Lamprise is working as a Student Intern at EPA Region 7. She is a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City majoring in environmental science. Sara loves board games, hiking, and any excuse to travel.

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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The Last Year of an Environmental Educator’s Career: Reflections on Sustainability

Introduction by Kathleen L. Fenton

I’m fortunate to manage EPA Region 7’s Environmental Education Program. I get to meet folks like Dr. Michael Hotz, who work tirelessly to ensure today’s students understand, value and enjoy learning. Dr. Hotz is one of those exceptional teachers who students remember long after they’ve graduated, an educator who makes a lasting impression. Most importantly, he’s influenced students to realize that science, technology, engineering and math are subjects they can understand and have fun doing, while actually learning – and it’s knowledge they can keep and use for years to come.

Dr. Hotz is a model teacher and representative of many fine teachers across the Heartland. I had the honor of watching him receive his Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. I wish him well on his career’s final year, and hope the teaching profession can employ more teachers like him. Thank you, Dr. Hotz, for an impressive 31-year run!

By Dr. Michael Hotz

As I begin the last of 31 years of teaching young people, I reflect on sustainability. Through the last 19 years in the Kansas City, Kan., Public School District, I’ve had the opportunity to create a school garden/outdoor classroom, conduct long-term watershed studies, create an aquaponic system where tilapia grow and greenhouse plants are nourished, and conduct energy audits to save more than $100,000 in utility costs.

Dr. Hotz and his wife, Catherine, at PIAEE award ceremony

Dr. Hotz and his wife, Catherine, at PIAEE award ceremony

It’s been a great experience, and I have an EPA employee to thank for, as she says, “planting the seed of ideas.” Roberta Vogel-Luetung sat with me as we brainstormed ideas over 15 years ago at an in-service meeting conducted by EPA. We discussed how an empty, unused courtyard at Wyandotte High School could be used for teaching environmental content. Since that meeting, the courtyard has been turned into a school garden and outdoor classroom with 20 raised beds, an automated sprinkler system, all-weather walkways, flower gardens, a water feature, and composting facilities.

Students were challenged and stepped up to the task of designing, building, and financing this area, which they also help plant and maintain. These students, as well as others, have reaped the fruits of their labors. Joanne Postawait has taken over the responsibility of planting and harvesting this area, while I continue to help with its hardscape maintenance.

School garden/outdoor classroom

School garden/outdoor classroom

The EPA video “After the Storm” inspired me to create a “challenge-based” learning experience for the Small Learning Community in which I teach at Wyandotte High School. Through collaboration with my fellow educators Ms. Hornberger (Math), Mr. Willard (English), and Mr. Zak (Engineering), we created a long-term project around Big Eleven Lake in Kansas City, Kan.

Each year, students study their watershed in my science classes. We bring the studies down to the local level of what the students can do themselves to help the watershed. They’ve been taught how to conduct water testing, and then go into the field and test Big Eleven Lake, Kaw Point (at the convergence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers), and other lakes in the area. Comparisons are made and reported to the Kansas Health Department. All of the curriculums are tied into this experience. Standardized test scores demonstrate that significant gains have been made because of this program.

I was also a member of the EPA Urban Lake Testing Group where EPA provided water testing techniques and equipment, and samples were sent to EPA laboratories for analysis. I was then able to train residents of the Big Eleven Lake area, who belong to the Struggler’s Hill/Roots Neighborhood Association, to do the water testing. These neighborhood association members were helpful in sharing their lives and experiences around the lake, and the EPA employees were just as helpful with the testing and field work.

Aquaponics system

Aquaponic system

We developed a pilot aquaponics program where tilapia are grown. The water from these tanks is sent to trays where plants are grown, establishing a symbiotic relationship between the fish and plants. Wastes from the tilapia nourish tomatoes, herbs, squash, and other plants in our greenhouse. This type of organic, non-polluting growing system is 10 times more efficient than traditional methods and saves water.

I initiated energy audits and plans to save on utility costs. Students use testing equipment to monitor lights, electricity, and temperature and then develop plans to reduce usage. More than $100,000 was saved in a single year. A recycling program also is in place, which is operated by our Environmental Club and is part of the Green Schools Program of the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education.

Aquaponic system

Aquaponic system

These programs helped me to be recognized as a proud winner of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE). EPA and its employees have been instrumental in the development and teaching of these programs.

