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September 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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Webcast: Workshop Report Dissemination: Sustainability Considerations for Procurement Tools and Capabilities
The Science and Technology for Sustainability Program (STS) is releasing a new report, Sustainability Considerations for Procurement Tools and Capabilities, summarizing a workshop held in December 2011. A dissemination event is being held on Friday, September 28, 2012, to discuss some of the themes that emerged from the workshop. This dissemination event will be broadcast live on the STS website and will begin at 9:00 am ET.

Sustainability Linkages in the Federal Government
The sixth committee meeting will be held on October 11-12, 2012, in Washington, DC. A limited number of seats are available for the public session, which will be held on the morning of October 11. Those interested in attending should e-mail

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Sustainability Considerations for Procurement Tools and Capabilities: Summary of a Workshop
This report recaps a December 2011 workshop convened on behalf of the General Services Administration on how better to foster sustainability considerations into procurement tools and capabilities across the public and private sectors. It summarizes presentations and discussions that assessed the current landscape of green purchasing tools, identified opportunities and emerging requirements for enhanced and/or new tools, identified potential barriers to progress (such as cross-tool interoperability), and explored potential solutions. This summary also recaps discussions at the workshop on associated training required to realize the full benefits of these tools.

A National Strategy for Advancing Climate Modeling
As climate change has pushed climate patterns outside of historic norms, the need for detailed projections is growing across all sectors, including agriculture, insurance, and emergency preparedness planning. This reportemphasizes the needs for climate models to evolve substantially in order to deliver climate projections at the scale and level of detail desired by decision makers, this report finds. Despite much recent progress in developing reliable climate models, there are still efficiencies to be gained across the large and diverse U.S. climate modeling community. Evolving to a more unified climate modeling enterprise-in particular by developing a common software infrastructure shared by all climate researchers and holding an annual climate modeling forum-could help speed progress.

Himalayan Glaciers: Climate Change, Water Resources, and Water Security
Scientific evidence shows that most glaciers in South Asia's Hindu Kush Himalayan region are retreating, but the consequences for the region's water supply are unclear, this report finds. The Hindu Kush Himalayan region is the location of several of Asia's great river systems, which provide water for drinking, irrigation, and other uses for about 1.5 billion people. This report makes recommendations and sets guidelines for the future of climate change and water security in the Himalayan Region. This report emphasizes that social changes, such as changing patterns of water use and water management decisions, are likely to have at least as much of an impact on water demand as environmental factors do on water supply. Water scarcity will likely affect the rural and urban poor most severely, as these groups have the least capacity to move to new locations as needed. It is predicted that the region will become increasingly urbanized as cities expand to absorb migrants in search of economic opportunities. As living standards and populations rise, water use will likely increase-for example, as more people have diets rich in meat, more water will be needed for agricultural use. The effects of future climate change could further exacerbate water stress.

Science for Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead
Tensions inherent to the structure of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) work contribute to the current and persistent challenges faced by the agency, and meeting those challenges will require development of leading-edge scientific methods, tools, and technologies, and a more deliberate approach to systems thinking and interdisciplinary science. This report outlines a framework for building science for environmental protection in the 21st century and identified key areas where enhanced leadership and capacity can strengthen the agency's abilities to address current and emerging environmental challenges as well as take advantage of new tools and technologies to address them. The foundation of EPA science is strong, but the agency needs to continue to address numerous present and future challenges if it is to maintain its science leadership and meet its expanding mandates.

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Understanding and Monitoring Abrupt Climate Change and its Impacts
This study will address the likelihood of various physical components of the Earth system to undergo major and rapid changes (i.e., abrupt climate change) and, as time allows, examine some of the most important potential associated impacts and risks. This study will explore how to monitor climate change for warnings of abrupt changes and emerging impacts.

Overcoming Barriers to Electric Vehicle Deployment
An ad hoc committee will conduct a study identifying the market barriers slowing the purchase of electric vehicles (EVs, which for this study include pure battery electric vehicles [BEVs] and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles [PHEVs]) and hindering the deployment of supporting infrastructure in the United States.  The study will draw on input from state utility commissions, electric utilities, automotive manufacturers and suppliers, local and state governments, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal agencies, and others, including previous studies performed for the Department of Energy (DOE), to help identify barriers to the introduction of electric vehicles, particularly the barriers to the deployment of the necessary vehicle charging infrastructure, and recommend ways to mitigate these barriers. The study will focus on light-duty vehicles but also draw upon experiences with EVs in the medium- and heavy-duty vehicle market segment.

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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.

Japan-U.S. Workshop on Sustainable Energy Futures
The STS program hosted a joint Japan-U.S. workshop on sustainable energy futures on June 26, 2012, in conjunction with the June 2012 meeting of the Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability. The one-day workshop explored effective strategies and the research and technology needed to achieve sustainable energy solutions in Japan and the U.S. Workshop participants identified possible priorities for sustainable energy research and discussed future collaboration between the two countries on research and innovation in the area of sustainability. A brief, individually-authored summary of the workshop will be issued in the near future. 

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.

A Sustainability Challenge: Food Security for All
An ad hoc committee under the STS program organized two public workshops in 2011 addressing the sustainability challenges associated with food security for all.  Measuring Food Insecurity and Assessing the Sustainability of Global Food Systems , held on February 16-17, 2011, reviewed commonly used indicators for food security and malnutrition; poverty; and natural resources and agricultural productivity. Exploring Sustainable Solutions for Increasing Global Food Supplies , held on May 2-4, 2011, examined a set of issues fundamental to assuring that food supplies can be increased to meet the needs of the world's growing population--now expected to grow to 9 billion by the year 2050. A summary of both workshops was published in February 2012.

Sustainability and the U.S. EPA
An ad hoc committeee under the STS program has authored a consensus report 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.

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Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Mississippi Canyon-252 Oil Spill on Ecosystem Services in the Gulf of Mexico
October 5-6, 2012, Washington, DC
Review of the National Ocean Acidification Research Plan
October 11-12, 2012, Washington, DC
Sustainability Linkages in the Federal Government
October 11-12, 2012, Washington, DC
A Review of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro (WH&B) Management Program
October 18-19, 2012, Washington, DC
Intercity Passenger Travel: Opportunities and Issues in Short-haul Markets
October 19-20, 2012, Irvine, CA
Urban Forestry: Defining an Ecosystem Services Research Agenda
October 29-30, 2012, Washington, DC
2012 Japan-America Frontiers of Engineering Symposium
October 29-31, 2012, Irvine, CA

Understanding and Monitoring Abrupt Climate Change and its Impacts
November 5-6, 2012, Washington, DC

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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 September 2012 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 at:

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

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