Sustainable Materials Management: At Your Fingertips

By Mike Nye, Ph.D.

Piles of colorful plastic compressed for recycling

MWiz is an interactive web application that connects communities to EPA Materials Management tools and resources.

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Those three simple tenants capture a whole world of improving our environment. But, of course, there are a host of often complex, far-reaching decisions to be made in moving those three steps into practice. What are the best ways to handle each step?  Where can individuals, businesses, communities, and States turn to find the answers?

For decades, EPA researchers and their colleagues have explored those questions to find answers and develop best practices. Together, they have been so successful that it can be a daunting challenge to hone that information for any particular need.

That is, until now.

Today, I’m thrilled to announce the release of the beta version of EPA’s Materials Management Wizard web application (or “M-Wiz,” for short)—that puts that wealth of knowledge at your fingertips in a guided, easy-to-use format you can tailor to your specific needs and goals.

From an individual homeowner looking for tips on composting to site managers needing to handle tons of construction and demolition materials, users can use M-Wiz to find just the information they need to make plans and take action. M-Wiz taps a rich repository of EPA-sourced tools and resources designed to support sustainable materials management decisions by communities, stakeholders, educators, and others.

Anyone who has ever spent a few hours with some of the popular tax return software that is now widely available will recognize the easy-to-use, guided format of M-Wiz. By first checking off a few boxes and then responding to questions about the type of information you seek, you are quickly presented with key information and resources to handle materials recovery and advance sustainability.

EPA developed M-Wiz as part of the Agency’s goal to make visible differences in improving communities across the nation.

I invite you to explore M-Wiz for yourself to see how EPA can help you and your community to take “reduce, reuse, and recycle” to a whole new level, right from your computer.

Take a look at: www.epa.gov/sustainability/mwiz.

About the Author: Michael Nye, Ph.D., is a social scientist who studies natural risk, socio-demographic change and sustainable behavior.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

EPA Science: Providing the Foundation for Environmental Justice

By Fred Hauchman and Andrew Geller

the cover of the EJ 2020 action agendaYesterday, the Agency released the EJ 2020 Action Agenda, outlining our strategic plan to advance environmental justice for the next five years and set a course for greatly reducing or eliminating environmental health disparities for generations to come. The overall vision is to bring the promise of a clean, healthy, and more sustainable environment to everyone in the country, no matter where they live, work, play, or learn.

The plan recognizes that while we have made great progress improving the quality of air, water, and land over the past 40-plus years, there are far too many people who still face serious impacts and risks from exposures to environmental pollutants. We know that the people most affected are disproportionately from economically disadvantaged and minority communities. That’s not acceptable. As EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has stated, “Everyone deserves to have their health protected from environmental exposures.”

As always, science is critical to making that health protection a reality. That’s why the EJ 2020 Action Agenda includes an explicit commitment by the Agency to conduct and support collaborative, community-based research. This approach is needed to not only better understand the complex, interrelated factors that lead to disproportionate environmental and related public health burdens, but to provide citizens with the information, data, and tools they need to fully participate in making the decisions that affect their communities and take action.

We will continue to develop and improve innovative decision support tools that help public health officials, citizen groups, researchers, and others identify and prioritize environmental concerns and assess cumulative impacts. This includes tools such as EnviroAtlas, the Community Cumulative Assessment Tool, and the recently released Community-Focused Exposure Risk and Screening Tool, (C-FERST).   It also includes EPA’s Tribal Science effort, recognizing EPA’s responsibilities to America’s indigenous peoples and our shared role in building the capacity for the sovereign tribes to construct environmental programs that serve their nations. This suite of resources provides robust online mapping and visualization capabilities, extensive databases, case studies, and customizable applications.

Our researchers work closely with EPA’s Regions, local communities and stakeholder groups to continually improve and upgrade these and other EPA tools and resources, hold workshops and seminars, and solicit feedback. Such community engagement is key. Frequent, two-way communication with our community partners helps teams identify the highest priorities early. Together we can tailor research strategies that in the end will deliver the information and decision support needed to make lasting, visible local impact.