I am honored that my former student and 2015 graduate, Karina Macias Leyva, wrote the following in her letter of recommendation for the award: “When Dr. Hotz teaches anything that is part of the environmental education field, even with the smallest projects, he inspires students to gain awareness of their environment and acquire knowledge, skills, values, experiences and also determination, which will enable students to act individually and collectively that will lead to solving present and future environmental problems.”

I’m currently working with Towson University, investigating how environmental education happens in and out of the classroom and what impacts student understanding and attitudes about the environment and environmental science.

As I plan for this final year of teaching, my major concern is sustaining these programs. I’m training and encouraging other teachers at Wyandotte High School to keep them going. Our environmental future depends upon the teaching of young minds here in the Heartland and across the nation.

I have enjoyed and am thankful for the relationships that have been made with EPA, and I look forward to working with all of you at EPA during this final year.

About the Introducer: Kathleen Fenton has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education grants, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

About the Author: Dr. Michael Hotz has been a teacher at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kan., for the past 19 years, as part of his 31-year teaching career. He was awarded the PIAEE in 2015.

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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Student Intern Looks to Make a Big Difference at EPA This Summer

Every summer, EPA brings in students to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread is proud to feature several blogs written by these summer interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. Our first blog is by Andrew Speckin, who is lending his skills in our Clean Water Program.

By Andrew Speckin

I’m moving into my junior year at the University of Kansas, pursuing a double major in accounting and information systems technology, which is simply a term to describe the use of analytics for business purposes. In today’s workplace, there is a new phenomenon called “Big Data.” It seems that every company or organization is using some form of Big Data, including EPA.

The Agency uses data in many areas: to compare water or air quality assessments from different time periods and regions, to spot trends in ever-changing river levels, to have a better understanding of the precursors that lead to flooding, to determine how temperature affects our ecosystem, and for countless other challenges.

There’s always room for improvement. Some of the projects I’m working on this summer involve updating and enhancing the data systems currently in place. Improving those systems will allow for better decision making and, in turn, better protection of our environment.

Working for EPA gives me the chance to help safeguard the environment in which I spent so much time growing up as a kid. Being outdoors started at an early age; my father signed me up for the Boy Scouts while I was in kindergarten. I stayed with the Scouts all the way up to my senior year of high school, and eventually was presented the Eagle Scout Award.

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Andrew’s 10-day campsite at Bartle Scout Reservation

During those 12 years, I was able to partake in many diverse outdoor adventures here in the Heartland, such as spelunking in Missouri caves, canoeing down small Missouri Rivers, and participating in a 10-day summer camp at the H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation. I also went white water rafting in Colorado. Going through Boy Scouts gave me a perspective on how truly complex our ecosystem is, and an understanding that the environment needs to be protected for the health of future generations.

One of the lessons I learned in Boy Scouts was to leave the campground in a better condition than which I found it. If everyone followed that rule in the environment, EPA would have less work to do. Sadly, that is not the case. There’s a lot of work to be done and I’m ready to get started, while hopefully making a difference in the fight to conserve our precious resources.

About the Author: Andrew Speckin is working as a Student Intern this summer at EPA Region 7. One of his main goals in life is to shoot under 100 on 18 holes of golf. Knowing Andrew, we’re sure he’ll achieve that goal, among many others in his life.

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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Home Energy Audits are Easy and Worth Your Time

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator

I had a great visit recently with a couple of eager young energy consultants sent by my electric utility, and I’m feeling rather good about the results. I learned that all in all, my 2,500-square-foot colonial home is reasonably energy efficient. And I learned that I can invest just $1,000 to make improvements that will more than pay me back in three years.

Since EPA New England is encouraging residents across the region to take advantage of home energy audits, I asked my utility, National Grid, to audit my house. I wanted to find out first-hand what happens in these audits, which, by the way, are often offered for free.

Even though I am the regional administrator at EPA’s New England office, my experience was pretty much what any homeowner could expect – if you ignore the two suited, but very polite executives that trailed me and the consulting engineers eagerly checking on everything from my boiler, insulation and wiring to my refrigerators, stoves and windows.

The entire visit was actually quite fun, but then, I love this kind of stuff. And in just two to three hours I found out that the areas where I thought I was doing well with energy efficiency were not always that great. I learned that my 93-year-old four-bedroom colonial could use a bit more insulation, and that it hosts an attic fan that turns on when it shouldn’t. I was also surprised to hear that the high-priced, energy-efficient air conditioner I so proudly purchased was installed wrong. The installers hadn’t connected the duct work correctly, so I’ve been cooling a 100-degree attic, in addition to our living space.

