6. Relationships Between Sustainable Community and P2 Activities

6. Relationships Between Sustainable Community and P2 Activities

Thus far, this report has defined key terms and described the organization for and processes of sustainable community activities. This chapter outlines the relation between these activities and pollution prevention. It begins by defining P2 and describing the hierarchy of related activities, since different organizations and individuals may use slightly different definitions of P2. It then describes how sustainability initiatives incorporate P2 activities. Next, the chapter discusses the relevance of sustainable community activities for P2 activities. Finally, it provides some guidelines showing how P2 programs can take advantage of sustainable community activities and offers a list of specific steps for P2 practitioners to take.

Definition of Pollution Prevention

EPA's definition of pollution prevention follows the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 and Executive Order 12856--Federal Compliance with Right-to-Know Laws and Pollution Prevention Requirements (August 3, 1993):

any practice which reduces the amount of hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant entering any waste stream or otherwise released into the environment (including fugitive emissions) prior to recycling, treatment, or disposal; and any practice which reduces the hazards to public health and the environment associated with the release of such substances, pollutants, or contaminants.

This definition focuses on source reduction activities by referring to the use of materials, processes, or practices that eliminate or reduce the quantity of toxic wastes and the toxicity of those wastes at the source of generation, namely, activities prior to waste generation. Such activities include process efficiency improvements, material substitution, preventive maintenance, improved housekeeping, and inventory control. Besides including practices that eliminate the discharge of harmful wastes, this definition also includes practices that protect natural resources through conservation and efficiency. Pollution prevention also reduces the use of hazardous materials, energy, and water.

Many pollution prevention practitioners both within government and private industry have adopted what is called an environmental protection or environmental management hierarchy. This hierarchy presents options for managing waste in priority order: source reduction, recycling, treatment, and disposal. Whenever possible, individuals and organizations should first implement practices that reduce or eliminate wastes at the source. Source reduction is the highest priority because it reduces or eliminates wastes at the source of generation. Recycling is the next preferable option because it is the reuse or regeneration of materials and wastes into usable products. Treatment and disposal are considered last resort options. Definitions of this hierarchy may vary slightly from organization to organization.

Federal environmental regulations and EPA guidance documents use these definitions. State regulations also specifically define their definitions of pollution prevention and this hierarchy. Usually, states use EPA's definitions, such as in their state pollution prevention acts. However, states also may change the interpretation slightly in their legislation.

In practice, businesses and state and local governments have flexibility in what they label as P2 and what they implement as P2 activities. For example, some businesses and some local governments consider recycling to be pollution prevention, although technically it is not part of the official P2 definition. Another important gray area in implementing P2 activities is avoidance of environmental harm. Is an activity that helps reduce the loss of biodiversity, species, and/or habitat considered P2? Individuals and organizations would differ in their answer to this question, although many state and local governments do not currently include such a focus in their P2 activities. This flexibility in P2 activities actually allows for more opportunity to take advantage of sustainable community efforts.

Now that P2 has been defined and the reader understands how sustainable community activities are organized, what is the relationship between sustainable community and P2 activities? The next section begins to answer this question by explaining how sustainable communities use P2 as a tool in their sustainability projects.

How Sustainable Community Activities Incorporate P2

Many communities consider P2 as a building block for sustainability. Sustainable community efforts incorporate pollution prevention in their activities in different ways. Some communities explicitly mention P2 in their goals and objective. For example, EcoVillage at Ithaca has a solid waste goal focused on P2: "To reduce the amount of solid waste generated on-site." In Seattle, sustainability indicators include metrics for pollution prevention and renewable resource use. P2 is considered an important indicator to help measure progress toward sustainability.

Pollution prevention is almost always a major element of specific project design, development, and implementation. For instance, Chattanooga, Tennessee; Baltimore, Maryland; Northampton County, Virginia; Brownsville, Texas; and other community efforts to develop eco-industrial parks include elements focused on P2 to strive for zero emissions from their facilities. Elements of the eco-industrial park approach "include new or retrofitted design of park infrastructure and plants; pollution prevention; energy efficiency; and inter-company partnering."[1]

Presidio National Park's sustainable community has a major focus on waste reduction, which includes pollution prevention as well as reuse and recycling. Portland, Oregon, has also emphasized waste minimization and pollution prevention in its sustainability activities. For example, a recent Portland report on sustainable economic development suggests the idea of implementing "loan criteria which rewards businesses that . . . install source reduction or pollution prevention measures" to encourage more sustainable business practices.[2]

Whether or not a community explicitly uses the term pollution prevention, P2 is a critical building block for sustainability projects. The PCSD Task Force on Sustainable Communities makes a policy recommendation emphasizing the importance of P2, especially P2 partnerships: "Increase public-private pollution prevention efforts at the community level."[3]

Relevance of Sustainable Community Efforts for P2 Activities

Many pollution prevention activities have been implemented for years without any relationship to the notion of a sustainable community. How are such sustainable community activities, thereby, relevant to state and local government P2 activities and other organizations P2 activities? For an experienced P2 practitioner, what is the importance of sustainable community activities to his or her activities?

