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Upcoming Events

Strengthening Sustainability Programs and Curricula at the Undergraduate and Graduate Levels: A Third Workshop
January 24, 2020. Santa Cruz, CA
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to learn more about this project.

Nobel Prize Summit 2020: Our Planet, Our Future

April 29-May 1, 2020. Washington, DC
Click here to learn more about this event. 

View a list of Sustainability-related meetings at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Recent Events

Urban Sustainability in China and the US
December 16, 2019, Washington, DC

Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability

July 30-31, 2019, Washington, DC

Strengthening Sustainability Program at the Undergraduate and Graduate Levels
February 13, 2019, Washington, DC

Reducing Food Loss and Waste Workshop

October 17, 2018, Washington, DC

Current Projects

education smallStrengthening Sustainability Programs and Curricula at the Undergraduate and Graduate Levels
An expert committee under the Board on Higher Education and Workforce (BHEW) and STS program will conduct a series of public workshops focused on strengthening sustainability programs and curricula at the undergraduate and graduate levels in the United States. Each workshop will examine different approaches and drivers for a coherent competency- and skill-based curriculum in the growing number of higher education sustainability programs, in order to connect them to the issues addressed through such frameworks as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the priorities of end users, including the private and public sectors. Based on the content of the workshops, the committee will produce a report that provides findings and recommendations for strengthening sustainability programs and curricula at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

SDG Cluster Logo 2National Investments Modelling Initiative
The STS program, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and in partnership with Future Earth, hosted a two-series meetings on the Future of Sustainability Science, entitled Sustainability Science 2.0 in Denver, CO on May 24, 2019 and in Arlington, VA on June 21, 2019, as part of our National Investments Modelling Initiative. Our goal from these two workshops is to produce the foundation for a compelling narrative detailing actions, products, opportunities, and transitional technologies that will support rapid shifts to a more robust sustainability science ecosystem in the US.

Reducing Food Loss PhotoReducing Food Loss and Waste: A Workshop on Impacts
An expert committee under the Science and Technology for Sustainability program will organize a workshop in 2018 focused on addressing the impacts of reducing food loss and waste on 1) farmers, 2) food prices, 3) food availability, and 4) the environment. The workshop will build on two previous workshops hosted by STS addressing the sustainability challenges associated with providing food security  The workshop will include participants from government, the private sector, academia, and non-governmental organizations involved in food loss and waste issues. A summary of the event will be prepared and distributed broadly to interested parties.

Past Projects                                                                                                                                    

Housing, Health, and Homelessness: Evaluating the Evidence
An expert committee under the auspices of the STS Program and the Board on Population and Public Health Practice evaluated interventions and policy options for addressing urban homelessness, particularly permanent supportive housing programs. Specifically, the study addressed the fundamental question, to what extent have permanent supportive housing programs improved health outcomes and affected health care costs in people experiencing homelessness? To address this question, the committee took into consideration any variation in outcomes for different subsets of homeless populations, including people experiencing chronic homelessness and people identified as high-utilizers of health care services, as well as the variation in outcomes related to different housing configurations and approaches to services delivery and financing associated with permanent supportive housing.

Sustainability at the Academies - A Staff Seminar Series

The STS program launched a new periodic staff seminar series this summer to enhance collaborative opportunities within the Academies and encourage discussion and learning on issues related to sustainability science. At the first event in June 2016, the Executive Directors of the National Academies Division on Earth and Life Studies (DELS) and the Policy and Global Affairs (PGA) Division provided overviews of sustainability-related activities in their divisions. A second event was held in July 2016 with speakers from the Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences (DEPS) and National Academy of Engineering, and a third event took place on September 26, 2016 with speakers from the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (DBASSE) and the Transportation Research Board.

