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February 2013

Table of Contents


We are pleased to present you with Sustainability at the National Academies, a monthly update highlighting activities related to sustainable development from throughout the National Academies. Please visit our website for additional information on these and other activities at

The Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability  provides a unique forum for sharing views, information, and analyses related to sustainability. The goal for the Roundtable is to mobilize, encourage, and use scientific knowledge and technology to help achieve sustainability goals and to support the implementation of sustainability practices. Through its activities, the Roundtable identifies new ways in which science and technology can contribute to sustainability. What follows is a brief summary of sustainability-related activities being conducted throughout the National Academies.

You are receiving this update based on your participation in ongoing or past activities of the Roundtable. If you would prefer not to receive future monthly updates or would like to be added to the recipient list, please contact Dylan Richmond at 202-334-2489 or or visit our website. 

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National Academy of Sciences 150th Anniversary
On March 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Act creating the National Academy of Sciences. Throughout its history, the Academy has promoted excellence in science through the election of its members and original research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , and has provided independent, authoritative advice on matters related to science, engineering, and medicine-leaving a lasting impact on science, the nation, and the world. This year, we celebrate our 150th anniversary with a range of activities that focus not only on the history of the NAS but also in large part on the story of science itself and its role in building and shaping our country and establishing its place in the world.

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Environmental Decisions in the Face of Uncertainty
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is one of several federal agencies responsible for protecting Americans against significant risks to human health and the environment. As part of that mission, EPA estimates the nature, magnitude, and likelihood of risks to human health and the environment; identifies the potential regulatory actions that will mitigate those risks and protect public health and the environment; and uses that information to decide on appropriate regulatory action. Uncertainties, both qualitative and quantitative, in the data and analyses on which these decisions are based enter into the process at each step. EPA requested that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) convene a committee to provide guidance to its decision makers and their partners in states and localities on approaches to managing risk in different contexts when uncertainty is present. It also sought guidance on how information on uncertainty should be presented to help risk managers make sound decisions and to increase transparency in its communications with the public about those decisions. This report explains the statement of task and summarizes the findings of the committee.

An Assessment of the Prospects for Inertial Fusion Energy
The potential for using fusion energy to produce commercial electric power was first explored in the 1950s. Harnessing fusion energy offers the prospect of a nearly carbon-free energy source with a virtually unlimited supply of fuel. Unlike nuclear fission plants, appropriately designed fusion power plants would not produce the large amounts of high-level nuclear waste that requires long-term disposal. Due to these prospects, many nations have initiated research and development (R&D) programs aimed at developing fusion as an energy source. Two R&D approaches are being explored: magnetic fusion energy (MFE) and inertial fusion energy (IFE). An Assessment of the Prospects for Inertial Fusion Energy describes and assesses the current status of IFE research in the United States; compares the various technical approaches to IFE; and identifies the scientific and engineering challenges associated with developing inertial confinement fusion (ICF) in particular as an energy source. It also provides guidance on an R&D roadmap at the conceptual level for a national program focusing on the design and construction of an inertial fusion energy demonstration plant. 

Energy-Efficiency Standards and Green Building Certification Systems Used by the Department of Defense for Military Construction and Major Renovations
Congress has an ongoing interest in ensuring that the 500,000 buildings and other structures owned and operated by the Department of Defense (DOD) are operated effectively in terms of cost and resource use. Section 2830 of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year requires the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to the congressional defense committees on the energy-efficiency and sustainability standards used by DOD for military construction and major renovations of buildings. DOD's report must include a cost-benefit analysis, return on investment, and long-term payback for the building standards and green building certification systems. DOD's report to the congressional defense committees must also include a copy of DOD policy prescribing a comprehensive strategy for the pursuit of design and building standards across the department that include specific energy-efficiency standards and sustainable design attributes for military construction based on the cost-benefit analysis, return on investment, and demonstrated payback required for the aforementioned building standards and green building certification systems. This report summarizes the recommendations for energy efficiency. 


Finance, Pricing, Economics, and Equity Issues, 2012
TRB's Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, No. 2297 consists of 21 papers that examine transportation finance, pricing, economics, and equity issues. Specific topics include a marginal-cost vehicle mileage fee; equity of fees for vehicle miles; relationships between vehicle miles and economic activity; equity effects of congestion pricing; impact fee effects on urban form and congestion; willingness to pay for high-occupancy toll lanes; traveler pay for managed-lane travel; managed arterials; impact of peak and off-peak tolls; risk allocation in toll highway concessions; valuing public-sector revenue risk exposure in transportation public-private partnerships; risk measurement for pay-as-you-drive automobile insurance; and benefit-cost analysis of information technology tools for program management. In addition, this issue of the TRR examines generating revenue to fund public-private partnerships for urban freeway reconstruction; local initiative, decentralized control, and independent financing of the Chicago Skyway; nonpublic funding options for interstate safety rest areas; price adjustments in unit-cost construction contracts; models to assess impact of infrastructure investment; relationships between transportation access and connectivity to local economic outcomes; road investment effects on economic output and induced travel demand; and the impact of regulation and network topology on roadway privatization.

