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460 Words on Sustainability
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4/16/2015 at 4:32:20 PM GMT
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460 Words on Sustainability

While attending the 2013 National SETAC Meeting in Nashville I stumbled upon a sustainability workshop that featured the Pisces Game.  I understood the term “sustainability” from a conceptual standpoint, but had never really give it much thought in my day-to-day tasks as an environmental toxicologist with the University of California Davis.  The Pisces Game involves groups of people working together to manage resources for their survival, and for the survival of future generations.  The groups were divided randomly by astrological sign, and all varied in size.  Some had more resources than others, and were expected to share.  Some groups attempted to be leaders, while other groups hunkered down and appeared to be plotting for world domination.  Although we were all essentially environmental scientists of one sort or another, personalities immediately clashed.  I learned a few interesting things that day, but most importantly I had a single notion confirmed for me: humans have a hard time working together.  As I attended the SETAC Sustainability Workgroup meeting later that day, I could see the after effects of the game on some of the participants in attendance.  Even the workgroup members themselves had trouble deciding on activities and directions for the group.  

The following day I heard several sustainability presentations, but one presentation by Emma Lavoie stuck with me.  Her topic was flame retardant chemicals, their known environmental effects, and how we had to work together to determine less harmful methods for fire safety.  The process involved assembling stakeholders from all areas related to flame retardant chemicals, manufacturers to end users.  My impression was that these groups met repeatedly, became familiar with each other’s needs, and worked diligently to arrive at solutions.  Throwing these groups together and asking them to save the world in one afternoon, like the Pisces Game, was not going to work.  Time was a necessary component to effect change. 

I was recently discussing an impacted water body listing with a local Regional Water Board staff member in Central California, and he conveyed his concern over how to assemble the stakeholders for the subsequent Total Maximum Daily Load action.  We discussed the timing of the events, and I suggested he have as many meetings as possible with as many groups as possible in order for the groups to become more familiar with each other, and also to frame the issue in a way that would benefit everyone.  The process is still under way, but already the parties are discussing ideas and asking each other questions.  Free coffee and pastries can also help grease the wheels.  As this process continues, it is my hope that the parties with the most extreme viewpoints (some are the regulators and some the regulated) will be able to compromise for the improvement of water quality.