The Network for Emerging Leaders in Sustainability (NELS)

The Network for Emerging Leaders in Sustainability (NELS) is an organization for early-career professionals who are interested in building bridges with peers in DC-area agencies and organizations. The Network includes leaders with diverse backgrounds and expertise, from natural resource management to energy policy to public health. NELS members share a common interest in taking a multidisciplinary approach to sustainability challenges -considering the economic, environmental, social, and cultural dimensions of these problems. Through NELS, these emerging leaders will foster relationships that enable them to more effectively bring about a sustainable future.

Pathways to Urban Sustainability: Challenges and Opportunities

An expert committee under the STS program completed a study by using examples from metropolitan regions to understand how sustainability practices can contribute to the continued growth and regeneration of major metropolitan regions in the United States.  The study provides a paradigm that incorporates the social, economic, and environmental systems that exist in metropolitan regions that are critical in the transition to sustainable metropolitan regions.  This paradigm could then serve as a blueprint for other regions with similar barriers to sustainable growth.  As part of its evidence-gathering process, the committee organized a series of public data-gathering meetings in different metropolitan regions to examine issues relating to urban sustainability.

Transition toward Sustainability after 15 Years: Where Do We Stand in Advancing the Scientific Foundation? A Workshop
An ad hoc committee under the STS program, in collaboration with the Board on Atmospheric Science and Climate (BASC), organized a meeting of leading scientists to discuss progress in sustainability science during the last 15 years, potential opportunities for advancing the research and use of scientific knowledge to support a transition toward sustainability, and challenges specifically related to establishing metrics/indicators and observations to support sustainability research and practice. 

Landscape Approaches and Multi-Resource Assessments for Natural Resource Management
An expert committee under the STS Program conducted a workshop on landscape approaches and multi-resource assessments to better inform federal decision making on the sustainable management of natural resources. These approaches focused on the inter-relationships among different natural resources at multiple scales within a framework that accommodates social, economic, and environmental linkages. The workshop identified knowledge gaps and priority areas for research, and will use case studies to illustrate how these approaches have been effectively integrated into practice. The workshop included key federal agencies, policymakers, and the broader scientific community in a discussion of how to incorporate these approaches more broadly into the sustainable management of natural resources.   

Critical Role of Animal Science Research in Food Security and Sustainability

Addressing the economic and environmental sustainability challenge of global food security requires an adequate, nutritious food supply produced and distributed cost effectively while improving efficiency across the entire food production system. Recognizing this challenge and the increasing global demand for animal products, an expert committee under the Science and Technology for Sustainability (STS) Program, in collaboration with the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources (BANR), is completing a report that will identify critical R&D, technologies, and resource needs for research in the field of animal agriculture, both nationally and internationally. The committee meetings were held in March, May, and July of 2014, and a final report based on their deliberations was released in 2015.

Sustainability for the Nation: Resource Connections and Governance Linkages
In June 2013, the STS Program released a landmark consensus report that provides a decision framework for policymakers to examine the consequences and operational benefits of sustainability-oriented programs. The report also recommends priority areas for interagency cooperation on specific sustainability challenges; identifies impediments to interdisciplinary, cross-media federal programs; and highlights scientific research gaps as they relate to these interdisciplinary, cross-media approaches to sustainability. A booklet provides a short summary of the report. An article on the report findings and recommendations is published in the July 2014 issue of Environmental Science & Technology. In September 2014, the report was presented at the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) 2014 Fall Meeting in Santa Fe, NM.

Homelessness and Urban Sustainability: Implications of Changes to the US Health System on a Vulnerable Population

On November 12, 2014, the STS Program, in collaboration with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, National Health Care for the Homeless Council, and National Academy of Medicine Roundtable on Health Equity and Health Disparities, held a workshop focusing on the impact of the changing US health care system under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on homeless populations in urban areas. The goal of the workshop was to identify models of success as well as challenges in using the ACA as a tool to decrease homelessness, increase health care enrollment, and improve health outcomes and the lives of homeless individuals. Participants were asked to identify what specific actions relevant bodies can take address the problem of homelessness using the ACA. The meeting provided an opportunity to engage policy makers, health care professionals, philanthropic organizations, private sector entities, and academicians in a lively discussion of these complex issues.
Sustainability and the U.S. EPA
An ad hoc committee 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. The 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. A report in brief provides a short summary of the report.

