sustainability

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circleCompetition can bring out the best in people or the worst in people. Anyone who’s been watching the World Series or following football this season knows what I mean.

But when it comes to competing for sustainability, everybody wins! Read about the student teams selected to compete for this year’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) Awards and more in the research highlighted this week.

  • EPA Announces Winning P3 Student Teams
    Since 2004, the P3 Program has provided funding to student teams in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, committing over $10 million to cutting-edge, sustainable projects designed by university students. Read more.
  • EPA Supporting Next Generation of Environmental Scientists Through 105 Fellowship Grants
    EPA announced that 105 graduate students across the nation will receive $8.6 million in Science to Achieve Results fellowship grants to conduct research on topics ranging from climate change and public health to water quality and sustainability that will have cross-cutting impacts in the environmental science field. Read more.
  • Turning Back Time: Repairing Water Infrastructure
    The estimated costs of fixing old, leaky, and cracked pipes through the traditional methods could cost water utilities in excess of $1 trillion dollars over the next 20 years. Innovative, lower cost technologies that could provide alternatives would have enormous impact, but how do utilities know where to turn before they make investments in long-term solutions? Read more.
  • Sustainability and Resilience: Making the Connection
    EPA’s Alan Hecht, Ph.D. offers a new, forward thinking definition of resilience for communities, companies, and others to consider and strive for in the paper Resilience: Navigating toward a Sustainable Future. EPA is looking at research tools and approaches that address and advance community resilience and climate adaptation. Read more.
  • Green Infrastructure Research
    Check out the latest issue of our newsletter EPA Science Matters Newsletter: Green Infrastructure Research and join EPA researchers on October 29 from 2:00-3:00pm ET on twitter to talk about green infrastructure! Questions should be sent to the hashtag #EnvSciChat.

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team 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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Sustainability and Resilience: Making the Connection

By Alan Hecht, Ph.D. Resilience

When most people consider “resilience,” they think about bouncing back from some sort of unwelcome catastrophe. Whether it’s “super storms” devastating coastal communities and disrupting millions of people along the east coast, wildfires in the mountain and western states, or natural disasters and related, human-caused emergencies such as the tsunami and Fukushima meltdown, recent events have magnified the importance of being prepared to ride out hard times.

For many, that has meant storing caches of nonperishable food, water supplies, and plenty of extra batteries. An emergency plan and meeting spot for all family members is also a great idea. But what is the best way to define resiliency for society as a whole? Can we incorporate actions into plans that not only make our communities more resilient to future catastrophes, but make us more prosperous and healthy now?

My colleagues and I at EPA have been exploring ongoing research to consider resiliency in a broader context, linking it with programs that help us and our partners identify challenges and advance a more sustainable future.

In January of 2013 EPA in cooperation with the National Science Foundation, the National Council for Science and Environment, and Dow Chemical hosted a workshop on resilience and sustainability. Papers from this workshop are now highlighted in a special issue of the Solutions Journal.

What's the best way to define resiliency?

What’s the best way to define resiliency?

In a featured paper in this issue: Resilience: Navigating toward a Sustainable Future, we share what we have learned and offer a new, forward thinking definition of resilience for communities, companies, and others to consider and strive for: “the capacity for a system to survive, adapt, and flourish in the face of turbulent change and uncertainty.” Along with my co-authors Joseph Fiksel (who also served as the journal’s guest editor) and Iris Goodman, we explore a variety of solutions for strengthening both resilience and sustainability in urban communities and industrial enterprises.

We are not alone. The concept of resilience and its relationship to sustainability is now attracting a great deal of attention:

  • EPA is looking at research tools and approaches that address and advance community resilience and climate adaptation.
  • Policy makers, business executives, and community leaders are incorporating resilience into their planning operations.
  • Major companies are systematically strengthening the resilience of their global supply chains.
  • A network of urban planners, architects, designers, engineers, and landscape architects are developing creative and practical strategies to increase the resilience of cities.

These and many other leading organizations are taking steps today to prepare for the next “super storm” threatening their operations, while helping us find ways to achieve a sustainable future for us all. Read more about how leading government, non-government and business organizations are working toward a sustainable future in the face of climate change and global urbanization: Resilience: Navigating toward a Sustainable Future.

