At the request of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) conducted and recently released its report “Sustainability and the U.S. EPA.” If nothing else, the request reflected the breadth of interpretations of the term “sustainability” and the fashionability of this buzzword.
EPA requested that the report address four main questions:
- What should be the operational framework for sustainability for the EPA?
- How can the EPA decision-making process, rooted in the risk assessment/risk management paradigm, be integrated into this new sustainability framework?
- What scientific and analytical tools are needed to support the framework?
- What expertise is needed to support the framework?
In response, the report makes overarching recommendations that the EPA consider:
- Implementing specific processes for incorporating sustainability into EPA’s actions and decisions, including upfront consideration of sustainability and analyses that cover the three sustainability pillars—social, environmental and economic;
- Setting three to five year sustainability implementation objectives and publicly reporting the progress of these objectives;
- Expressly including “health” in the social pillar so that staff and stakeholders in the area of human health recognize their involvement in EPA’s sustainability effort;
- Developing a “sustainability toolbox” that will enable the Agency to analyze the social, environmental and economic consequences of alternate decisions;
- Including risk assessment in sustainability decision making;
- Creating a new culture of sustainability among EPA employees; and
- Hiring outside multidisciplinary professionals experienced in sustainability.
It remains to be seen what, if any, beneficial results will come from this effort.