Sustainable community groups often create a vision for the community, such as identifying what their ideal community would look like in 20, 30, 50, or 100 years. This exercise can also create a vision for P2. For example, including more efficient natural resource use and zero emission industries helps set an overarching vision for P2 activities. These P2 activities are incorporated into the broader community perspective for developing a long-term healthy community. Such a vision helps more members of the community recognize the need for P2 activities.

Sustainable community initiatives can also help focus P2 efforts on difficult environmental problems, which are interrelated with social and economic problems. For example, many cities are addressing the complex issues of urban sprawl and traffic congestion. Such problems have significant environmental effects, such as air pollution and loss of natural habitat, yet these problems are affected by many different factors, such as our need for affordable and convenient transportation, housing prices, land development policies, love of the automobile, and individual choices of behavior. Addressing these social and economic factors along with the environmental factors in a systems approach allows the interrelationships to be more fully understood and analyzed. Such an integrated, holistic approach also could be invaluable in helping to develop and analyze potential solutions. Having different types of community members involved in the process in a sustainability effort also helps to determine whether the solution is politically feasible; also, the process can be used to negotiate and develop feasible alternatives. Project implementation is therefore more likely to succeed. For example, P2 practitioners who have tried to prevent mobile-source air pollution know how hard it is to address such issues in isolation from these broader community issues.

Sustainable community efforts also help industry, government, community groups and the general public work together to solve their community environmental problems. An example of such cooperation is the collaborative effort in eco-industrial parks. Unique partnerships can be created with individuals and organizations that P2 practitioners might have had less access to in the past. Such cooperation among many diverse stakeholders enables P2 projects to be undertaken by more individuals and organizations. For instance, more of the general public learns the importance of P2 and is motivated to help prevent pollution in their community.

Taking Advantage of Sustainable Community Activities

How can government P2 practitioners take advantage of sustainable community efforts? Sustainable community activities offer a great opportunity to generate more public support for P2 activities because sustainability and sustainable values create a broader emotional appeal and understanding of the need for P2. For instance, providing a long-term sustainable vision of what the community could look like in 100 years and what the current trends imply can help the public and other key stakeholders see the critical need for P2 as a tool for sustainability.

Similarly, sustainability activities can help to educate and motivate less-accessible audiences to participate in P2 activities. For instance, homeowners learn to reduce their household use of certain chemical products because they understand the long-term cumulative effect on their community from such usage.

Often, P2 activities are viewed mainly as addressing environmental and economic concerns and are focused on specific practices, policies, and technological solutions in factories, businesses, or homes. Sustainability can help focus some of the P2 activities on difficult long-term, diffuse, and/or multidisciplinary environmental problems, such as urban sprawl. Such problems may be solved only by implementing a range of policy mechanisms and technological solutions across a range of governmental departments and functional areas. Sustainability activities also enable government P2 practitioners to more easily work with other departments in such activities. For instance, the local environmental agency works with the transportation, planning, and economic development departments to address urban sprawl.

A related benefit is that sustainability also allows for more integration of P2 with other key community environmental efforts, such as ecosystem management and other natural resource issues. In many state and local governments, recreation and the protection and use of natural resources are handled by a natural resource agency, whereas P2 activities are conducted by the regulatory or a technical assistance agency. The natural resource agency addresses the more traditional flora and fauna issues such as ecosystem management, and the latter agency focuses more on technical engineering solutions to reduce the use of chemicals and other materials. This division can create a disconnect in the two efforts. Sustainable community activities can help foster the integration of the more traditional flora and fauna issues with those of P2. This integration enables identification of the interdependencies and leveraging of the two types of activities. For instance, Florida's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is implementing an ecosystem management strategy based on sustainability that integrates P2 activities. In fact, their ecosystem management definition includes pollution prevention.

This integration opportunity also applies to community economic efforts. Sustainable community initiatives can facilitate the incorporation of P2 principles into the activities of local economic development projects as, for instance, in the Brownsville, Texas, Eco-Industrial Park project.

Because of the many diverse stakeholders who participate in sustainability activities, such projects can help develop new innovative partnerships focused on P2. Such partnerships might involve the federal government, other state and local governments, industry, universities, community groups, trade associations, and individuals. Many collaboration examples have already been provided in this report, with diverse organizations such as the American Institute of Architects, the Department of Energy, the National Park Service, Cornell University, and The Nature Conservancy working with different communities across the country. These many different collaborations can help leverage scarce resources for P2. Such partners help provide manpower, information, funds, infrastructure, and expertise to help with P2 efforts related to community sustainability.