Pathways to Urban Sustainability: A Focus on Portland
In May 2013, a committee under the STS program convened a workshop to examine issues relating to sustainability and human-environment interactions in the Portland metropolitan region. Topics addressed included the role of land-use restrictions on development, transportation innovations, and economic and social challenges. The speakers at the workshop used examples from Portland and the greater Pacific Northwest region to explore critical questions in finding pathways to urban sustainability. 

Partnerships, Science, and Innovation for Sustainability Solutions - A Symposium
An ad hoc committee under the STS program organized a three day public symposium in May 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. The symposium is intended to better define issues and help forge new collaborations. A brief individually-authored summary of the event was issued in November 2012. 

Pathways to Urban Sustainability: A Focus on the Houston Metropolitan Region
The STS program organized a public workshop examining issues relating to sustainability and human-environment interactions in the Houston metropolitan region, held January 18-19, 2012. Topics that were addressed include 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 reflected place-based knowledge and approaches to sustainability.

Japan-U.S. Workshop on Sustainable Energy Futures
An ad hoc committee under the STS program organized a joint Japan-U.S. workshop on sustainable energy futures. The one-day workshop featured invited presentations and discussions on effective strategies and the research and technology needed to achieve sustainable energy solutions in Japan and the U.S. The workshop included participants from governments, academia, the private  sector, and nongovernmental organizations involved in sustainability issues in Japan and the U.S. The workshop was held in June 2012 and an individually-authored summary of the workshop has been issued.

Sustainable Acquisition: Fostering Sustainability Considerations into Public and Private Sector Procurement Tools and Capabilities
The STS program, in collaboration with the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, hosted a workshop on December 7-8, 2011, on fostering better sustainability considerations in procurement tools and capabilities across the public and private sectors.  The workshop featured invited presentations and discussions to assess the current landscape of green purchasing tools, identify opportunities and emerging requirements for enhanced and/or new tools, identify potential barriers to progress (such as cross-tool interoperability), and explore potential solutions.  It also considered associated training required to realize the full benefits of these tools. 

A Sustainability Challenge: Food Security for All
An ad hoc committee under the STS Program organized two public workshops in 2011 to help establish the dimensions of the food security challenge and explore how to sustainably meet growing food demands during the coming decades. The first workshop, Measuring Food Insecurity and Assessing the Sustainability of Global Food Systems, examined the empirical basis for past trends, the current situation and projections for the future. The second workshop, Exploring Sustainable Solutions for Increasing Global Food Supplies, examined a set of issues fundamental to assuring that food supplies could be increased to meet the needs of the world's growing population--now expected to grow to 9 billion by the year 2050.  

Pathways to Urban Sustainability: Lessons from the Atlanta Metropolitan Region
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medcine organized a workshop in Atlanta to foster discussion of the metropolitan region’s approach to urban sustainability, with an emphasis on building the evidence base upon which policies and programs might be developed. Participants explored how the interaction of various systems (natural and human systems; energy, water, transportation systems) affected the region’s social, economic, and environmental conditions. Discussions centered on the challenges the region faces, innovative approaches to addressing these complex challenges, performance measures to gauge success, and opportunities to link knowledge with on-the-ground action. The event was carried out in cooperation with local partners and hosted by the Georgia Institute of Technology, but also engaged local, state, and federal agencies in order to explore how their resources could best support sustainable improvements in the Atlanta metropolitan region.
Transitioning to Sustainability: The Challenge of Developing Sustainable Urban Systems
An ad hoc planning committee organized a one-day public workshop to discuss research gaps, needed analytical tools, and opportunities for collaboration among federal research and development programs and other relevant programs focused on challenges to urban sustainability. Participants included representatives from federal agencies, state/local agencies, academic non-governmental organizations, and key stakeholder groups such as the Conference of Mayors and the League of Cities, as well as international experts.  

