Summary

A “sustainable society,” according to one definition, “is one that can persist over generations; one that is far-seeing enough, flexible enough, and wise enough not to undermine either its physical or its social system of support.”1 This definition is consistent with the intent of the statement in the National Environmental Protection Act of 1969 (NEPA): “To create and maintain conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony and that permit fulfilling social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations.” Sustainability issues occur at all scales from the global, such as the challenge of meeting the needs of a potential global population of 9 billion, to the national scale, to the regional and local scales.

In their efforts to ensure sufficient fresh water, food, energy, housing, health, and education while maintaining ecosystems and biodiversity for future generations, federal agencies discover that, for a variety of reasons, they are not well organized to address the crosscutting nature of sustainability challenges. Moreover, those crosscuts are often the crucial points where progress can be made, and generally involve agencies and organizations at levels other than federal. In some instances, it is difficult to get all stakeholders to the table, and challenges persist. In others, collaborative approaches of various kinds succeed in surmounting the challenges and making good progress toward important achievements. Two examples are useful in demonstrating these alternative outcomes.

In the 1990s many agencies and individuals in the Seattle area recognized that the ecological health of Puget Sound, its prospects for a continuing shellfish industry, and its attractiveness as a recreational resource were under threat. They came together to focus on that challenge and have modestly improved water quality and shellfish survival in Puget Sound. However, agencies making local land-use decisions affecting the Sound have declined to be involved, and progress in addressing Puget Sound’s problems continues to be impeded by runoff from poorly located land developments.

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1Meadows, D. H., D. L. Meadows, and J. Randers. 1992. Beyond the Limits. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.



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Summary A “sustainable society,” according to one definition, “is one that can per- sist over generations; one that is far-seeing enough, flexible enough, and wise enough not to undermine either its physical or its social system of support.”1 This definition is consistent with the intent of the statement in the National En- vironmental Protection Act of 1969 (NEPA): “To create and maintain conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony and that permit fulfilling social, economic, and other requirements of present and future genera- tions.” Sustainability issues occur at all scales from the global, such as the chal- lenge of meeting the needs of a potential global population of 9 billion, to the national scale, to the regional and local scales. In their efforts to ensure sufficient fresh water, food, energy, housing, health, and education while maintaining ecosystems and biodiversity for future generations, federal agencies discover that, for a variety of reasons, they are not well organized to address the crosscutting nature of sustainability challenges. Moreover, those crosscuts are often the crucial points where progress can be made, and generally involve agencies and organizations at levels other than fed- eral. In some instances, it is difficult to get all stakeholders to the table, and challenges persist. In others, collaborative approaches of various kinds succeed in surmounting the challenges and making good progress toward important achievements. Two examples are useful in demonstrating these alternative out- comes. In the 1990s many agencies and individuals in the Seattle area recognized that the ecological health of Puget Sound, its prospects for a continuing shellfish industry, and its attractiveness as a recreational resource were under threat. They came together to focus on that challenge and have modestly improved water quality and shellfish survival in Puget Sound. However, agencies making local land-use decisions affecting the Sound have declined to be involved, and pro- gress in addressing Puget Sound’s problems continues to be impeded by runoff from poorly located land developments. 1 Meadows, D. H., D. L. Meadows, and J. Randers. 1992. Beyond the Limits. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing. 1