If I correct these issues, about 60 percent of the $2,500 cost of improvements will be paid for by tax credits and government subsidies, leaving me with just a $1,000 bill. Oh and, they also gave us 10 free LED light bulbs to replace less efficient ones.

Subsidies and programs already in place in New England put us ahead of the curve of national policy. The US Clean Power Plan, which EPA expects to finalize this summer, will require all states to draft a plan to help cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. EPA suggests states look at using less fossil fuel, using fossil fuel more efficiently, cutting back on demand and increasing the use of low emission, no–emission or renewable resources. Every state can tailor its own best plan based on their needs.

Each state has its own incentives, and many provide free audits. EPA also offers the ENERGY STAR Home Advisor, an online tool to help consumers save money and improve their homes’ energy efficiency through recommended home-improvement projects. Simple actions, like upgrading a bathroom showerhead, can save thousands of gallons of water a year, which translate to lower water and energy bills.

I asked for a utility audit because I wanted to take part in a program EPA encourages. I wanted to see what is was like to have a home energy audit. It was so satisfying I felt compelled to wander over to neighbors, utility folks trailing behind me, and share with them the lessons I had learned from my audit. I know the improvements I make may only be a tiny difference in the nation’s emissions, but if each of us makes a few recommended changes, it quickly adds up to a big deal.

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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NEXUS-FLEXUS: Exploring the Intersection of Big Challenges and Innovative Solutions

By Alan Hecht

Illustration of interlocking rings of food, water, and energy.The world today faces a host of daunting and inter-related challenges which collectively impact us in an equally diverse set of ways: thwarting economic growth, threatening public health and social wellbeing, and undermining existing environmental protection efforts.

For example, as a result of climate change we face more frequent extreme weather events, extended droughts, and increased health risks due to deteriorating urban air quality. Other dynamic problems include burgeoning urban communities, aging water infrastructure, land loss and ecosystem decline due to sprawl, and projected increased demands for energy, water, and food. It is estimated that by 2030, population growth and consumption together will spark the need for 40% more fresh water, 50% more energy, and 35% more food worldwide.

I recently blogged about such “mega trends” and how colleagues and partners from within EPA and beyond are embracing sustainable development to meet these urgent challenges. Administrator Gina McCarthy in her short dialog of issues for 2015 noted that “envisioning and responding to future problems is a critical need” that Agency science and public dialog could fulfill.

That is why I’m thrilled to be representing EPA at a public webinar organized by the Security and Sustainability Forum on Mega Trends and Food-Energy-Water Nexus on July 30, from 1:25 pm to 2:45 pm (EDT). Joining me will be Dr. Steven Cohen, Executive Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and Robert Engelman, Senior Fellow and former President of the Worldwatch Institute.

The webinar will explore emerging trends and the challenges and opportunities in meeting food, water and energy goals in developed and developing nations on a changing planet. Discussions will focus on the innovations in science and technology needed to improve the practices of farmers, engineers, resource managers, and policy-makers to meet human needs in a far more sustainable manner.

Together, we will explore several important and interrelated concepts:

  • Food-water-energy-land nexus which emphasizes the need for a systems approach to problem solving.
  • Resilience which emphasizes the capacity for complex, adaptive systems (e.g., cities, companies) to survive, adapt, and flourish in the face of turbulent change from extreme weather events and other potential disruptions as a key to stemming the impact of emerging mega trends. Resilience is now a prerequisite for achieving sustainable outcomes.
  • Achieving Sustainability which describes outcomes that respond to mega trends, adopting a nexus and systems approach, and building a resilient response. We must go beyond the traditional risk paradigm that has driven much of our environmental protection actions over the past decades and instead adopt a systems approach that accounts for the combined economic, social, and environmental impacts. We must make decisions that recognize the linkages (nexus) of air-water-land use and social wellbeing.

Please join me and my fellow panelists as we discuss these important concepts and how innovation and public dialog can offer solutions to today’s daunting mega trends.

Sign up for the webinar on the Security and Sustainability Forum website: www.ssfonline.org.

About the Author: Alan Hecht is the Director for Sustainable Development in 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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Clean Water for Everyone!

by Matt Colip

EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin with staff and volunteers from Environment Maryland showing their support of the Clean Water Rule at the National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD.

EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin with staff and volunteers from Environment Maryland showing their support of the Clean Water Rule at the National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD.