About the Author: A leader in sustainability research, Alan Hecht, Ph.D. 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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Usability Testing, the Report on the Environment, and My Time at EPA

By Taylor Katz

As a student of Environmental Health at George Washington University, I was excited to be asked to contribute to the Agency’s Report on the Environment (ROE). The Report is a compilation of information on the best available indicators of national conditions and trends in air, water, land, human heath, ecological systems, and sustainability.

What makes the 2014 edition so unique from past versions, is that the 2014 Report on the Environment is entirely online. Through interactive graphs, maps, and charts, the website presents trends and measurements of physical and biological conditions within clearly defined geographic areas. Focal points are the Report’s six theme areas: Air, Water, Land, Human Exposure and Health, Ecological Condition, and Sustainability. It’s a hotspot for all things environmental and ecological health related.

EPA's Report on the Environment presents interactive maps and other graphics.

EPA’s Report on the Environment presents interactive maps and other graphics.

Because the Report can be a valuable resource for scientists, decisions-makers, and the public, the team that produced it wanted to ensure that users can find the exact information they want, when they need it. That’s where I come in.

I was asked to help improve the Report on the Environment website by conducting usability tests with EPA employees. To do this, we created two tests—one focused on the site’s indicators, and the other on navigating the site.

Five EPA employees participated in each test, and we gave each eight tasks to perform. For example, task one was: “your supervisor has assigned you to put together some information for a report about mercury. To start, you want to know the mercury levels in the U.S. population. Where would you look for this information?” As participants verbally communicated how they navigated through the site, we observed which tasks participants commonly struggled to complete. We recorded the results of each participant, which will ultimately help the team ensure the website is the best it can be.

Looking back on my summer, usability testing gave me more than just knowledge regarding the Report on the Environment. By meeting different EPA employees from different backgrounds, I gained an appreciation for the fact that everyone at the Agency has a core value of improving the environment and human health.

Working here allowed me to better understand the ins and outs of what really goes on at the EPA. I was able to familiarize myself with different offices, while also witnessing the real life applications of information that I study in textbooks and attend lectures on. This work helped me realize that regardless of one’s research or specialization, it takes the whole organization to produce a great product.

About the Author: Taylor Katz is currently a student at George Washington University and was a summer intern at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.

 

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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EPA In Your Community (Pedal Away!)

By Brendan Corazzin
Region 7’s EJ Grants Coordinator

While biking may be an excellent way to exercise, it can also serve as a viable and inexpensive form of transportation that has many environmental and health benefits. Joe Edgell tells us it is easier than you think. Let me tell you about one of EPA’s Environmental Justice Small Grant awardees and the work they are doing in St. Louis to address the inequitable distribution of biking infrastructure in the city.

Example of a shared traffic lane. This picture was taken in Arlington, Virginia. Image by Brendan Corazzin.

Example of a shared traffic lane. This picture was taken in Arlington, Virginia. Image by Brendan Corazzin.

Often times, transportation is an overlooked environmental justice issue. It is not uncommon for low-income households to lack access to a personal vehicle and many low-income urban neighborhoods have poor access to public transportation. Entire communities are cut off from valuable public services and amenities. Lack of transportation means a lack of access to fresh foods, a lack of access to medical facilities, and poor access to jobs. In St. Louis, Missouri, a small non-profit organization, Trailnet, is working to reverse this trend by promoting bicycling as a viable mode of transit.

St. Louis Rain Garden Stop

During a bike ride with Trailnet staff and project partners, we stopped at a rain garden at 14th and Clinton Street in the Old North Neighborhood of St. Louis. Image by Brendan Corazzin.

In 2013, Trailnet, Inc. was awarded an EJ Small Grant to work with low-income neighborhoods across St. Louis on bicycle planning and advocacy. Historically, planning activities related to bicycle infrastructure have left out low-income and minority communities. As a result, the existing infrastructure does not serve the needs of these communities. Through a series of educational activities, planning workshops, and community events, Trailnet will encourage bicycling as a mode of transportation and bring community members to the table so they can be involved in the planning process. This past May, I was in St. Louis to visit with Trailnet regarding their project. Rather than driving a car from Kansas City to St. Louis, I decided to use alternative modes of transportation starting with a bike ride from my home in midtown Kansas City to the train station downtown. After a 5 hour train ride, I arrived in St. Louis at the downtown train station and over the next two days I experienced St. Louis’ biking infrastructure first hand.