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2 Sustainability for the Nation: Resource Connections & Governance Linkages Also in the 1990s, concerns were raised about the maintenance of endan- gered species, energy generation, agriculture, and recreation in the central Platte River of Nebraska. After considerable discussion, agencies of the federal gov- ernment, three states, power providers, water managers, and others came togeth- er to create a shared vision and to establish responsibility for sustainable man- agement of the central Platte River. This shared vision has led to improved environments for endangered species, better collaborative water management, and more stable hydropower production. Why did these two situations challenge established governance systems? Why did one approach succeed, but not the other? The answer to these questions relates to systems thinking and to the challenges that arise when traditional ap- proaches to governance meet the need for systems thinking. The legendary ecol- ogist John Muir wrote in 1911 that “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”2 His perceptive statement applies to water, land, wildlife, and other aspects of the natural world, as well as to the interactions that link humans and nature. Many decades later, it has be- come increasingly obvious that the statement is also relevant to resource gov- ernance. To explore how such sustainability challenges might be better addressed, a committee with a wide range of expertise and experience in government, aca- demia, and business was convened by the National Research Council (NRC) to provide guidance on issues related to sustainability linkages in the federal gov- ernment. This report is the result of the committee’s investigations and delibera- tions. The committee was charged to produce a report with consensus findings that provides an analytical framework for decision making related to linkages of sustainability. This framework can be used by U.S. policy makers and regulators to assess the consequences, tradeoffs, and synergies of policy issues involving a systems approach to long-term sustainability and decisions on sustainability- oriented programs. The framework is to include social, economic and environ- mental domains of sustainability, highlighting certain dimensions that are some- times left unaccounted for in cross-media analyses. The committee was also asked to:  identify impediments to interdisciplinary, cross-media federal programs;  recommend priority areas for interagency cooperation on specific sus- tainability challenges; and  highlight scientific research gaps as they relate to these interdiscipli- nary, cross-media approaches to sustainability. To address this statement of task, the committee convened a series of fact- finding meetings, commissioned expert-authored examples, and reviewed the pertinent literature, as discussed below in more detail. 2 Muir, J. 1911. My First Summer in the Sierra. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

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Summary 3 RESOURCE CONNECTIONS AND GOVERNANCE LINKAGES This report focuses on government efforts but is grounded in systems thinking, incorporating social, economic, and environmental considerations; for clarity’s sake, it uses distinct terms for the connections across social-ecological systems and governance linkages that are needed for successful management of connected systems. For example, managing water resources sustainably means considering not just water quality and quantity, but also its connection to air quality, land use that may involve food and energy production or urban devel- opment, drinking water security, electricity from hydropower, fisheries, recrea- tion, and impacts on human health.3 Governing for sustainability requires bring- ing the right complement of people to the table, acknowledging the linkages across societal and governance institutions. Thus, managing water resources would require enabling and facilitating effective linkages among dozens of fed- eral, state, local and sometimes international institutions and organizations. Governance by its traditional nature (and often by statute) is compartmentalized, but maximizing one variable at a time is a path to suboptimal results. Better re- sults are likely to be achieved by managing the connections and optimizing gov- ernance linkages. The systems that must be considered in addressing sustainability challeng- es are referred to in this report as social-ecological systems. These complex sys- tems include the natural resource domains (air, fresh water, coastal oceans, land, forests, soil, etc.), built environments (urban infrastructure such as drinking wa- ter and wastewater systems, transportation systems, energy systems), and the social aspects of complex human systems (public health, economic prosperity, and the like). Figure S-1 provides a graphical depiction of the challenge, where key re- source domains, including water, land, energy, and nonrenewable resources, are shown as squares, and areas that require these resources (industry, agriculture, nature, and domestic) are depicted as ovals. Human health and well-being inter- acts with all of these. It is common that scientists and decision makers specialize in one of these topics and are relatively unaware of the important constraints that may occur as a result of inherent connections with other topics. As the diagram demonstrates, a near-complete connection exists between all of these domains, even though tradition and specialization encourage a focus on only one part of these highly interconnected systems.4 3 The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Environ- mental Strategy refers to this as “integrated water resources management.” See OECD. 2012. Review of the Implementation of the OECD Environmental Strategy for the First Decade of the 21st Century: Making Green Growth Deliver. Meeting of the Environment Policy Committee (EPOC) at Ministerial Level, March 29-30, 2012. Online. Available at http://www.oecd.org/env/50032165.pdf. Accessed February 13, 2013. 4 Graedel, T. E., and E. van der Voet. 2010. Linkages of sustainability: An introduc- tion. Pp. 1-10 in Linkages of Sustainability, T. E. Graedel and E. van der Voet, eds. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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4 Sustainability for the Nation: Resource Connections & Governance Linkages FIGURE S-1 The links among the needs for and limits of sustainability. SOURCE: Graedel, T. E., and E. van der Voet, 2010, adapted from Figure 1.2 The links among the needs for and limits of sustainability. Reprinted with permission from the MIT Press. While it may be challenging to address connections across natural and human system domains, successful governance requires it. Ignoring connections raises the risks of unintended consequences from policy actions and can result in ineffective and inefficient outcomes. Sustainable management of connected sys- tems calls for governance that effectively links across domains, as well as across geographic and temporal scales. DECISION FRAMEWORK Effective governance for sustainability requires strong organizational in- teraction and collaboration. A number of impediments or barriers frustrate fed- eral government efforts to create linkages to address sustainability issues. These include legal limitations in the form of structural or vertical fragmentation of authority; funding mechanisms that favor short-term, single-agency initiatives rather than longer-term cross-agency projects; a lack of access to or coordination of such foundational elements as research and information/data; and the culture of government. There are very few institutional bridges, practices, or processes that incentivize building and sustaining the necessary linkages. The difficulties of creating or forging such ties were evident in many of the committee’s fact- finding examples, as were the ways in which such impediments or barriers could be overcome. Because many sustainability issues cross agency boundaries and require long-term investment, these situations create challenges to effective gov- ernment response.

