Sustainability for the Nation: Resource Connection and Governance Linkages

Download the document (or purchase a hard copy for $46). An overview of the document appears in the current issue of Environmental Science & Technology.

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.” As the government sector works hard to ensure sufficient fresh water, food, energy, housing, health, and education for the nation without limiting resources for the future generations, it’s clear that there is no sufficient organization to deal with sustainability issues. Each federal agency appears to have a single mandate or a single area of expertise making it difficult to tackle issues such as managing the ecosystem. Key resource domains, which include water, land, energy, and nonrenewable resources, for example, are nearly-completely connected yet different agencies exist to address only one aspect of these domains.

The legendary ecologist 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.” Thus, in order for the nation to be successful in sustaining its resources, “linkages” will need to be built among federal, state, and local governments; nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); and the private sector. The National Research Council (NRC) was asked by several federal agencies, foundations, and the private sector to provide guidance to the federal government on issues related to sustainability linkages. The NRC assigned the task to as committee with a wide range of expertise in government, academia, and business. The committee held public fact-finding meetings to hear from agencies and stakeholder groups; examined sustainability management examples; conducted extensive literature reviews; and more to address the issue. Sustainability for the Nation: Resource Connection and Governance Linkages is the committee’s report on the issue.

The report includes insight into high-priority areas for governance linkages, the challenges of managing connected systems, impediments to successful government linkages, and more. The report also features examples of government linkages which include Adaptive Management on the Platte River, Philadelphia’s Green Stormwater Infrastructure, and Managing Land Use in the Mojave.

Meet The Russian Environmentalist Standing Up To Putin To Save The Country’s Ecosystem

Read the full story at Fast Company.

Suren Gazaryan tried to keep the Sochi Olympics from being an environmental disaster. After years battling the Russian government, he’s still fighting even though the rest of the world stopped paying attention.


Sustainability Research Networks Competition (SRN) 2014 Focus: Urban Sustainability

Applications due April 29, 2014. Access the full RFP at

The goal of the Sustainability Research Networks (SRN) competition is to bring together multidisciplinary teams of researchers, educators, managers, policymakers and other stakeholders to conduct collaborative research that addresses fundamental challenges in sustainability. The 2014 SRN competition will fund research networks with a focus on urban sustainability.

Proposals should identify an ambitious and nationally important theme in urban sustainability, present a creative and innovative research agenda that builds upon existing work in this area, and describe how a network of researchers and other stakeholders will be supported that integrates a variety of disciplines, sectors and backgrounds in order to create new perspectives and yield significant new understanding and knowledge.

The Sustainability Research Networks competition is part of the growing NSF investment in its Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) portfolio ( Challenges associated with broadly based SEES goals will be met by supporting fundamental science and engineering research and education needed to understand and overcome the barriers to sustainable human and environmental wellbeing and to forge reasoned pathways to a sustainable future. NSF aims to support members of the academic research community for projects which produce discoveries and knowledge that will inform decisions leading to environmental, energy, social and cultural sustainability. NSF support will advance the frontiers of conceptual, empirical and computational research in science, engineering and education so that the nation has the knowledge base to inform policies on sustainability.

Proposals may only be submitted by Universities and two- and four-year colleges (including community colleges) accredited in, and having a campus located in, the US acting on behalf of their faculty members.

NSF funding opportunity: Cyber-Innovation for Sustainability Science and Engineering (CyberSEES)

Full Proposal Deadline(s) (due by 5 p.m. proposer’s local time): April 08, 2014; February 03, 2015; First Tuesday in February, Annually Thereafter.

Full guidelines available at

Synopsis of Program:

The Cyber-Innovation for Sustainability Science and Engineering (CyberSEES) program aims to advance interdisciplinary research in which the science and engineering of sustainability are enabled by new advances in computing, and where computational innovation is grounded in the context of sustainability problems.

