- freely available
Sustainability 2014, 6(1), 306-318; https://doi.org/10.3390/su6010306
2. Program History
3. Program Goals and Objectives
4. Program Design
5. Data and Tools to Support Sustainable Community Decisions
- The statistical classification of U.S. communities will be used to guide development of decision and assessment tools that can address widely-shared sustainability issues. It will also inform transferability of tools to specific types of communities. The initial classification will be based on characteristics related to biophysical setting (e.g., climate, landform, soils, vegetation), community attributes (local governance, sustainability practices), demographic attributes (e.g., size, growth/decline, density, distribution) and ecosystem service characteristics. The classification will be updated over time to incorporate new data and relevant findings.
- The EnviroAtlas, a national Geographic Information System (GIS) atlas of sustainability-related parameters, will provide communities across the country with a suite of accessible, interactive maps showing indicators of production, demand and drivers of ecosystem services [18,19]. Categories of ecosystem services include: clean water for drinking; clean water for recreation and aquatic habitats; adequate water supply; food, fuel, and fiber; recreation, cultural and aesthetic amenities; contributions to climate stability; protection from hazardous weather; habitat and the maintenance of biodiversity; and clean air. A growing number of selected cities will have finer scale information with even more metrics.
- An index of human well-being [20,21,22] that would be applicable across spatial scales (national, regional, state, city, community, neighborhood) and temporal scales (intergenerational) is being developed by SHC. This index is comprised of information describing eight dimensions (health, safety and security, living standards, education, connection to nature, social cohesion, leisure time, and spiritual and cultural fulfillment) with each dimension having multiple indicators represented by multiple specific metrics. The index is being constructed to provide communities with a tool to assess the effects of decision options on the well-being of their residents, as well as those in adjacent and even distant communities. Obviously, development of these types of indicators and indices are challenging and often dependent of the specific value systems of individual communities or sensitive population groups (e.g., children, tribes, socio-economic entitie
6. Forecasting and Assessing Ecological and Community Health
- Children’s health research will contribute to EPA risk assessments, guidance documents and policies that protect overall children’s health by providing metrics for age-specific chemical and non-chemical exposure and health impacts. In addition, work will examine children’s health in a holistic way, looking at a wide variety of factors (e.g., children’s play, psycho-social issues, their surrounding built and natural environments) and how they may interact with chemical and non-chemical exposures to impact children’s health and health disparities [23,24].
- A central scientific problem limiting the clear understanding and consistent linkage of ecosystem changes to human health and well-being is having a metric with which to compare functions across different geographic settings—e.g., an acre of wetland in one location will not contain the same kinds and amounts of natural functions as an acre of wetland elsewhere. For EGS classification, SHC will develop standardized metrics for ecosystem goods and services; thus, significantly enhancing evaluation of how policy choices affect human health and well-being conditions. In addition, it will allow “trading” of ecosystem service credits, informing more commensurate mitigation of ecosystem damages through a consistent quantification of services that were lost.
- SHC researchers are developing production functions for many U.S. ecosystem services and benefits, that is, a characterization of the kind and amount of services and benefits a given unit of each ecosystem will produce. This is being accomplished by developing protocols for estimating the value of ecosystem services, including methods for quantifying the uncertainty associated with these estimates, understanding how scale affects estimates, and assessing the transferability of results from one area to other areas. These production functions are being catalogued and will be easily accessible to EPA, other agencies, NGOs, and anyone interested in considering ecosystem service trade-offs associated with changes in environmental conditions or decision alternatives.
- SHC is developing user-friendly web-based tools to help communities assess whether disproportionate health impacts or environmental exposures exist and, if so, to develop risk mitigation strategies that advance environmental justice. With this type of process and substance assistance (e.g., defining objectives, creating partnership databases, ranking risks and developing mitigation options), communities can better locate the source of the problems and improve conditions for everyone.
7. Implementing Near-Term Approaches for Sustainable Solutions
- SHC research will improve biological, chemical and geophysical procedures to assess chemicals in sediments [27,28,29,30,31], as well as to better predict chemical concentrations in fish, shellfish, and birds (i.e., aquatic dependent wildlife) from exposure to contaminated sediments. These will allow communities to measure and document the effectiveness of sediment rem
- Beneficial reuse research will provide data and tools to help optimize the recovery of energy from wastes and the beneficial reuse of wastes [32,33], thereby identifying opportunities to further reduce the volume of waste disposed, conserve natural materials and reduce net costs while protecting the natural environment in an economically and technically sound manner.
- When reactive nitrogen is released to the environment it creates a cascade of harmful effects that includes eutrophication of aquatic ecosystems, toxic algal blooms , hypoxia or “dead zones” [35,36,37], acid rain, nitrogen saturation of forests, contributions to global warming, and human health effects due to contamination of drinking water and air pollution . SHC nitrogen research is part of an agency-wide effort. This work will synthesize existing and new analyses about the sources of nitrogen, its distribution in air, land and water, and its impacts on valuable ecosystem services , then it will identify strategic and efficient options to reduce the most damaging effects of reactive nitrogen while maintaining the benefits of nitrogen u
8. Integrated Solutions for Sustainable Outcomes
9. Summary and Conclusions
Conflicts of Interest
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