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Summary 5 However, steps can be taken to reduce these barriers and create structures and incentives for greater collaboration where it is needed or beneficial, as well as to engage relevant decision makers and experts to develop and implement solutions. The optimum approach to doing so is to follow a structured decision framework that reflects relevant connections, identifies those in charge and those affected, and surveys what can be done to integrate the needs and respon- sibilities of all. Figure S-2 presents a graphic representation of the decision framework recommended by the committee. The purpose of this framework is to lay out a structured but flexible process from problem formulation through achievement of measureable outcomes, a process that engages agencies and stakeholders in goal-setting, planning, knowledge building, implementation, assessment, and decision adjustments. It is designed to be used in addressing place-based sustainability challenges as well as in policy formulation and rule- making. The framework incorporates an iterative (or incremental) process that can yield solutions to a wide range of issues that vary in scope, characteristics, and time. The framework is depicted in four phases: (1) preparation and planning; (2) design and implementation; (3) evaluation and adaptation; and (4) long-term outcomes. It is meant to apply to the creation of a sustainability program and projects. A brief description of each of the framework phases is given below, and detailed information about each of the phases can be found in Chapter 4. Phase 1: Preparation and Planning. This phase has three major steps that need to occur prior to the actual program or project design: (1) frame the problem (determine baseline conditions, key drivers, metrics, and goals based on these metrics); (2) identify and enlist partners; and (3) develop a project man- agement plan. This important phase and its associated steps are often overlooked or done in an incomplete or piecemeal fashion. Phase 2: Design and Implementation. This phase has three main steps, including: (1) define goals; (2) design action plan; and (3) implement plan. Phase 3: Evaluation and Adaptation. This phase focuses on realizing short-term outcomes, assessing outcomes, and adjusting actions. Outcomes are assessed and evaluated relative to the baseline conditions established in Phase 1. Phase 4: Long-Term Outcomes. Long-term outcomes are on the scale of several years or more and should closely track the goals identified in the first phase. While performance is assessed and adjustments continue to be made dur- ing this phase, as in the previous one, a point is reached where a formal assess- ment is needed. Using outcome measures developed under Phase 2, at this stage evaluations are conducted to see if short- and long-term outcomes are meeting goals. Ideally, this evaluation should be able to be compared to the baseline evaluation finalized in Phase 2. Based on this evaluation, necessary changes to the team, goals, outcomes and measures, management plans, design, implemen- tation, or maintenance are made.

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6 FIGURE S-2 The committee’s proposed decision framework.

