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December 2012

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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Critical Materials for Energy Sustainability and Technology: A Focus on Material Recovery
The National Research Council's (NRC) Science and Technology for Sustainability Program (STS), in collaboration with the Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences' Board on Energy and Environmental Systems (BEES), convened a meeting on December 5, 2012, with the participation of a small group of research leaders and technical experts in private industry as well as representatives from government and academia to discuss the criticality of materials used in energy sustainability related technologies. Presentations from the meeting have been posted on the STS website.

Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability
The most recent meeting of the Roundtable was held on December 6, 2012, and featured a panel discussion on the topic of developing sustainable and resilient energy systems. Specifically, panel participants discussed issues such as how to advance research to achieve sustainable energy systems with an emphasis on how to optimize benefits of such systems; identifying technologies to strengthen sustainability and resilience; and policy and institutional developments that could advance these goals. The session also addressed how public and private sector funds could be leveraged to further develop resilient and sustainable energy systems. Presentations from the meeting have been posted on the STS website. A brief, individually-authored meeting summary of the session will be available in the near future.

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Weather Services for the Nation: Becoming Second to None
During the 1980s and 1990s, the National Weather Service undertook a major, comprehensive modernization effort that succeeded in achieving major improvements for the weather, water, andclimate enterprise. Despite this success, accelerating improvements in technology and the science of meteorology and hydrology imply that continuing modernization of the National Weather Service is required. This report uses lessons learned from the 1990's modernization process todevelop guidance on how best to plan, deploy, and oversee future improvements to the National Weather Services.


Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis
Climate change can reasonably be expected to increase the frequency and intensity of a variety of potentially disruptive environmental events-slowly at first, but then more quickly. It is prudent to expect to be surprised by the way in which these events may cascade, or have far-reaching effects. Over the coming decade, some climate-related events will produce consequences that exceed the capacity of affected societies or global systems to manage; these may have global security implications. Although focused on events outside the United States, this report recommends a range of research and policy actions to create a whole-of-government approach to increasing understanding of complex and contingent connections between climate and security, and to inform choices about adapting to and reducing vulnerability to climate change.

Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System
The electric power delivery system that carries electricity from large central generators to customers could be severely damaged by a small number of well-informed attackers. The system is inherently vulnerable because transmission lines may span hundreds of miles, and many key facilities are unguarded. This vulnerability is exacerbated by the fact that the power grid, most of which was originally designed to meet the needs of individual vertically integrated utilities, is being used to move power between regions to support the needs of competitive markets for power generation. This report focuses on measures that could make the power delivery system less vulnerable to attacks, restore power faster after an attack, and make critical services less vulnerable while the delivery of conventional electric power has been disrupted. 


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Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle (Eighth Revised Edition)
A committee will prepare a report that reviews the scientific literature on the nutrition of beef cattle. All life phases and types of production will be addressed. The report will include the following elements: a comprehensive analysis of recent research on feeding and nutrition of beef cattle including research on the amounts of amino acids, lipids, minerals, vitamins, and water needed by growing and reproducing beef cattle; a summary of recent research on energy systems used in beef cattle nutrition; a summary of the composition of feed ingredients, mineral supplements, and feed additives routinely fed to beef cattle; a summary of information about coproducts from the biofuels industry, which will include information about the various types of products and their most effective use and information about phosphorus and sulfur contents; and a review of nutritional and feeding strategies to minimize nutrient losses in manure and reduce greenhouse gas production.

A Review of the USDA Agricultural and Food Research Initiative
An NRC committee will perform an independent assessment of the USDA Agricultural and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program, including the quality and value of research funded by the program and the prospects for its success in meeting established goals and outcomes. The study committee will prepare a report of its assessment. In addition to its findings and conclusions, the committee will identify aspects of the implementation of AFRI that could improve how it functions and its effectiveness in meeting its goals and outcomes.

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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.

Pathways to Urban Sustainability: A Focus on the Houston Metropolitan Region
The National Academies organized a public workshop to examine issues relating to sustainability and human-environment interactions in the Houston metropolitan region held in January 2012. Topics addressed included energy and air quality management, hazard mitigation, and land use considerations. The committee developed 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 featured invited presentations and group discussion, and was patterned after similar workshops held in 2009 on  research and development on urban systems and in 2010 on urban sustainability in the Atlanta metropolitan region. A workshop summary will be forthcoming.

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 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 early 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 early 2013.

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Integrating Environmental Health Data to Advance Discovery
January 10-11, 2013, Washington, DC
Transportation Research Board 92nd Annual Meeting
January 13-17, 2013, Washington, DC
Inauguration Day: Koshland Science Museum Open House
January 21, 2013, Washington, DC
Workshop on the Nexus of Biofuels Energy, Climate Change, and Health
January 24-25, 2013, Washington, DC
Climate Change and America's Infrastructure: Engineering, Social, and Policy Challenges
January 28-30, 2013, Tempe, AZ

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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. 

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 website.


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

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