Certification of Sustainable Products and Services
Shifting consumption toward a more sustainable path is a crucial element of a sustainability transition, given the large role that consumption plays in economic activity. Certification of goods and services is one approach that has emerged over the last 15 years, and although there has been anecdotal evidence of success, particularly in niche markets, the overall impact has been small. Moreover, definitions of 'sustainable' vary across sectors and markets, and scientific information has been at best inconsistently applied. Consumption is an understudied area but one of fundamental significance to sustainability. In order to take the first step in learning from this emerging field of practice, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's Science and Technology for Sustainability Program (which includes the Sustainability Roundtable ("Roundtable")) organized a workshop aimed at understanding the situation of those making key decisions to purchase and produce certified goods and services, and to clarify the scope and limitations of the scientific knowledge that might contribute to the economic success of certified products.

Expanding Biofuel Production -- Lessons from the Upper Midwest for Sustainability 
An ad hoc committee organized a workshop in Summer 2009 that will assess the sustainability impacts of expanding biofuel production at a regional level. Workshop participants assessed lessons learned from dramatic increases in corn based fuels and identify the implications of advanced biofuel production, examining feedstock production, refining, distribution and use. The objective of the workshop was to inform local, state and federal decision-makers and to suggest policies that can be developed to encourage more sustainable practices and to mitigate potentially adverse impacts on specific regions of the country as the U.S. transitions to the next generation of biofuels. This workshop was being supported by the Energy Foundation and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's George and Cynthia Mitchell Endowment for Sustainability Science.

Partnerships for Sustainability: Examining the Evidence 
In June 2008 the Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability convened a symposium to develop a better understanding of key factors of success (and failure) for partnerships established to promote sustainability. A steering group was appointed to develop a common framework for the reviews and organize the symposium.

The National Academies' Federal Sustainability Research and Development Forum 
The Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability held a workshop ("forum") on October 17-18, 2007. Forum participants discussed research gaps, needed analytical tools, and opportunities for collaboration among federal research and development programs focused on selected high priority challenges to sustainability in the areas of biofuels and ecosystem services.

Urban Environmental Sustainability in the Developing World 
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are planning a multi-year, multi-country initiative to address one of the central challenges and opportunities of the 21st century—the use of science and technology to help transform rapidly urbanizing regions of the developing world into "sustainable cities" Virtually all of the world's population growth over the next 30 years will be added to cities in developing countries. This year, for the first time in human history, more people will be living in cities than will be living in rural areas. In the next few decades, China and other developing countries will invest billions of dollars to accommodate their expanding urban populations and support economic growth. The challenges faced by these countries include meeting rising energy demands, providing clean water, and protecting public health without compromising environmental quality. Urbanization already has significantly transformed landscapes, affected natural resources, and altered the way billions of people live, and cities will continue to have critical roles to play as engines for economic growth and as major agents of environmental change, whether negative or positive. With wise investments in science and technology, urban leaders and residents will be much more able to make the transition toward urban sustainability.

Planning Meeting on Scientific and Technical Input for the Revision of the World Bank Group's Pollution Prevention and Abatement Handbook 
On November 12, 2004 the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's Science and Technology for Sustainability Program hosted a planning meeting titled "Scientific and Technical Input for the Revision of the World Bank Group's Pollution Prevention and Abatement Handbook." The goal of the one-day workshop was to scope out possible approaches to designing an expert input and/or review process for the new edition of the World Bank Group's Pollution Prevention and Abatement Handbook. The small workshop involved international and US experts on the incorporation of technology into development investments, and included the presentation of background on the current Handbook revision process.

Strengthening Science Based Decison Making in Developing Countries
During the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the American Chemistry Council announced a new partnership to promote sustainable development through better use of scientific knowledge in policy and program decisions.