Another area where science and research are providing the foundation for actions to address environmental justice concerns is through the development of innovative environmental monitoring tools. Our researchers are helping usher in a new generation of low-cost, portable environmental sensors—empowering communities to collect and monitor conditions in their air, water, and other environmental media.

As outlined in EJ 2020: “New technologies and sensors have the potential to supplement regulatory monitoring, provide information on operating processes to facility managers and inspectors, and enable community engagement in the measurement of local pollution through the use of affordable, easy-to-use analytical tools (citizen science).” This emphasizes that citizen science advances environmental protection by helping local communities understand local problems and collect quality data that can be used to advocate for or solve environmental and health issues.

We are committed to providing the science and engineering solutions needed to realize that potential.  It’s part of our strategy to ensure that the benefits of environmental protection reach every community across the country. That’s the promise of EPA research, and what every American deserves.

 

About the Authors: Fred Hauchman, Ph.D., is the Director of the Office of Science Policy, which is the lead organization for integrating, coordinating, and communicating scientific and technical information and advice across EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD), and between ORD and the agency’s programs, regions, and external parties.

 

Andrew Geller, Ph.D., is the Acting National Program Director for the Agency’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities (SHC) research program. SHC researchers are working to provide the knowledge, data, and tools local communities and others need to advance a more sustainable, healthy, and vibrant future. A major priority is delivering the research needed to support environmental justice.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Key Recommendations of National Academy of Sciences Report: Pathways to Urban Sustainability

By Alan Hecht

cover of the NAS report, a city seen from the skyA new National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Report, sponsored by EPA, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, offers a road map and recommendations to help U.S. cities work toward a more sustainable future. The report, Pathways to Urban Sustainability, defines urban sustainability as a “process by which measurable improvements on near and long term human well-being can be achieved through actions across environmental, economic and social dimensions.”

The publication is timely as EPA is planning future actions on urban and community sustainability and is about to release its Environmental Justice 2020 report.

The Report includes a framework for urban sustainability and draws on lessons learned from case studies of LA, NY, Vancouver, B.C., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chattanooga, Cedar Rapids, Grand Rapids and Flint, Michigan. Ten findings and recommendations are made including encouraging cities to develop sustainability plans that recognize the synergies among environmental, economic, and social policies and to take advantage of those synergies to advance system approaches to managment.  Cities are urged to develop metrics on social, health, environmental, and economic dimensions of sustainability.  The Report recommends that community members from across the economic, social, and institutional spectrum be included in identifying, designing, and implementing urban sustainability actions.

While the recommendations are directed specifically toward city leaders and planners, they are relevant to our current work here at EPA. A priority of our research is to advance sustainable and healthy communities: engaging local citizens, developing tools and approaches to support decision makers, identifying indicators and metrics, and advancing social equity and environmental justice.

Looking ahead, the Report makes one very important recommendation for dealing with the changing nature of problems today: “Urban leaders and planners should be cognizant of the rapid pace of factors working against sustainability and should prioritize sustainability initiatives with an appropriate sense of urgency to yield significant progress toward urban sustainability.”

This recommendation reaffirms remarks at the recent Smart Cities Council meeting in DC in September that “there is an urgency for cities to make critical decisions in the next 10 years in order to effective deal with all problems.” The same is true for EPA as we prepare our roadmap for the Agency’s 50th anniversary in 2020. Population growth, increase in extreme weather events and natural disasters, environmental and health impacts due to climate change, infrastructure decline, and land use changes are strongly impacting our economic, social, and environmental well-being. Today it is abundantly clear that we must be out front on issues and aim to build a resilient and sustainable society.