I will admit, my experience lead me to the conclusion that St. Louis and Kansas City (where I live) have pretty similar biking infrastructure…which is less than impressive. Don’t get me wrong, both cities have invested quite a bit in bicycle planning and both cities support bicycling, but they’re still early in the process. Getting around the downtown area, where most of my activities were, was fairly easy. There are a few dedicated bike lanes in downtown and few more “shared traffic lanes”. A shared lane is really just a regular traffic lane with a bicycle emblem painted on it, alerting drives to the possibility that there may be a cyclist in the lane. I also rode in west St. Louis and on the south side of town, where again there were a few dedicated bike lanes and some shared traffic lanes. In North St. Louis, however, travel was a bit more difficult because there are only shared traffic lanes.

Scheomehl Pots

“Schoemehl Pots” are frequently found at the intersections of neighborhood streets in St. Louis. The pots were originally installed to divert traffic from residential streets and could be reused to improve biking routes. Image by Brendan Corazzin.

North St. Louis is predominately African American and low-income. This is where one could witness the historical presence of environmental injustice in transportation planning. While other parts of town are accessible by bike lanes and downtown has its fantastic bicycle station, a public bicycle storage and maintenance facility, North St. Louis is left with only shared traffic lanes. This problem is compounded by the fact that beginner riders typically lack the skill and confidence to ride in traffic. As a result, you have a community where bicycling could serve as a viable form of personal transportation – taking people to work, the grocery store, school, or church – yet ridership remains low. Admittedly, there are many reasons for low ridership, but better infrastructure is an important part of increasing bike usage and our grant to Trailnet will help!

By working with residents, city staff, and elected officials, Trailnet hopes to break down the barriers that are preventing the community from utilizing bicycles as a cheap, efficient, effective and safe means of getting around St. Louis. By bringing community members to the table, Trailnet has been able to gather important information about community needs and wants. This input will inform transportation planning in St. Louis and help shape a future that supports bicycling by establishing safe, low stress routes that connect points of interest important to the community. Environmental Justice is all about supporting communities so that they can use their voice and knowledge to create positive changes and improve their environment. The Environmental Justice Small Grants Program has a long history of supporting communities in their fight to improve their environment. To learn more about environmental justice and EPA’s EJ grant programs, check out EPA’s website.

This map was used during a public meeting in North St. Louis. Residents were asked to identify points of interest, streets they bike or walk on, and streets that they would bike on if conditions were more inviting. Image by Brendan Corazzin.

This map was used during a public meeting in North St. Louis. Residents were asked to identify points of interest, streets they bike or walk on, and streets that they would bike on if conditions were more inviting. Image by Brendan Corazzin.

Brendan Corazzin works in the Environmental Justice Program at EPA’s Region 7 office. He serves as the regional EJ grants coordinator. He lives in Kansas City’s Volker neighborhood and prefers to leave his car at home. He is an avid supporter of alternative transportation including walking, biking, and riding to work in a vanpool.

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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Cobbler Cure – Doctor’s Orders

By Thomas O’Donnell It might seem odd to get excited over apple or strawberry cobbler, but this batch touched a special chord. I work in EPA’s Philadelphia office on sustainability and food waste issues. I’ve been trying to find new ways to avoid throwing good food into landfills as part of the agency’s Food Recovery Challenge. The National Resources Defense Council reported that fruits and vegetables make up the largest type of food going to waste from retail stores, 22 percent, in fact. That could easily be more than 14 million pounds of fresh fruit in Philadelphia alone.

Picture of two chefs working in the kitchen

I brought one of the challenge participants, the produce team from Brown’s Parkside Shop-Rite supermarket in Philadelphia, together with Drexel University’s Culinary School. The school’s culinary director and a student were anxious to help and try something new. The school’s mantra in situations where food is heading out the back door is to transform it into healthy, delicious meals. After we got to the store and talked about food recovery options, the folks from Shop-Rite took us to the produce section where they pulled some fruit that had minor imperfections that shoppers were not likely to purchase. A couple of cartons of strawberries and apples went back to the culinary school where the students worked on the challenge of turning what might have been trash into treasure. The next morning, I had six recipes in my email inbox, with the pictures of the cobbler you see included in this blog. (The Shop-Rite folks were the lucky ones who got to enjoy this special treat.)

Picture of a cobbler in a pan.