The CyberSEES program is one component of the National Science Foundation’s Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) activities, a Foundation-wide effort aimed at addressing the challenge of sustainability through support for interdisciplinary research and education. In the SEES context, a sustainable world is one where human needs are met equitably without harm to the environment or sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Computational approaches play a central role in understanding and advancing sustainability. CyberSEES supports research on all sustainability topics that depend on advances in computational areas including optimization, modeling, simulation, prediction, and inference; large-scale data management and analytics; advanced sensing techniques; human computer interaction and social computing; infrastructure design, control and management; and intelligent systems and decision-making. Additionally, the widespread, intensive use of computing technologies also introduces sustainability challenges and motivates new approaches across the lifecycle of technology design and use.

Who May Submit Proposals:

The categories of proposers eligible to submit proposals to the National Science Foundation are identified in the Grant Proposal Guide, Chapter I, Section E.

Who May Serve as PI:

Due to this program’s focus on interdisciplinary, collaborative research, a minimum of two collaborating investigators (PIs/Co-PIs) working in different disciplines is required. Applicants are urged to review the interdisciplinary, collaborative expectations of this program – described in the Program Description and Merit Review Criteria – which must be reflected in the project plans and project teams of all competitive proposals.

Limit on Number of Proposals per Organization:

There are no restrictions or limits.

Limit on Number of Proposals per PI or Co-PI: 2

An individual may appear as Principal Investigator (PI), Co-PI, or Senior Personnel (or any other similar designation) in no more than two proposals submitted in any one fiscal year in response to this solicitation. Applicants are responsible for ensuring that they comply with these restrictions. This eligibility constraint will be strictly enforced in order to treat everyone fairly and consistently. In the event that an individual exceeds this limit, proposals received within the limit will be accepted based on earliest date and time of proposal submission (e.g., the first two proposals received will be accepted and the remainder will be returned without review). No exceptions will be made.

Scientific Scope

This Cyber-Innovation for Sustainability Science and Engineering (CyberSEES) solicitation aims to advance computing and information sciences research and infrastructure in tandem with other disciplines to develop analyses, methods, prototypes, and systems that lead to an increased understanding of sustainability and to solutions to sustainability challenges. Proposals are expected to forge interdisciplinary collaborations among the computer and information sciences, social and natural sciences, geosciences, mathematical sciences, engineering, and associated cyberinfrastructure to address challenging sustainability problems.

Computational challenges are woven into many areas of sustainability research and their solutions are opening up possibilities for radical new approaches and unforeseen opportunities. Close intellectual partnerships among computing and other disciplines are essential to inform new approaches to these integrative challenges, respecting the specific characteristics of complex phenomena, data, and models; understanding the tradeoffs and consequences inherent to design and decision processes; and effectively dealing with limitations and constraints of computational techniques. Some prominent underlying challenges are outlined below. These descriptions are meant only as examples of integrative challenges, not intended to span the scope of program interests.

Large-scale Data Analysis and Management. Data sets used in many sustainability-related topics are challenging because of their complexity (such as control variables in smart infrastructures), heterogeneity (such as social or behavior data), or variability and uncertainty (such as environmental sensor data). Additionally, sustainability data often have distinct short-term and long-term end uses, and data sets must be appropriately curated with these uses in mind. The sustainability context requires attention to issues such as the use, management, and preservation of data over a large range of time scales; data modeling and ontologies; metadata extraction, management, and data provenance; and cognitive prediction/optimization applied to data sets of differing ontologies and semantics, aiming for causal inference to inform effective policies, decisions, management and control.

Robust Observation, Sensing, and Inference. Monitoring of human, built and natural systems, such as hydrologic, waterway, or atmospheric phenomena; species migrations; water, gas, or electricity distribution systems; requires scalable observation infrastructures. Effective infrastructures must be nondisruptive, easily deployed and managed, and be robust under sensor failures, and/or satisfy applicable security or privacy requirements. These monitoring systems must be able to operate unattended for long periods of time yet be remotely configurable, controllable, and testable for correct operation. Interdisciplinary research is needed on integrated sensing, monitoring and modeling for decision making in relation to air, water and soil environments, as well as the optimization of complex sensor systems.