 

About the Author: Alan Hecht is Senior Sustainability Advisor in the Sustainable and Healthy Community Program.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

C-FERST: A New Tool to Help Communities Navigate Toward a Healthier, More Sustainable Future

By Aaron Ferster

The proliferation of smartphones and mapping applications has made navigation a lot easier than it used to be. Getting from point A to point B usually requires little more than plugging in a distant address and then following a calm, generic voice as it calls out turn-by-turn directions. You can adjust your route, call up pit stops for food or gas en route, or even find alternative destinations on the fly.

My colleagues here at EPA are working to bring that kind of convenience and ease of use to environmental decision making and protecting public health. I’m thrilled to share that they recently reached a major milestone in that direction with the release of the Community-Focused Exposure Risk and Screening Tool, or C-FERST for short (we pronounce it “see-first”).

screen shot of the tool. a satellite image of a neighborhood.

C-FERST helps you map your local community.

C-FERST is an online mapping tool that provides access to resources for helping communities and decision makers learn more about their local environmental issues, compare conditions in their community with their county and state averages, and explore exposure and risk reduction options. Local maps are a key component, helping users gain both a lay of the land and a perspective for plotting out how environmental conditions and sources of pollution might change from one neighborhood to the next. In addition, the rich tool includes reports, fact sheets, links to other environmental and public health tools, citizen science resources, information about other community projects, and structured guides to help communities plan their projects to assess public and environmental health conditions. There’s even a digital community forum where you can ask other users for help or participate in discussions.

C-FERST is intended to serve the needs of a broad range of users, including the general public, academic and nonprofit institutions, environmental and public health professionals, state and local risk assessors, and EPA staff, including environmental justice coordinators, and regional science liaisons.

Together, people can share a computer to assess local conditions, and plot mutually beneficial actions to reduce risks and advance a healthier, more sustainable future for their entire community.

If you have a computer and an internet connection, you can give C-FERST a try; no special software is required (although a high-speed internet connection and some familiarity with geographic information system mapping software is helpful).

Check out C-FERST at: www.epa.gov/c-ferst.

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is an EPA science writer and the communication lead for the Agency’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities national research program.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Hope: the Climate Message in Unexpected Places

By Melissa McCullough

I’ve been in the environmental protection business for a long time, and I’ve watched great progress, however slowly. Cleaner air and water. Action on the ozone hole. Acid Rain. International attention to persistent bioaccumulators.

But we all know how much is left to do. Hope is a driving force for those of us in this business, this cause, but it is sometimes maddeningly elusive. On no topic is this as true as for climate action. Sadly, humans, are better wired to pay attention to something with teeth moving at you at high speed. And as Upton Sinclair wisely said, “It is hard to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

So I was delighted recently to see an important message about climate change show up in something as unexpected as Vogue magazine.

Photograph of Mary Lubber

Photo Credit: Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin. To read Vogue’s 13 Formidable Women on the Front Line of Climate Change, click on “Climate Warriors” in the paragraph to the left of the image.

Being a comfortable-shoes type of person, I admit that my usual response to Vogue is “People actually WEAR this stuff?” But a recent newsletter from Ceres1, who’s executive director, Mindy Lubber was artfully caught (at right) by Vogue’s camera, brought this odd juxtaposition of Fashion Art and Climate Action to my attention.

The magazine presents the article “Climate Warriors,” which introduces readers to 13 women working to address the challenges of climate change. Each “climate warrior” is profiled through personal quotes highlighting their work and dedication to sustaining the planet.

I am excited about this article. First, it grabs an unexpected audience with iconic black and white portraits and the headline that there are “Formidable Women on the Front Line.” We need those non-traditional audiences; the proverbial “choir” can’t tackle climate change without broader action and support. And women can be powerful messengers when emotionally motivated. Second, the storytelling is both brief and compelling. These women’s stories are about their personal reactions, actions and impacts around climate—change from a young poet-activist from the disappearing Marshall Islands, to the co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change living with devastating droughts in Chad, to the hip-looking Rachel Kyte, vice president of the World Bank Group and special envoy for climate change. These 13 stories are powerful. They are diverse in viewpoint and the women’s strategic direction. They talk about how climate impacts have exacerbated realities of their lives, like terrorism, poverty, and struggling families. And they are all stories of women with hope for the fight and the outcome.