It’s just cobbler, right? True, but Drexel and Shop-Rite launched a successful experiment in food research that took slightly bruised or not perfectly shaped fruit that was destined for a compost pile, or a trash compactor and transformed it into delicious cobblers. They also created half-a-dozen recipes for things like applesauce and jam. How many times could this be done by someone who wants to make fresh meals for local food pantries or shelters? Could this be a new opportunity for a local business? The experiment has social and environmental benefits – great food for those in need and less food-waste sent to landfills where it becomes methane, a powerful greenhouse gas linked to climate change. Fruits and vegetables are among the most difficult foods to repurpose to feeding needy people – a goal near the top of EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy. This small experiment showed how to create delicious alternatives to disposal, and it was quick and fun. Being part of this little experiment was a blast. And, be assured that we’re going to do more research. Stay tuned!

Cooked cobbler on a plate.

About the author: Thomas O’Donnell (NAHE) is a Sustainability Coordinator with the Mid-Atlantic Region of the USEPA specializing in the Food Recovery Challenge Program. He received a PhD in environmental sciences from the University of Virginia. Tom was one of the originators of the Urban Model for Surplus Food recovery, which is piloting in west Philadelphia. He also teaches at Philadelphia University while developing open, online courses on food systems and sustainability.

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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Waste not, save a lot

By Jennie Saxe

Most people think of wastewater treatment plants as the end of the pipe: it’s where the water from our sinks, showers, toilets, and sewers ends up. They’re viewed as the place we send liquid waste from our homes and businesses. It’s even right there in the name of the place: “waste.”

These pipes deliver digester gas and natural gas to the 8 microturbines which generate power for the treatment plant on-site.

These pipes deliver digester gas and natural gas to the 8 microturbines which generate power for the treatment plant on-site.

Believe me: the York Wastewater Treatment Plant doesn’t waste anything.

I had heard about the sustainable technologies that were being put into place at this treatment plant in York, Pennsylvania, and decided I had to make the trip to see for myself. General Manager Andy Jantzer led me and a small group of my colleagues on a tour of the treatment process from the head of the plant, through some repurposed aeration basins to aid in nutrient removal, past the clarifiers and sand filters, and all the way through to the treated, disinfected outfall to Codorus Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, which eventually drains to the Chesapeake Bay.

So far, things looked pretty standard: primary and secondary treatment, nutrient removal, and disinfection.

Then we got to the second part of the tour. That’s where we learned that there was some serious technology hiding out in a repurposed building on the site. Only the small gas conditioning units outside might have tipped you off that inside there are 8 sophisticated microturbines – which sound much like jet engines – 3 of which are powered by gas from the facility’s anaerobic digesters and 5 of which are natural gas-powered. These allow the facility to generate nearly 7,000kW on site. Without the microturbines, the plant would be wasting methane (a greenhouse gas) from its digesters and purchasing all of its electricity from the grid. EPA’s Net Zero Energy team promotes technologies like this to help water and wastewater treatment plants become more energy efficient, and potentially “net zero” energy consumers.

Ammonia and phosphorus are recovered from the treatment plant’s digester centrate to create this pelletized fertilizer.

Ammonia and phosphorus are recovered from the treatment plant’s digester centrate to create this pelletized fertilizer.

What about the centrate (liquid waste) from the digesters? Most plants recycle that back to the head of the plant, which requires not only more energy for pumping, but also additional chemicals for treatment. Not here! The digester centrate comes to the former sludge incinerator building where a special process removes phosphorus and ammonia and creates a long-lasting, slow-release, pelletized fertilizer that is being used in agriculture, on golf courses, and in other applications.

See what I mean? Nothing is wasted. By recovering resources like phosphorus and energy from wastewater, this treatment plant has joined a new breed of facilities that are extracting beneficial products from what most people consider waste. The dedicated management and staff at the York Wastewater Treatment Plant are making a difference to the communities that they serve. Pursuing sustainable technologies like the ones that York has adopted not only solve problems for today, but for tomorrow, as well.

Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. When not in the office, Jennie enjoys spending time tending to a vegetable garden.

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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Earth Day Festivities…Waterfowl, Stream Impairment & Smokey The Bear…Oh My!

By Amber Tucker

Earth Day was last month but since we like to tout that every day is Earth Day here at EPA, I am safe in posting this now.  We also love it when the “official” Earth Day rolls around.  Each year on April 22nd, people across the globe participate in various events and activities to raise awareness and promote the environmental movement.  2014 marks the 44th Earth Day Observance.