Modeling of Complex Systems. Behavior in systems facing sustainability challenges, from caribou migration to power generation, is the result of complex interactions between human, built, and natural systems. Modeling, simulating, analyzing, and optimizing these systems may require combinations of physics- or economics-based models, model-based reasoning, and statistical models built from data, or interactions involving entities or individuals with different and often conflicting interests. New interdisciplinary research is needed for accurate and efficient methods of tackling complexity, scaling, uncertainty quantification, reliability, coupling between systems, massively parallel architectures and constrained optimization in order to achieve needed performance.

Dynamic and Intelligent Decision Making. Solving sustainability problems, particularly those relating to systems near tipping points (such as extreme events), often requires contending with dynamically evolving or unstable situations. These scenarios present challenges to modeling and decision making due to inadequate or changing data; model, data, and system response uncertainty; resource constraints; fast response needs; and risk, safety and security concerns. A key characteristic of these environments is the need to continuously assimilate new data as it becomes available and to effectively handle new or altered constraints. Techniques are also needed to proactively discover such changing constraints within these environments. Additionally, both dynamic and static sustainability-related data sets can leverage intelligence and machine learning methods exploiting massive parallelism, scaling relations in universal nonlinear function approximations, and ladders of uninformative priors to enable open-minded inference in the presence of spatial complexity, leading to data-enabled discovery.

Control and Management of Infrastructure. Smart and sustainable management of built systems such as future electric grids, involving insertion of renewable sources such as wind and solar power, and other energy infrastructures; transportation systems; manufacturing systems; and smart homes and buildings, requires comprehensive and flexible control systems that satisfy performance, policy, reliability, and other constraints. The design and study of these systems will require bold new computing research and knowledge in areas such as resource management algorithms and architectures, systems analysis, real-time coordination and communications. For smart grids in particular, challenges include but are not limited to efficient and secure electrical power management at multiple scales from grid-level to personal systems, and integration of renewable energy resources and home energy systems into an aware and enabled electric grid. The human and organizational contexts of control systems must be well understood and reflected in system design, in order to make them usable and sustainable.

Human-centered Systems. Large and long-lived impacts on sustainability will depend on human behavior, human factors, and collaboration across large communities. Sociotechnical systems built on sound understanding of people, organizations, and how to inform and assist them, will play a key role in sustainability efforts. Computational approaches will lead to tools and systems that support engagement and decision making by the public; collecting, modeling, and presenting information about resource usage via usable interfaces, appropriate visualizations, and persuasive technology; preference elicitation and decision support/automated decision making for effective and efficient use of resources; and models, methods and tools for dissemination and increasing awareness of sustainable practices.

The interdisciplinary challenges considered above are invariably shaped by human, societal, and economic factors, requiring consideration of the human interface, security and privacy, socio-cultural norms, non-compliance, herding behavior, economic incentives, and amenability to deployment in the real world. Sustainable systems must be designed for transparency, legitimation, and participation, and foster greater awareness of sustainability challenges, solutions and best practices among the workforce and greater population.

As information and communication technologies are applied with increasing intensity to address sustainability issues, there is a parallel challenge of sustainability of the computing and networking systems themselves. In particular, as computing and communication technologies – from mobile phones to massive data centers – proliferate, challenges in managing their consumption of energy, materials, and other resources have become a critical sustainability issue. CyberSEES also welcomes interdisciplinary research that addresses holistic, integrative approaches to sustainable computing and information technologies and systems, including consideration of design and use with impact across the lifecycle in mind.

As the SEES research community increases in number of researchers and breadth of scientific participation, the shared computing and communication infrastructure must allow easy and timely sharing of data and computational tools to advance interdisciplinary SEES research. CyberSEES welcomes cyberinfrastructure research that connects currently distinct SEES research activities.

UAB Innovation Saving Millions of Gallons of Water Monthly

Read the full story from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham has come up with a novel way to save the university tens of thousands of dollars and millions of gallons of water. The Facilities Division created a network of tanks and piping that captures and uses ground water and condensate from cooling systems.