Last Tuesday, I woke up to a screaming alarm clock and the aroma of brewed coffee…yes, it was a typical weekday morning for me. However, today, rather than jumping on my bike to go to work downtown, I was traveling to Baltimore, Maryland with EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin for an event to raise public awareness about the Clean Water Rule (CWR).

Working for EPA, which partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop the CWR, I already knew the rule’s purpose: to make sure that waters protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA) are more precisely defined. Clearly defining our nation’s protected waters is not only a benefit for regulators, it also helps businesses and industry understand their role under the CWA.

With the sunlit water of the Chesapeake Bay as the backdrop for this event, each of the speakers spoke passionately about the need for clean water and how the CWR protects the water they rely on.  It wasn’t until this moment that I fully understood what the CWR means to so many different groups. In addition to EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin, the event featured speakers from such varied groups as Environment Maryland, Baltimore Boating Center, Jailbreak Brewing Company, and the National Aquarium.

The benefits of the CWR add up quickly! For example, think about someone who travels to Baltimore to fish on the Chesapeake Bay from a chartered boat, and enjoys the catch-of-the-day with a cold beer from Jailbreak Brewing Company. That one person benefits from the CWR in four ways!

During the event, I began to count the ways I personally benefit from the rule.  My morning routine alone benefitted in several ways, and over the weekend, I thought of even more benefits: hiking by a protected surface water, using tap water to brush my teeth, brewing coffee, fishing, and turning on a light in my home (power plants need clean water for steam production in the electricity generation process).

How many ways do you benefit from the rule?  One hundred and seventeen million people nationwide benefit from the CWR safeguards for drinking water uses alone, and millions more benefit by having clean water for recreation (hiking, boating, fishing and more); household uses (showering, brushing teeth, and cooking); generating electricity; and meeting the many clean water needs of businesses.

Take a moment to find out more on the Clean Water Rule and leave a comment below to let us know how you benefit from clean water.

 

About the author: Matt Colip is a state and congressional liaison in the region’s Office of Communications and Government Relations. He previously worked in the region’s water programs, enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. In addition to SCUBA diving, Matt is an avid bicyclist and enjoys riding with friends and colleagues.

 

 

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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Shaping a More Sustainable and Socially Just Future

By Sue Briggum

Many U.S. companies take pride in being more “sustainable” by reducing environmental impacts and engaging constructively with the communities in which they operate and the customers they serve.  Corporate sustainability reporting is replete with examples of resource conservation efforts and sustained initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas footprints.  Non-governmental evaluative frameworks like the Global Reporting Initiative and CDP provide powerful templates for demonstrating environmental progress.

With regard to the social justice pillar of sustainability, however, we are only beginning to understand the potential for progress.

Considered from this perspective, EPA’s Draft EJ 2020 Action Agenda outlines a framework for a fairer and more sustainable future.  EPA characterizes the sustainable elements of its plan in terms of opportunity to use a community-based approach to make “a visible difference in environmentally overburdened, underserved, and economically distressed communities.”  Moreover, the EJ 2020 draft framework highlights a number of practical approaches to shaping more sustainable and socially just environmental programs.

EJSCREEN provides the data to make discussions about overburdened and underserved communities concrete and factual.  With data from this tool, it becomes much easier to see whether public or private efforts to improve the environment, provide jobs, or fund new amenities align with social justice or thwart it by giving more to those who already have a great deal.  The tool is powerful because instead of relying on assumptions and impressions, it simply relays the facts in formats that are easy to see.  For example, with EJSCREEN it will be easy to see whether a new educational grant program is benefiting communities which, because of income or language barriers, need that supplement, or whether lead paint removal funding is going to communities least able to do the work on their own.

Tools like EJSCREEN also inform EPA’s efforts to align regulatory programs with environmental justice goals by incorporating considerations of environmental justice into permit issuance.  When environmental justice is part of the permitting discussion rather than a consideration after the fact, the “rules of the road” are clearer for all parties.  EPA’s emphasis on constructive engagement and collaboration throughout its draft EJ 2020 framework forecasts an intent to make permitting engagement constructive and focused on problem-solving.  It’s far easier to re-route traffic, refine a monitoring program, or address operational concerns in project design and permitting than to do so as a contentious afterthought.  EPA’s facilitation of this kind of collaborative engagement can save all parties time and grief because community perspectives are known, considered, and addressed.  The process itself builds familiarity and, in time, trust.