How government P2 officials can take advantage of sustainability projects depends on the unique factors of the community and its sustainability initiatives. For example, in a community focused on an eco-industrial park, such as in Baltimore, Maryland, it might be harder to try to do P2 projects with local residents. However, this eco-industrial park offers numerous opportunities for working with industry in P2. Similarly, a project like EcoVillage at Ithaca offers opportunities to educate, demonstrate, and teach residents about individual practices to prevent pollution.

Supporters of P2 have many different opportunities to leverage off sustainable community activities. However, such opportunities vary, depending on the unique community circumstances. So where and how does a P2 practitioner or other individual begin to take advantage of such opportunities?

Suggested Steps for Taking Action

How can government P2 practitioners leverage scarce resources or expand their program focus using sustainable community activities? There are many ways that P2 practitioners and other individuals can start taking advantage of such sustainable community activities. How does an individual start to take action? Here are five suggested steps:

  1. Become more informed about the numerous references available regarding sustainable community activities. There is a wide range of information available from traditional academic and technical sources, such as journal articles and universities, to hands-on practitioners who are implementing sustainability. The references for such information include academic, trade association, community and environmental groups, government literature, and World Wide Web (WWW) sites. For instance, the nonprofit educational organization called EcoCity Cleveland publishes a monthly newsletter with ideas and tools for a sustainable bioregion.[4] Another example is the Sustainable Communities Network World Wide Web site, developed with support from the Urban and Economic Development Division of EPA. This site contains a range of information including information about the fundamentals of sustainability, case studies, and links to sustainable community information on the net.

    Experts and other contacts within government at all levels, industry, universities, and NGOs are key sources of information. Examples of these types of sources are in the bibliography at the end of this report.

    To become familiar with sustainability information, be sure to identify sustainable community efforts in your own community and state. These activities are ones probably most easily take advantage of. However, lessons can also be learned from activities across the country or even the world.

  2. Develop specific ideas about how sustainable community efforts can help address your P2 needs. What P2 needs and wants do you have today and in the future? What results do you ultimately want to achieve? How can sustainable community efforts help you in such activities? For example, if you want to focus more on mobile-source air pollution and your community has concerns over urban sprawl problems, study Seattle's and other sustainable community efforts that deal with such issues. Then identify whether and how sustainability might help you in your P2 activities related to mobile-source air emissions. Make a list of the most promising ideas that you might want to focus on through sustainability efforts.

  3. Identify key individuals, organizations, and businesses that are active or interested in sustainability and that are relevant to your needs. For example, if you are very interested in activities related to pollution prevention in buildings because of a large amount of residential construction in your community, then identify organizations such as AIA, DOE, PTI, IBACOS, and the City of Austin. All of these have participated in activities to design, develop, test, and/or implement more sustainable practices in residential buildings. If you are interested in rural economic development and ecosystem management issues, identify organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, USDA, EPA, Florida DEP, Curry County, Oregon, and Northampton County, Virginia.

    Identifying key individuals and organizations that might create roadblocks to your efforts and involving them as stakeholders in the process can also be an important part of your process.

  4. Contact the organizations you have identified to help you implement your ideas. These organizations may provide you only with information, but they may be able to offer technical assistance, manpower, and/or funding to help in your efforts. Also, identify creative ways that public-private partnerships might be formed to help implement your ideas.

  5. Act to implement your projects. Such an action may first involve organizing a sustainable community initiative in your area, writing a grant proposal (such as in the Northampton County example), or just educating your own agency about the importance of sustainability. If there is already a sustainable community initiative in your community, become an active member in it and start trying to integrate your project ideas into the ongoing agenda and activities.

  6. As part of your action, it is important to include an evaluation component in your effort and to include the flexibility to revise your plans based on the evaluation results.

    There are many ways to take advantage of the sustainable community "movement." These examples just highlight some ways to begin. The bibliography presents a sample structure for organizing information for this discovery process.


    [1] The President's Council on Sustainable Development, Eco-Efficiency Task Force Report, 1996, Appendix B4, p. 4. Also, see Appendix B4 for good detailed descriptions of each of the aforementioned eco-industrial parks.

    [2] Patricia Scruggs and Philip Thompson, Promoting Sustainable Economic Development in Portland: A Report to the Portland Development Commission, Portland Development Commission, Portland, Oregon, October 1996, p. vii.

    [3] The President's Council on Sustainable Development, Sustainable Communities Task Force Report, October 1996, Final Draft, p. 40.

    [4] This monthly newsletter is called the EcoCity Cleveland Journal. To obtain a sample copy or to subscribe, contact EcoCity Cleveland at 216-932-3007.


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    When making comments about this document please remember to include the publication number MR-855-OSTP and the title: Linking Sustainable Community Activities to Pollution Prevention: A Sourcebook. This document is also available as a printed RAND report.

    Document created April 1997