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Summary 7 When well executed, this framework process will enhance legitimacy, en- courage systems thinking and the relevance of government actions, and may also result in streamlined and more efficient governance. An additional benefit is that the experiences and lessons learned in applying this process are fed back to the participating organizations and individuals, improving both future efforts and, potentially, government efficiency. PRIORITY DOMAINS AND ISSUE AREAS The committee was charged with prioritizing sustainability issues that pre- sent significant connections among resource domains and across economic, so- cial, and environmental dimensions. Using several criteria, the committee has identified priority issues below that would benefit from the processes envisioned by the decision framework. The criteria include issues that are nationally im- portant, require interdisciplinary data and analysis, involve multiple intercon- nected resource domains, would benefit from greater coordination, have the po- tential to leverage nongovernmental knowledge and resources, and would result in positive returns on investment. Opportunities to better identify and address sustainability linkages are extensive.5 The committee applied the selection crite- ria to highlight several significant issue clusters below.  Connections among energy, food, and water: The availability and abundance of affordable supplies of energy, food, and water are vital to sustain- ing healthy populations and economic prosperity.  Diverse and healthy ecosystems: Ecosystems and their components and functions provide “services” to human communities—for example, in terms of water supplies and quality, coastal storm buffers, productive fisheries, polli- nation, air pollution absorption, and soil quality along with many extractive and other uses of resources.  Enhancing resilience of communities to extreme events: There is a significant need to assess infrastructure and community vulnerabilities to natural and human-caused disasters and to develop more coordinated strategies for ad- dressing them.  Human health and well-being: Clean air and water, nutritious food, regular physical activity, and protection from toxic exposures and injuries are among the requirements for human health and well-being; each of these is af- fected by sustainability initiatives. 5 A 1999 NRC report identifies eight priority areas needing greater attention and coor- dinated efforts to enhance sustainable outcomes that meet economic, social, and envi- ronmental goals. NRC. 1999. Our Common Journey. Washington, DC: National Acade- mies Press.