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Emerging Research Questions in the Arctic
This activity is designed to provide guidance on future research questions in the Arctic over the next 10-20 years, identifying the key scientific questions that are emerging in different realms of Arctic science and exploring both disciplinary realms (e.g., marine, terrestrial, atmosphere, cryosphere, social sciences, and health) and cross cutting realms (e.g., integrated systems science and sustainability science). Based on the emerging research questions, the study will also help identify research infrastructure needs (e.g., observation networks, computing and data management, ship requirements, shore facilities, etc.) and collaboration opportunities. Attention will be given to assessing needs where there may be a mismatch between rates of change and the pace of scientific research. Although it is understood that there is no one answer, the committee is asked to explore how agency decision makers might achieve balance in their research portfolios and associated investments (e.g., what are some of the challenges of trying to do both problem-driven research and curiosity-driven research?). The goal is to guide future directions in U.S. Arctic research so that research is targeted on critical scientific and societal questions and conducted as effectively as possible.

Strategic Research for Integrated Water Resources Management
An ad hoc committee of the National Research Council (NRC) will conduct a study and prepare a report that will provide independent advice to The Water Institute of the Gulf, which was established in 2011 as a not-for-profit, independent research organization and is located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  This NRC project will focus on strategic research to support Integrated Water Resources Management. The Institute's focus is on the lower Mississippi River and its delta and coastal region, but it also will draw upon ideas, technologies, and solutions from around the world in addressing local problems, and to export knowledge to address water management issues in deltaic and coastal systems globally. The Institute plans to conduct integrated research that explores linkages among natural science, engineering, and the dynamics of social and economic systems that underpin water management decisions. The Institute considers Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) to reflect these multi-disciplinary factors. In advising the Institute, the NRC study committee will consider several issues that fall into three topical areas: common problems and challenges, strategic research, and transferring and applying knowledge.

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Sustainability Linkages in the Federal Government
An ad hoc committee under the STS Program will identify the linkages among areas such as energy, water, health, agricultural production, and biodiversity that are critical to promoting and encouraging long term sustainability within the federal policy framework, recognizing that progress towards sustainability necessarily involves other levels of government, the private sector, and civil society. The premise is that achieving sustainability is a systems challenge that cannot be realized by separately optimizing pieces of the system. The study will build upon existing and emerging expertise throughout the scientific and technological communities. It will describe the nexus where domains intersect but in which existing institutions and disciplines often do not intersect. A consensus report is tentatively scheduled for publication in 2013.

Regional Approaches to Urban Sustainability: A Focus on the Portland Region 
An ad hoc committee under the STS Program will organize a public workshop, to be held May 28-29, 2013, to examine issues relating to sustainability and human-environment interactions in the Portland metropolitan region. Likely topics that will be addressed include the role of land use restrictions on development, transportation innovations, and economic and social challenges. The committee will develop an agenda in consultation with regional stakeholders (academia, city/county governments), so that the presentations and panels reflect place-based knowledge and approaches to sustainability. The workshop will feature invited presentations and group discussion, and will likely be patterned after similar workshops that were held in Atlanta and Houston.

Symposium on Science, Innovation, and Partnerships for Sustainability Solutions  
An ad hoc committee under the STS Program held a three day public symposium, May 16-18, 2012, on fostering partnerships and linkages between disciplines, sectors, agencies and nations in sustainability science and innovation. The symposium featured invited presentations and discussions to showcase federal investments and institutional structures regarding sustainability, identify opportunities to help promote practices that would lead communities toward sustainability, and address communication issues needed to recognize science and innovation as central to the understanding and adoption of sustainable practices.    Video of the sessions, PowerPoint presentations , and the symposium summary are available on the STS website. Dissemination activities are being planned for 2013.


Sustainability and the U.S. EPA
An ad hoc committeee under the STS program has authored a consensus report, released in August 2011, for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Office of Research and Development (ORD) to help define their efforts to incorporate sustainability concepts into agency programs. This report builds on existing sustainability efforts that ORD has conducted by strengthening the analytic and scientific basis for sustainability as it applies to human health and environmental protection within the Agency's decision-making process. Dissemination activities are being planned for 2013.

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March 2013
Options for Implementing the Requirement of Best Available and Safest Technologies for Offshore Oil and Gas Operations
March 11, 2013, Washington, DC
Understanding and Monitoring Abrupt Climate Change and its Impacts
March 11-12, 2013, Washington, DC
2013 Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
March 14-15, 2013, Washington, DC
Responding to Oil Spills in Arctic Marine Environments
March 19-21, 2013, Fairbanks, AK
Science Quiz Night
March 27, 2013, Washington, DC
Identifying and Prioritizing New Preventive Vaccines for Development
March 27-28, 2013, Irvine, CA
Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress
March 27-29, 2013, Miami, FL

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PNAS Sustainability Science, Special Features
PNAS offers a series of special feature issues that highlight emerging fields in the physical, social, and biological sciences and are edited by leaders in the field. Special Features include a cluster of Perspectives and peer-reviewed research articles. As a service to readers, Special Features are freely available online from the date of publication. 

From the February 2013 issue:

To learn more about sustainability activities, both in the STS program and throughout the other boards and committees of the National Academies, please visit our webpage.

Preparation of this update was supported by the National Academies' George and Cynthia Mitchell Endowment for Sustainability Science

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