The most basic building block for environmental justice is its incorporation within environmental programs as crafted, not just as implemented by permit.  In recent rules, EPA has employed the power of tools like EJSCREEN to understand and address geographic distributional effects.  Through its Environmental Justice Research Roadmap, there will be opportunities to address the more difficult issue of how to understand and address inequities that are population-based rather than place-based – for example, how environmental and social factors can contribute to health disparities.

Regulations and permits are only as good as the assurance that they are followed.  EPA’s continuing commitment to focus enforcement efforts in overburdened communities has long been applauded by the business community.  It’s a key means to assure a level playing field and consistent community protection.

Finally, the strength of the 2020 Action Agenda is that it is a Framework — a consistent approach across EPA programs and authorities.  If EPA engages across the agency, with the partners it identifies and in the open and communicative manner it embraces, 2020 should be replete with success stories from all stakeholders’ perspectives.

About the author: Sue Briggum is Vice President of State and Federal Public Policy, Waste Management, and a former member of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee providing advice to the EPA. Sue also co-chaired the NEJAC work group on EJ Screening, as well as served as a member of the Science Advisory Board’s (SAB) work group on EJ in Rulemaking.

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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Celebrating National Pollinator Week: Choose Native Plants

By Gayle Hubert

I discovered a few years ago that I’m a sixth generation resident of Platte County, Mo. I was living in a house unknowingly within five miles of where my third and second great-grandfathers are buried. It’s funny how we end up going back to our roots. My family’s roots grow best on our native land. So it is with my native plants.

As I was digging one day in my yard in Parkville, I marveled at the plant I was putting into the ground, back into the native Missouri soil it loves so well. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than putting these plants back home where they belong. My plants get their strength from the tan clays of the Midwest.

National Pollinator Week is June 15-21, and I felt compelled to write about one of my greatest passions: native plants. This week was designated to build awareness of the declining pollinator populations in the hope that we’ll begin to choose native plants for our landscapes, as one of many things we can do to help pollinators.

Why pollinators are important

Clockwise from lower right: Indian Pink, Wild Hairy Petunia, Caterpillar, American Beautyberry, Tiger Swallowtail on Purple Coneflower (center)

Clockwise from lower right: Indian Pink, Wild Hairy Petunia, Caterpillar, American Beautyberry, Tiger Swallowtail on Purple Coneflower (center)

Our choice of plants is even more important considering the connection they have to pollinators and to our food supply. Pollinators are responsible for one third of the food we eat, and for pollinating the plants that supply us with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients like antioxidants found in tea, fruit, and vegetables. Pollinators are also responsible for the meat and dairy we eat, because those animals eat the alfalfa, clover, and other plants pollinated by bees and other pollinators.

Many pollinator populations are declining, and one reason is that the number and variety of native plants they evolved with are declining too. Pollinators grow up with native plants, use them for food and shelter, and they often prefer only natives. Some non-native varieties are less hardy and have been genetically altered so much that bees and other pollinators can’t find the pollen because they no longer recognize the structure.

Not only do native plants provide nutrients and homes to pollinators, they also help the environment by thriving without adding expensive fertilizers, chemicals, or sprinkler systems. I believe they are some of the hardiest living things on earth.

The advantages of going native

Gayle’s first native garden in its third year, with her son Nate

Gayle’s first native garden in its third year, with her son Nate

I’ve witnessed their amazing powers to return to full bloom after being mowed down by mistake, eaten by deer and rabbits, and dug up by dogs. They’ve withstood drought, killing frosts, subzero cold, and scorching heat. They wait patiently until floodwaters disappear and stand tall downstream of a raging current. They can be trampled, transplanted, pummeled by hail and still thrive in some of the driest, hardest, and most compact soils on this planet – the clay soil of the Heartland. Their strength is in their roots.

I started gardening with natives at our first home in a corner of the backyard that I had no idea what to do with. The plot sat for a couple of years until I attended an event at a local nursery, where I bought my first native flower seed that began my garden. I was hooked on natives from that day on.

Gayle’s current native garden

Gayle’s current native garden

I was in awe of every bloom because I’d never seen these plants before. Each one had its own unique character and beauty. And then, to my astonishment, came dozens of butterflies, along with hummingbirds, Goldfinches, Cedar Waxwings, Indigo Buntings, and many more winged visitors. Native plants will lure critters you never knew existed.