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8 Sustainability for the Nation: Resource Connections & Governance Linkages FINDINGS Through its review of the literature, fact-finding examples (Box S-1), and expert judgment, the committee has arrived at the following findings: Sustainability issues inherently involve connections among environ- mental, economic, and social issues, making them extraordinarily difficult to address on their own terms (Chapter 1). Connections among these realms can vary by scope, scale, and time. The federal government is generally not organized or operated to deal with this complexity (Chapter 2). Agencies have distinct missions, for the most part focusing on one arena (e.g., health, energy, environment), with pro- grams addressing one exigency (e.g., natural disaster, statute), in one domain (e.g., air, water, land use), and one time frame (e.g., dictated in statute, term of office). Although the complexity of sustainability issues typically exceeds the scope of any single agency, there are structural and cultural impediments to agencies’ working together. The paucity of cross-government mechanisms to facilitate sustainability constitutes a barrier. The pejorative, but nevertheless accurate, description for this fragmentation of authority is the stovepipe or silo effect: Each agency focuses on implementing its own statutory mandate.6 Collaboration, network governance, and other forms of multiauthority ini- tiatives are more effective and have greater durability when supported by some form of legal status that comes from legislation, executive orders, etc. With or without such legal status, however, there are models of collaborative net- works and shared governance that transcend organizational and resource boundaries (Chapter 3). Such efforts are often the product of individuals who are not given incentives to do so, but who believe in an issue and have found ways to work that are not disallowed. In other cases, success results from action taken by leadership in the absence of definitive responsibility. Some successes result from modest efforts, while others are a product of comprehensive chang- es. Either staff or leadership can initiate a process leading to success; however, both ultimately need to be involved. Success on sustainability issues in the federal government depends upon several key factors: engaging stakeholders throughout the process; including and integrating environmental, economic, and social dimensions; using a strong science base and processes that link science and decision making; and reaching stakeholder agreement on the nature of important connections (Chapter 4). 6 Kettl, D. F. 2002. The Transformation of Governance: Public Administration for Twenty-first Century America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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Summary 9 BOX S-1 Summary of Fact-Finding Examples Philadelphia, an older city of 1.5 million people, is one of the poorest large cities in the nation, with deteriorating infrastructure that needs to be replaced to meet federal standards. Sustainability was a major issue in a recent mayoral election and the city has since adopted Greenworks Philadelphia, a plan to make the city more sustainable by 2015. Innovative initiatives such as converting vacant city lots into parks and the Green Stormwater Initiative have expanded the physical green footprint of the city while reducing crime and stress among residents. Phoenix, a rapidly growing and ethnically diverse desert city, faces a unique combina- tion of sustainability challenges, including water scarcity, poor urban air quality, signifi- cant loss of biodiversity, increasing demands on energy resources, and urban heat island effects on public health. A plan released by then-Mayor Phil Gordon in 2009 calls for Phoenix to become the country’s first carbon-neutral city, and it has strong linkages to state and national groups, local communities, and corporations to help achieve this goal; however, the mayor’s office has only one person focused on sus- tainability, with no designated budget authority, and its desert locale means that the region lacks key natural resources such as water. The Platte River plays a key role in providing electricity and irrigation to residents of Nebraska, Wyoming, and Colorado; however, these uses have diminished the water supply in the central Platte River, a critical habitat for four endangered species. A co- operative agreement between the states and the federal government has established a shared vision and responsibility for managing the central portion of the river to pro- tect these endangered species, while allowing for power generation and irrigation on the upper portions. The Mojave Desert is a fragile ecosystem that has experienced much development over the past few years, from solar- and wind-energy development to tracts of land used for mining, agriculture, housing, and military training, but tension exists between active uses of the land and a desire to preserve species habitat. Numerous agencies and organizations oversee land in the region and have various uses for it, making it imperative that government agencies cooperate to protect the desert’s resources while managing public use and supporting agency missions. The Great Lakes of North America, the largest body of fresh water on the planet, have played a critical role historically, environmentally, economically, and culturally. Yet the Great Lakes Basin is administratively challenging, spanning the U.S. and Canada and containing numerous states, provinces, native peoples, and local governments. Se- vere water quality problems, past and present, have led to many agreements at multi- ple scales, and regional governance institutions, such as the International Joint Com- mission (IJC), have arisen to combat challenges faced by the Great Lakes Basin. The Pacific Northwest contains multiple environmentally sensitive regions that have required responses across several governance levels. The Columbia River has nu- merous federal dams providing hydroelectricity to the region, but this has severely impacted the ability of salmon to reach their traditional spawning grounds, requiring local, state, and federal governments to work together to optimize the river’s capacity to meet varying demands. Because urbanization in the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan region has taken a toll on the Puget Sound, the State of Washington created a new agency, the Puget Sound Partnership, to environmentally protect and restore the Sound and partner with other agencies such as the U.S. EPA to help achieve this goal.

