“Sustainability and the EPA” represents an implementation plan designed to help the agency walk the walk in its effort to transition from a focus on pollution control to a “new science of sustainability,” as described in the EPA’s sustainability strategy, starting with its own physical operations, as well as its mission, encompassing environmental research, education, and enforcement.

In surprising disparity with the GOP’s vocal opposition to the EPA, the agency still defines sustainability, according to the Nixon administration Executive Order 13514, as the effort “to create and maintain conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations” (NEPA[1969]; E. O.13514[2009]4).


Over time, the agency has committed to address a broader set of environmental issues and now requires a means to ensure that environmental, social, health, and economic considerations are weighed in all EPA actions. With wide-ranging operations and politically fraught mandates, this becomes a complex balancing act that requires a consensus framework of policies, procedures, and standards, precisely the task the EPA gave the National Academies?create a draft sustainability framework. The framework developed will not only guide the agency’s internal operations, but will provide a blueprint for private sustainability programs, too.

The EPA’s sustainability research strategy highlights six themes that define the agency’s approach to sustainability, including two of specific interest to developing green codes and standards:

  • Human-Built Systems and Land Use: Building design, efficiency, and managing urban impacts.

  • The growth of urbanized areas over the past century has shown that human-built systems can significantly harm ecosystems and undermine their ability to provide critical services. This strategy will include research on topics such as sustainable building design and efficiency, management of urban systems, life-cycle assessment for building design and land use, and decision support tools for urban land development and revitalization.

  • Economics and Human Behavior: Ecosystem and health values, and incentives for sustainable human choices.

  • Since the sustainable management of natural and man-made systems depends on human behavior and choice, our research strategy is closely linked with research in economics and behavioral science, such as developing ecosystem valuation methods and analyzing the role of incentives in decision-making and the causes of market failures.


The EPA’s scientific research in sustainability will inform programs, such as Energy Star, that become the economic proving ground for future building codes.
You can now purchase a copy of the draft “Green Book” or download a PDF copy free at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13152.