Consensus Report

Sustainability Concepts in Decision-Making: Tools and Approaches for the US Environmental Protection Agency (2014)


Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Population growth, climate change, and greater consumption of natural resources are just a few of the challenges the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) faces in pursuing its mission to protect human health and the environment. The agency has increasingly embraced the use of sustainability tools and approaches for considering the potential social, environmental, and economic effects of agency decisions and actions. This report identifies successful applications of sustainability tools through case studies from EPA and elsewhere and in public-private collaborations. The report concludes that EPA has many opportunities to further apply sustainability tools and approaches across the spectrum of its activities, and it should do so as rapidly as is practicable. Given new environmental challenges and other factors, EPA should use concepts of sustainability to strengthen a systems-thinking approach, which, in EPA's words, involves a comprehensive understanding of the potential consequences of human intervention, such as how actions taken by industry and consumers affect the environment, how efforts to protect the environment impact industry and consumers, or how impacts on one system can affect others and the larger whole. EPA also should consider the entire life cycle of a process along the value chain--from the extraction of raw materials to the post-consumer fate of a product--to identify potential environmental, social, and economic impacts that may not be revealed by focusing on individual sources of pollution.

View an archived video of a webinar held about this report in November 2014, and download the accompanying slides.