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10 Sustainability for the Nation: Resource Connections & Governance Linkages Sustainability management, when effectively implemented, creates greater value, minimizes unintended consequences, and ultimately im- proves the efficiency of government activities (Chapters 1 and 4). Indeed, it is likely that applying a sustainability decision framework and coordinating the work of multiple agencies and the public and private sectors will result in better outcomes while conserving resources and effort. RECOMMENDATIONS To address these findings, the committee makes several recommendations to guide federal agencies in effectively addressing sustainability issues. Federal agencies should adopt or adapt the decision framework de- scribed above (and developed in greater detail in Chapter 4). Special atten- tion should be paid to 1) incorporating adaptive management7 approaches, 2) engaging all stakeholders, including state and local governments and nongov- ernmental organizations (NGOs), through iterative processes to the extent possi- ble, and 3) communicating both objectives and progress toward those objectives throughout the process to all concerned. To maximize the potential for success, several additional elements must also be in place. Perhaps most important is to build sustainability into the fabric of an agency or organization: in its mission statement, its goals and objectives, and its organizational and management struc- ture. Also very important are structuring sustainability decision making on long time frames and assessing ways to maximize benefits in all sustainability solu- tions and approaches. A National Sustainability Policy should be developed that will provide clear guidance to the executive agencies on addressing governance linkages on complex sustainability problems and inform national policy on sustaina- bility (Chapter 5). A process should be established for developing this policy, as well as a strategy for implementing it. All stakeholders, including the private sector and NGOs, should be provided an opportunity for contributing to this process. Once the policy is in place, agencies should develop specific plans to define how they expect to implement the policy. In implementing the National Sustainability Policy, consideration should be given to the creation of open and transparent oversight involving the public, state legislatures, Congress, and the President. 7 The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) describes adaptive management “as a systemat- ic approach for improving natural resource management, with an emphasis on learning about management outcomes and incorporating what is learned into ongoing manage- ment. Adaptive management can be viewed as a special case of structured decision mak- ing, which deals with an important subset of decision problems for which recurrent deci- sions are needed and uncertainty about management impacts is high.” USGS. 2012. Adaptive Management. Online. Available at http://www.usgs.gov/sdc/adaptive_mgmt. html. Accessed January 26, 2012.

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Summary 11 Agencies should support innovations in efforts to address sustainabil- ity issues by identifying key administrative, programmatic, funding, and other barriers and by developing ways to reduce these barriers (see Chap- ter 2). Agencies need not await structural overhauls to strengthen their capacity to address sustainability issues. Agencies can begin by preparing a high-level systems map illustrating key connections and linkages, which can then be de- ployed widely across federal agencies to encourage policy coordination for any sustainability-related program or project. Agencies should legitimize and reward the activities of individuals who engage in initiatives that “cross silos” in the interest of sustainability, both at the staff and leadership level (Chapter 5). Among other things, agen- cies should develop personnel performance measures that emphasize collabora- tion and the design and implementation of interagency, integrated approaches to addressing sustainability issues. Agencies should nurture “change agents” both in the field and at regional and national offices, an effort that may include revi- sions to managers’ performance plans, rewards, and training as well as better alignment of policy tools to support collaboration. Similarly, agencies should encourage and enable cross-agency management and funding of linked sustaina- bility activities. In some cases, statutory authority to cross silos as well as to develop cross-agency funding on integrated cross-domain issues may be re- quired. Agencies should support long-term, interdisciplinary research under- pinning sustainability (Chapter 5). Among other things, the committee rec- ommends funding robust research to provide the scientific basis for sustainabil- ity decision making. Sustainability challenges play out over long time scales; therefore, agencies should invest in long-term research projects on time scales of decades to provide the necessary fundamental scientific understanding of sus- tainability. An example of such a long-term research program is the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Long-Term Ecological Research Program (LTER). Moreover, successfully meeting sustainability challenges requires that agencies support additional interdisciplinary, cross-program research, such as NSF’s Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability Program (SEES). Although the impact of sustainability on human well-being is critically im- portant, scientific information on this relationship is woefully inadequate and incomplete and needs to be strengthened at major health funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The committee also recommends a systematic analysis of network and governance models and adaptive decision making efforts to identify common issues and challenges. Federal agencies that support scientific research should be incentiv- ized to collaborate on sustained, cross-agency research (Chapter 5). Sustain- ability should be supported by a broader spectrum of federal agencies, and addi- tional federal partners should become engaged in science for sustainability. Federal agencies should collaborate in designing and implementing cross- agency research portfolios to better leverage funding.

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12 Sustainability for the Nation: Resource Connections & Governance Linkages It will also be critical to develop training for leadership and staff that in- cludes both scientific and management aspects of sustainability issues and that addresses the system and agency linkages needed to achieve sustainability out- comes. Similar training should be incorporated into entry-level programs such as the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program and into senior-level training such as the Senior Executive Service (SES) program.