Bringing Global Thinking to Local Sustainability Efforts: A Collaborative Project for the Boston Metropolitan Region

EPA Grant Number: R832306
Title: Bringing Global Thinking to Local Sustainability Efforts: A Collaborative Project for the Boston Metropolitan Region
Investigators: Raskin, Paul , Goldstein, James , Huber-Lee, Annette , Rajan, Sudhir Chella , Sieber, Jack , Vergragt, Philip
Institution: Tellus Institute
EPA Project Officer: Bauer, Diana
Project Period: January 15, 2005 through December 31, 2007
Project Amount: $288,000
RFA: Collaborative Science & Technology Network for Sustainability (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Sustainability , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development


While there is widespread implicit recognition of the global nature of sustainability, global considerations have generally not been incorporated and acted upon in local/regional sustainability efforts (Portney, 2003; Hallsmith, 2003). Moreover, local sustainability initiatives are typified by the absence of science-based methods and do not emphasize global drivers, impacts and opportunities for action. Along with collaborators at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), The Boston Foundation, the Massachusetts State Sustainability Program, and EPA, Tellus has identified an opportunity to infuse MetroFuture, a regional stakeholder-based planning process in Boston area, with a science-based systems approach that is sensitive to sustainability and global concerns.

The objectives of this project are to support sustainable regional planning by providing tools and methods that promote preventative planning in an integrated social-economic-environmental systems framework. Short-term goals are to:

  1. develop scenarios using the latest science that considers the social, environmental and economic elements of sustainability;
  2. influence policy-making and motivate citizens to support policies to achieve a sustainable future for the region;
  3. and promote networking of existing planning efforts taking place at different scales in the region.


Long-range planning for sustainability poses the challenge of indeterminacy - ignorance, surprise, and human volition (Raskin et al., 1998). A scenario approach offers a powerful way to examine the forces shaping our world, the uncertainties that lie ahead, and the implications for tomorrow of trends and actions today. Using participatory visioning with a decision-support system, PoleStar, that incorporates the latest science on the complex linkages between social, economic and environmental elements in a long-term perspective, this project will promote more preventative planning, as well as a global sensibility concerning sustainability in planning and policy dialogues. Building on the rich data already developed by our partners, and with inputs from the MetroFuture visioning process, we will develop a range of scenarios for stakeholder groups to explore the sustainability of alternative futures and also test some principles of social learning theory. The results will directly impact MetroFuture, the long-term regional plan being developed by MAPC and will be linked to other policymaking processes in the region such as the MA State Sustainability Program, the Boston Indicators Project, and the Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan.

Expected Results:

In addition to impacting the MetroFuture long-range regional planning process and other policy initiatives in the region, the analytical tools, data and lessons learned in the proposed project will be readily transferable to other planning efforts. The further development of PoleStar, and making it available through the Tellus website, will make the key analytical tool for this project accessible to other localities, regions and states, as well as the public. Moreover, the project’s model approach for linking regional sustainability initiatives with global considerations and its unique combination of engagement, visioning, integrated sustainability scenarios, backcasting, and careful tracking of sustainability indicators will be documented and disseminated through reports, published articles, and websites. Immediate beneficiaries of this project will be the approximately 3 million residents in the metropolitan Boston region. With dissemination of the project approach, tools, and lessons, indirect beneficiaries will include researchers, planners and citizens in other parts of the country.

Supplemental Keywords:

agriculture, community-based, conservation, decision-making, eastern Massachusetts, ecological effects, ecosystem, environmental assets, global climate, indicators, industry, integrated assessment, modeling, public policy, regionalization, social science, socioeconomic, sustainable development, transportation, vulnerability, waste reduction, water,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Air, Sustainable Industry/Business, cleaner production/pollution prevention, Sustainable Environment, climate change, Air Pollution Effects, Economics, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Urban and Regional Planning, Atmosphere, environmental monitoring, policy analysis, sustainable development, green design, decision making, environmental sustainability, ecological design, regional planning, sustainability metrics, economic input output, pollution prevention, Boston, environmental education, global considerations, environmentally conscious design

Relevant Websites: Exit

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2005
  • 2006
  • Final Report