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EPA's Report on the Environment: External Review Draft



Sustainability

There are significant concerns in the United States and worldwide about the potential social, environmental, and economic consequences of rapid population growth, economic growth, and consumption of natural resources. The concept of sustainability, or sustainable development, is based on the fundamental interdependence between humans and nature. Current patterns of economic and social development are placing pressures on natural resources, and may threaten the continued health and prosperity of human societies. It has become increasingly clear that significant transformation of human production and consumption patterns will be needed to enable continued economic growth while protecting critical environmental resources.

The idea of sustainability—commonly defined as the ability to maintain or improve standards of living without damaging or depleting natural resources for present and future generations—was ingrained as a foundation of environmental law with the signing of the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA established as a continuing policy of the federal government the creation and maintenance of “conditions under which [humans] and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.” 1 Sustainability is commonly characterized in terms of the interdependence among three broad systems: economy, society, and the environment. As EPA identifies and pursues solutions to increasingly complex problems, continued protection of the environment and public health will necessarily focus not just on reducing risks, but also on optimizing the benefits of those solutions across all three of these systems. Sustainability offers a useful framework for addressing such challenges.

Because of the growing strategic importance of sustainability,2 EPA expanded the scope of the ROE 2013 to include this thematic area with an initial set of national-level indicators that help address the following fundamental question:


Learn more about EPA's strategy for incorporating sustainability into the ROE.

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