I encourage you to read these stories. Drink in the hope.

About the Author: Melissa McCullough is a Transdisciplinary Scientist in EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities research program. When challenged to describe her EPA career in six words she wrote: “Discovering sustainability, exploring applications everywhere possible.”

1. Ceres is a non-profit coalition of investors, companies and public interest groups advocating for sustainability leadership by business, to accelerate and expand the adoption of sustainability business practices.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Building Bridges: Environmental Justice

By Andrew Geller, Ph.D.

I know I’m not alone in that I’ve found my mind wandering a bit this week eagerly anticipating my plans for Thanksgiving festivities. Whether you are like me and will be travelling to visit family elsewhere, or rushing to get a big bird in the oven in time for hosting others, the best part of Thanksgiving is seeing friends and family.

And of course, catching up always includes talking about what we’ve been up to at work over the past year or so.

As an EPA scientist immersed in the broad, and sometimes hard-to-explain arena of research designed to advance sustainable and healthy communities, I find Thanksgiving a good opportunity to hone my science communication skills. Once I remember to drop the acronyms and jargon and engage my 90-plus-year-old father in a casual conversation about EPA research, I know I’ve done a good job.

Just this week, I got an assist from my local paper. The headline in the Durham Herald-Sun immediately grabbed my attention: “Community activists tackle ‘environmental justice’ issues in Durham.”

Providing data and scientific tools to advance environmental justice—ensuring that every community enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and has equal access to the decision-making processes it takes to have a healthy environment—is a top EPA priority.

As the article points out, moving environmental justice from a process to action depends on resources such as visualization tools that communities and other stakeholders can use to pinpoint how particular neighborhoods might be disproportionately impacted by proposed actions.

EnviroAtlas showing urban tree cover of Durham, NC.

EnviroAtlas showing urban tree cover of Durham, NC.

EPA’s researchers are delivering just those kinds of resources. For example, our EnviroAtlas is a web-based mapping tool built on a robust platform of more than 300 data sets that help users explore place-based environmental conditions and impacts. It is designed to help us all to see and make decisions about the many benefits we derive from natural ecosystems themselves and in relation to our built environment and the people who live in a community.  The Eco-Health Relationship Browser, part of EnviroAtlas, illustrates scientific evidence for linkages between human health and ecosystem services.

Users can use both of these resources, and others, to see how local conditions differ from surrounding areas, and to find potential solutions to existing challenges.

One place that has already made great progress is the Proctor Creek neighborhood in Atlanta. The city and local civic groups partnered with EPA’s Regional Office and Agency researchers to conduct a Health Impact Assessment, a systematic process to guide investigations on how to maximize the health and well-being benefits (or minimize the detrimental impacts) of a proposed action.

In the case of Proctor Creek, EPA researchers and the Region produced a Health Impact Assessment to help the community reduce flooding and the contamination associated with combined sewer overflows through the use of innovative techniques that increase or mimic the natural ability of ecosystems to absorb and cleanse storm water runoff, collectively known as “green infrastructure.”  This solution has the added benefit of adding shade and green space to sun-baked streets, increasing walkability and the attractiveness of the area to local businesses to raise the local economy.

Those are just a couple of examples that I can point to where EPA research is advancing environmental justice and making a visible difference in communities. I’m eager to share more here on the blog, and even with local reporters, in the near future. But first I have to pack for a trip to see the family.

About the Author: Dr. Andrew Geller is the Deputy National Program Director for EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities (SHC) research program and lead author on EPA’s Environmental Justice Research Roadmap.  Dr. Geller led SHC’s strategic planning effort to develop science and tools to help communities identify and reach sustainability goals.  Andrew can often be found riding a bike across the trails, fields, or roads of Durham NC and the surrounding area.

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.