Prior to the first Earth Day in 1970, there was no EPA, no Clean Air Act, no Clean Water Act. There were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment.  It was legal and even common for black plumes of toxins to fill the sky, and tons of hazardous waste to be dumped directly into waterways.  These practices had gone on for so long, that finally the detrimental effects on environmental resources could no longer go unnoticed, and concerned citizens felt compelled to take action to protect their environment. In spring 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day as a way to force this issue onto the national agenda. Twenty million Americans demonstrated in different U.S. cities, and their efforts paid off tremendously!  In December 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

earthday

In response to the expanding public demand for cleaner air, water, and land, President Richard Nixon and Congress established the U.S. EPA.  EPA was tasked with the challenging goal of repairing the damage already done to the environment and to establish guidelines to help Americans in making a cleaner and safer environment a reality.

Fast forward 44 years to today…from its 20 million strong 1970 roots, more than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world, according to the Earth Day Network (http://www.earthday.org).  On a local scale, EPA is fortunate to be able to participate in local community events each year.

julia

Julia helping out with the Impaired Waterways activity

The Sac & Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska held their 2014 annual Earth Day event on Tuesday, April 22nd at their community building in Reserve, KS.  The Sac & Fox Environmental Department has hosted this event for several years in an effort to actively engage children of various ages in learning about the environment.  They have worked closely with and invited outside agencies to participate in this important event.

On Tuesday April 22nd, approximately 90 children ranging from 1st through 3rd grades came to the Sac & Fox community building to celebrate Earth Day.  Three staff members from EPA Region 7, Julia Cacho, Heather Duncan, and Amber Tucker, were privileged to be able to attend and take part in these festivities.  The Sac & Fox Environmental Department secured presenters on a variety of environmental topics such as surface water quality, air quality, Brownfields, recycling, Squaw Creek Waterfowl, and the water cycle.  Environmental Department staff also developed program specific presentations to showcase the Sac and Fox Nation Environmental Department and its functions. All of the attendees were able to soak up some Vitamin D out on the lawn during lunch, where lunch was served (in recyclable brown boxes). The day was topped off by crafts activities and a very welcomed appearance from Smokey the Bear.  Smokey was a big hit, and took pictures with the children, which were printed and incorporated into one of the crafts for the children to take home.  At the end of the day, 90 happy kiddos and several tired presenters were evidence of a successful Earth Day event!

Smokey

Julia, Heather, Smokey & Amber

For additional information about Earth Day, please visit http://www.epa.gov/earthday/index.html.

Amber Tucker is an Environmental Scientist who serves as a NEPA reviewer for EPA Region 7.  She is a graduate of Haskell University and serves as Region 7′s Special Emphasis Program Manager for Native American Employment Programs.

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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Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Environmental Justice: Majora Carter on Creative Leadership

By Sherrell Dorsey  

Untitled-3

Click to watch video

I had the privilege of interviewing Majora Carter—the TED Talk sensation whose Greening the Ghetto presentation catapulted her work in environmental equity into global recognition and made even the most apathetic to green living consider the consequences of climate and community neglect. Carter’s public narrative and highly visible media persona represents only a small sample of how she is self-actualizing leadership in the work towards building sustainable communities one day at a time.

Charting her own path, she has set aside the proverbial soapbox for innovative entrepreneurship in environmentalism while meeting the challenges facing under-resourced communities today. She founded Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx) in 2001, to do just that. SSBx played a major role in training local young residents to clean up massive areas of abandoned open space and transform it into the South Bronx Greenway, which has significantly increased the recreational space, expanded the waterfront access, and improved transportation safety in the South Bronx.

However, during this time she started to see the integral connection between the environmental injustices in the Untitled-1community, and the lack of sustainable jobs that help avoid unwanted pollution in the community. That’s why her new agenda is an endeavor that establishes a framework for financial literacy and entrepreneurship within the Hunts Point community. Carter has her sights set on eliminating the “digital divide” by dipping into the burgeoning technology sector with her new project, StartUp Box #SouthBronx.

The growing gap between the poor and rich in society has been evidenced by the digital divide—a concept that refers to a portion of the population who do not have access to computers or the internet.  Without access to technology, entire communities are left behind. Increasingly, computer literacy and the internet have become pathways for higher education, employment and entrepreneurship.

In the Bronx, where the median income is $34,300 (compared to $57,000 for NY State), less than 40 percent of residents have access to broadband internet. As the technology sector begins to grow, both the internet and mobile technologies provide economic development opportunities for those with the 21st century digital skills needed for the jobs that are coming.