College and university sustainability news round-up


Loyola University Chicago Increases Composting Across Chicagoland
Loyola University Chicago is taking action to address food waste by reaching beyond the classroom and into the local community. Through a $90,000 grant funded by the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, Loyola has launched the Compost Collection Network, a new program that assists local businesses and institutions in setting up an efficient food scrap collection process.

Moraine Valley takes steps to tackle climate change
Moraine Valley Community College President Dr. Sylvia Jenkins joined a growing list of university, college and community college presidents across the country who have signed a commitment to eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions from their campus operations before 2050. She signed the American Colleges and Universities Presidents’ Climate Commitment on Sept. 30.

Western to host first Sustainability Day
On Wednesday Oct. 23, the University Sustainability Committee and Facilities Management will host Western Illinois University’s first Campus Sustainability Day from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Multicultural Center. The event is free and open to the public.


U. Michigan 1st Sustainability Survey: Room for Improvement
The first-year results of a University of Michigan sustainability awareness and behaviors evaluation released today shows that while students, faculty and staff care about sustainability on campus, there is much room for improvement. The program is tracking the “sustainability culture” on the university’s Ann Arbor campus over a six-year period, with particular focus on four campus sustainability goal areas: climate action, waste prevention, healthy environments and community awareness.


From tar to thyme: Green roof sprouting on Ohio State’s ag campus
Ohio State University’s first publicly accessible green roof is open to visitors at Howlett Hall on the campus of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.


Penn State students help rebuild stormwater systems in Philadelphia
About 40 Penn State students, staff and community volunteers participated in the Water Blues, Green Solutions Stormwater Management Project on Saturday, Oct. 5 in Philadelphia.


High-energy leftovers: Scraps find a taker at neighbor campus (University of Wisconsin-Green Bay)
Behind the scenes at the University Union’s kitchen operated by A’viands Food and Services Management, there’s a lot of fancy knife work going on. Cutting, chopping, slicing, dicing, and paring is a part of the everyday work that helps feed several thousand people daily at various UW-Green Bay dining venues. But where do the parts that get cut, chopped or sliced off in preparing your food end up?



Think The World Is Crowded? You Could Fit The Entire Human Race In New Zealand

Read the full story at FastCo.Exist.

The UN has predicted that the world population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050–nearly 2.5 billion more people on Earth than we have at the moment. In 2013, the annual day in which humanity consumes more natural resources than the planet is capable of recovering from in a year came early, once again. Overpopulation also just happens to be one of those words that immediately triggers images of the apocalypse, despite the fact that nothing in human existence seems more routine than birthing a child.

But before anyone takes Rush Limbaugh’s advice that environmentalists ought to save the planet by committing suicide, let’s take a step back and unpack what “overpopulation” really means. The good people at Wait But Why have come out with another set of dazzling infographics (we first saw them when they made this shocking piece about the death tolls of major disasters) that deal with rethinking population density and space. For example, if we lived at the density that people live in Manhattan, the entire global population could fit in New Zealand…

“Space is certainly not the problem,” one of the creators of Wait But Why (who prefers to remain anonymous) tells me. “I’m walking right now through Manhattan. It’s crowded, but it’s not that crowded,” he adds. “The point is when we talk about all the issues we have with growing population, the thing that’s scary about that is not space, it’s of course resources, and the distribution of resources.”

AASHE releases STARS 2.0 Summary of Changes

STARS 2.0 is the result of feedback from STARS Participants and the larger AASHE community about how the process can be most valuable to participating institutions. The summary of changes is available here.

STARS is a sustainability framework that allows higher education institutions to:

  • measure an institution’s sustainability performance
  • learn from other institutions of similar types and demographics
  • create a baseline for continuous improvement
  • foster cross-campus collaboration and buy-in for sustainability efforts
  • celebrate and gain recognition for sustainability wins and innovations

New Green Vision: Technology As Our Planet’s Last Best Hope

Read the full story at Yale Environment360.

The concept of ecological modernism, which sees technology as the key to solving big environmental problems, is gaining adherents and getting a lot of buzz these days. While mainstream conservationists may be put off by some of the new movement’s tenets, they cannot afford to ignore the issues it is raising.