A new report advises the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to consider incorporating sustainability concepts used in the agency’s Design for Environment (DfE) program in its new chemicals screening process as it evolves, suggesting a new direction for Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform. The National Research Council (NRC) says that EPA should incorporate into its decision-making process an integrated strategy for evaluating effects on the three dimensions of sustainability – environmental, social, and economic – across all the agency’s activities.
This week, the NRC, the principal operating agency of the National Academies, released its report, Sustainability Concepts in Decision-Making: Tools and Approaches for the US Environmental Protection Agency. The NRC found that a wide variety of tools are available for the agency to use in integrating sustainability concepts into its decision-making, while declining to give “prescriptive advice” on “the use of specific tools and specific decisions” and recognizing that incorporating sustainability into EPA decision-making will be an “evolutionary process.”
The NRC’s report elaborates on issues left unresolved in the NRC’s 2011 report, Sustainability and the U.S. EPA (also known as the Green Book); this new report was commissioned by EPA “to examine applications of scientific tools and approaches for incorporating sustainability considerations into assessments that are used to support EPA decision-making.”
The report includes among five case studies examining how EPA could incorporate sustainability tools into its decision-making the agency’s DfE program. The NRC recommends that EPA use a “systems-thinking approach,” in contrast to the agency’s traditional focus on reducing releases from specific source categories. Likewise, in regulating products, EPA is urged to consider potential life-cycle effects of business processes along the entire value chain. In particular, the report advises EPA to consider applying lessons learned from the DfE program to the new chemicals screening process under TSCA. The NRC highlights the following approaches from the DfE program:
- Convening public-private partnerships;
- Using a variety of screening-level and quantitative analytic tools (like life-cycle analysis and alternatives assessments) relevant to sustainability; and
- Using a variety of indicators (ecotoxicity, human toxicity, bioaccumulation, and environmental persistence) relevant to sustainability.
EPA is also advised to look to the private sector’s sustainability expertise to learn about tools used outside the agency, and to convene the private sector and NGOs “to define and implement value-chain-wide goals and performance outcomes.” In addition, the NRC recommends that EPA work to share insights and best practices learned from leading companies with other businesses.