Ten years later, we moved to a new home that was a challenge because of the strict covenants and neighbors’ preferences to manicured green lawns. However, I wanted to share my knowledge and designed my native flower beds in areas where the grass doesn’t grow. I even incorporated non-natives into the scheme.

It’s been 12 years since I installed that garden. To my amazement, I still get plenty of compliments about my native garden from passers-by. I‘m constantly adding and moving things around, but isn’t that what gardening is all about?

Create your own natural, native garden

I encourage you to incorporate a few native plant species into your own landscape. You can delight in the same wonderful blooms, joy, and diversity these plants have given me, and at the same time, give the pollinators the plants they grew up with. And if you don’t own land, you can still grow them in pots and give them to friends and family to place in their landscapes.

There are many native plant varieties that substitute nicely for the familiar non-natives we see every day, and will offer more value to you and the ecosystem. For example, Serviceberry or Dogwoods will swap for the Bradford Pears, and besides spring blooms, they display additional fall color and are less susceptible to ice damage. Golden Currant can replace your Forsythia, with thousands of yellow blooms and a wonderful clove fragrance! Not only that, it blooms in March when little else does.

Tuck a few new native plants here and there among existing non-natives, like I’ve done. You can use prepared garden designs or design your own hummingbird garden, Monarch waystation, or pollinator garden. Have fun with it!

Choose a native plant as a substitute for a non-native. They’re good for pollinators, the environment, and your wallet!

Helpful links:

About the Author: Gayle Hubert serves as an Environmental Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Air and Waste Management Division. She is currently assigned to the Waste Enforcement and Materials Management Program. Gayle received her bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Missouri.

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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Bike to Work 2015: Pedaling Toward Sustainability

By Lek Kadeli

One of the best aspects of my job as the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development is when I get to serve as a “science ambassador” representing the innovative work that our scientists and engineers do to protect the environment and public health. Requests from across the country and around the world roll in constantly asking for us to share our results.

For me, meeting those requests can mean long plane trips, a day or two spent sharing presentations inside nondescript conference rooms, followed by long flights home. Sometimes, I end up spending more time in the air than I do sharing our science. But the miles traveled and the time away from home melt away when I see how EPA research is making a visible difference in local communities.

I made reference to the satisfaction I feel attending distant conferences when I was in Shkodra, Albania last year at an international gathering entitled Local Community Resilience for the Sustainable Development of River Basins in Southern Europe. I noted the Old Chinese proverb “A long journey starts with a single step” to open my talk. But it turns out that I could have tweaked that a bit to “A long journey starts with a single pedal stroke.” Last Friday was Bike to Work Day, and as I blogged about last year, I am a dedicated bike commuter. On this trip, I was in for a real treat!

Commuting by bike is great almost anywhere.

Commuting by bike is great almost anywhere.

Shkodra touts its reputation as the leading cycling city in Southeastern Europe. Its compact size, broad boulevards, and flat topography make it a natural for such distinction. Decades of communist rule that outlawed private car ownership fueled a proud tradition of self-reliant travel.

While I was at the conference I had the pleasure of meeting Entela Shkreli, the Executive Director of ‘Go2′ Albania, a nonprofit organization working to maintain that tradition in the face of a transitioning economy.  “My colleagues and I are working to incorporate bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure as a way to promote public health, advance sustainability, and help maintain resilient urban mobility in the face of floods or other disruptions,” Shkreli said. So far it’s working. Cycling and walking account for some 73% of trips in the city.

After the conference, I had the opportunity to hop on a borrowed bike and tour some of that infrastructure for myself. I spent a fabulous afternoon riding along spectacular urban scenery and cruising along the shores of Shkodra Lake. While along the banks of local rivers that flow into the lake I recognized some of the same “green infrastructure” features that our researchers are studying to improve stormwater management, reduce runoff pollution, and prevent local flooding.

There is no better way to get to know a place than from a bicycle. Outside, among the elements and under your own power, there is nothing to separate you from your surrounding environment.

And you don’t have to travel all the way to Albania to get the benefits of bicycling. As I blogged last year, I do it as much as I can to commute between my home in Virginia and EPA’s headquarters in downtown Washington, DC. May is National Bike Month, and I invite you to join me and many thousands of others who have started to incorporate cycling into their regular transportation options. Like me, you might find that a single revolution of the pedals is the start of a long, wonderful journey to a healthier, more fun commute.

About the Author:  When not traveling to share science or on some other official business, Lek Kadeli is a regular bike commuter. He 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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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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