Untitled-3With the launch of StartUp Box, Carter plans to leverage the new technology and education project to tap underutilized talents in inner cities. To do this, they have partnered with New York City-area computer games industry leaders to train local youth for quality assurance testing service jobs. This is an excellent way to train young people in jobs that will be relevant well into the 21st century, by providing them with exposure to a range of software development skills without advanced math or computer sciences education requirements.

Not only does this provide jobs to youth in areas where there may be few opportunities, but it also attracts software services businesses and other high tech investors by creating a local workforce with world-class tech, design, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship education.

Carter has established a rubric formula for creating sustainable impact that serves as a model for current and future leaders in social entrepreneurship seeking to scale their solutions to meet the needs of the communities they work in. Although she has accomplished so much to advance environmental justice, equity, and opportunity across the country, she says her work is just beginning. “We look at what is out there and not try to level the playing field. We have to get people on the field. Forget about leveling. They’re still in the parking lot. They’ve got no ticket to get into the stadium.”

Sherrell Dorsey is a writer, social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social and economic equity in underserved communities. Recently, Sherrell was awarded a Zoom Fellowship in public policy and serves in the office of Mayor Bill Finch in the City of Bridgeport where she leads the implementation of indoor air quality programs across the school district and coordinates the city’s green jobs task force. She contributes frequently to Inhabitat.com and Triple Pundit.

 

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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Community Resiliency Supports Community Sustainability

By Gregory Sayles, Ph.D.

The three pillars of sustainability

Figure 1. The three pillars of sustainability

Whether it’s the residents of lower Manhattan recovering from flooding and power outages in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, entire municipalities evacuated from areas surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, or California’s farming communities adapting to long-term drought conditions, everyone’s talking about “resiliency”—what it takes to bounce back once a community has been impacted by a natural or human-made disaster.

Reducing environmental risks and restoring environmental services are essential components of resilience.

Last week, nearly five dozen scientists, program managers and community liaisons from across EPA gathered for a two-day workshop to parse through scientific and policy definitions of “resiliency” and examine the critical factors that support community resiliency. The group then brainstormed ways to create indicators and an index that communities might use to evaluate their vulnerabilities to disaster, their capacity to bounce back, and the resources they need to prepare for future disasters.

Our discussions taught us that resilience is built on many community functions and qualities, most of them interdependent.  Brian Pickard, of EPA’s Water Security Division highlighted how community drinking water systems are inter-connected to energy supplies and health delivery systems.  If a tornado, flood or hurricane knocks out electricity, drinking water pumping stations crash and critical care facilities such as hospitals need back-up supplies to continue operating.  Hospitals and emergency rooms must have access to emergency water supplies to manage the casualties and injuries that often result following a disaster.

Strengthening community resiliency means becoming better prepared for the next disaster.

How are resilience and sustainability inextricably related?  Sustainability strives to balance three pillars—economic, social, and environmental—in equilibrium (see figure 1).  Disaster disrupts that equilibrium, and with it the path toward sustainability. Resiliency is building in the capability to restore this balance following a disaster.

According to EPA sustainability researchers Alan Hecht and Joseph Fiksel, “sustainability is the capacity for: human health and well-being, economic vitality and prosperity, and environmental resource abundance” while, “resilience is the capacity to: overcome unexpected problems, adapt to change, and prepare for and survive catastrophes.”

Workshop participants agreed to continue developing a discrete set of indicators that can be used to measure community environmental resiliency and present them at a follow-up workshop in July. Our long-term goal is to deliver a Community Environmental Resilience Index to communities, EPA, and other federal partners. The index will help local and national stakeholders assess and improve resiliency and guide planning for disasters.

EPA’s homeland security research program is excited to be working with partners from across the Agency to help communities understand and shape their own resilience.

About the Author: Gregory Sayles, Ph.D. is the Acting Director of EPA’s Homeland Security research program.

 

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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Design for the Environment Teams up with Business Leaders

It’s always exciting and encouraging to see companies across the country recognize the benefits of sustainability goals and expand the availability of products with improved environmental characteristics. At the 2014 Walmart Sustainable Product Expo, dozens of leaders and thousands of attendees came together with non-governmental organizations and EPA representatives to learn about sustainability initiatives, share information, and build a network for constructive collaboration and leadership. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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