Monthly Archives: May 2012

How Can We Manage Our Water Supplies in a Way That Protects the Fish AND Makes Sure We Have Enough Drinking Water?

Since January 2010, the Massachusetts Sustainable Water Management Initiative – a collaborative decision making process involving state agencies, water suppliers, and environmentalists – has worked to develop new water policies that address urbanization and its impact on natural ecosystems. The goal is to more sustainably balance water withdrawals and ecological water needs under the state’s Water Management Act. A principal question is how to use science and better decision making processes to promote innovative policies that integrate technical issues like water quantity, water quality, and ecology with non-technical concerns like coordinating different agencies’ regulatory programs and engaging key stakeholders.

Tyler Corson-Rikert (MCP ’11) studied these processes and the policies they produced, and found that the science itself and its use within the Sustainable Water Management Initiative significantly impacted participants’ opinions of the policy proposals under development. Stakeholders’ reactions to the science and design of the process then influenced the prospects for building consensus and discussing innovative policy ideas that could move Massachusetts toward more integrated and sustainable water management.

Corson-Rikert concludes that despite the gains, the Sustainable Water Management Initiative alone is unlikely to achieve politically acceptable and truly sustainable water policies without additional changes. The state should consider giving stakeholders more influence over the selection and interpretation of scientific information, and a greater voice in the design of processes. Corson-Rikert also calls for a more prominent role for a neutral mediator in the process. These changes, he claims, could speed the development of the policy innovations the state’s communities and ecosystems urgently need.

Low Flows (Due in Part to Water Withdrawals) Affecting Fish in the Ipswich River, Massachusetts

You can learn more about this topic by reading the full thesis, “The Role of Science, Stakeholder Engagement, and Decision Making Process Design in Advancing Innovation Around Water Management in Massachusetts,” written by Tyler Corson-Rikert.

Is There a Way to Promote Development in Coastal Areas of Costa Rica While Still Preserving the Natural Environment?

Costa Rica needs to pay attention to the rapid change that coastal regions have been undergoing as a result of tourism and real estate projects.  Despite the economic benefits in terms of jobs and foreign investment, many have raised concerns over construction in high slopes, approval of projects without the necessary water and wastewater infrastructure, deforestation, and the displacement of the local population.  Is there a way to promote development in coastal areas of Costa Rica while still preserving the natural environment and benefiting coastal communities in the long term?  What is the process currently in place to determine a project’s potential negative impacts, and what changes need to be made to this process in order to promote sustainability?

(Photo credit: Maricarmen Esquivel)

To answer these questions, Maricarmen Esquivel studied the Environmental Assessments for three tourism and real estate projects in the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, looking specifically at how environmental, economic, and social tradeoffs have been made in practice.  The analysis shows weak assessments, lack of pushback from government agencies coupled with inadequate monitoring, and a high number of legal complaints that have not been sufficient to incentivize good practices.  As coastal areas are being urbanized, Costa Rica has embarked on an ambitious effort to improve the cadastre and land use plans of these regions, in large part to give more security to investors.  A window of opportunity currently exists to improve the sustainability framework in the country, including strengthening the National Technical Environmental Secretariat and the Environmental Administrative Tribunal, updating environmental assessment regulations, and enhancing land use planning capacity.  Esquivel suggests these recommendations should be implemented through a collective effort led by the Ministry of Environment, and including other relevant government agencies, local and international environmental NGOs, universities, the private sector, and local communities.  She argues having clearer rules for development in coastal areas will ultimately benefit all stakeholders.

You can learn more about this topic by reading the full thesis, “Coastal Development Decision-Making in Costa Rica: The Need for a New Framework to Balance Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts,” written by Maricarmen Esquivel.

What Are Local Governments Doing to Adapt to Climate Change Impacts?

Cities around the world are becoming increasingly aware of the need to prepare for climate-driven changes, including greater variability in temperature, precipitation, and natural disasters. However, since systematic studies have not been conducted, there is limited understanding of climate adaptation planning in cities. What is the status of adaptation planning globally, what approaches are cities taking to prepare for climate impacts, and what challenges do they face?

To answer these questions, Professor JoAnn Carmin, aided by research assistants Nikhil Nadkarni (MCP ’12) and Christopher Rhie (MCP ’13), conducted a global survey of members of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability. The analysis reveals that 68% of cities worldwide are pursuing adaptation planning, with many of those cities at the earliest stages of information gathering. Regionally, Latin America has the highest percentage of cities engaged in climate adaptation, while the U.S. has the lowest.

Cities in all regions report that they are encountering numerous challenges. A lack of financial and staff resources are some of the most prevalent barriers to advancing adaptation worldwide. Many cities also note that it is a challenge to gain the commitment of local government officials and departments, and that national and regional governments do not appreciate that cities need to take action to prepare for climate impacts. Communicating the nature of adaptation and generating interest among stakeholders were also common challenges.

A summary of the survey results will be launched this Sunday at ICLEI’s Resilient Cities Conference in Bonn, Germany.  This link will automatically download the full report (PDF).

Is Social Marketing Useful For Promoting Sustainability in Neighborhoods?

Social marketing has long been used in the field of public health, but its application in the environmental world is only a decade old.  McKenzie-Mohr and Smith’s (1999) guide to fostering sustainable behavior through “community-based social marketing” (CBSM) has gained widespread support.  However, there have been few attempts to delineate when and where CBSM can (and should) be used. Nor has CBSM been fully connected to the literature on long-term neighborhood sustainability.  Is social marketing useful for promoting sustainability in neighborhoods?

Jane-Finch, Toronto where many rain barrels owners were not “environmentalists”
(Photo credit: Deborah Lightman)

To answer this question, Deborah Lightman (MCP ’11) reviewed the relevant literature and interviewed homeowners in three neighborhoods in the Toronto area regarding their priorities for sustainability and their interest in rain barrels and gardens. Deborah’s research suggests that community-based social marketing can be useful for promoting sustainability in neighborhoods; however, practitioners must use it conscientiously.

First, social marketers should go beyond investigating “barriers” to carefully assess why residents of a given neighborhood would want to adopt a specific sustainable action. Results of interviews suggest that different messages about rain barrel benefits will resonate with individuals who self-identify in different ways. Findings also suggest that CBSM programs will be more successful if they are clearly beneficial for the local environment or community. Second, social marketers should explore whether residents consider their neighborhood to be their “community”. Many neighborhoods are not defined by a single set of community norms, which may affect the way social marketers use normative tools to promote behaviors.

Social marketers should also carefully consider the relationship between the uptake of a specific action and broader neighborhood sustainability. CBSM does not aim for change beyond the individual level, despite its claim to be “community-based.” However, in all three neighborhoods, addressing residents’ sustainability priorities required neighborhood-level action. Deborah suggests that CBSM can indirectly contribute to long-term sustainability by building social capital, attachment to place, and understanding of the concept of sustainability.  She argues that a CBSM program that leads to the adoption of 30 rain barrels and stimulates neighborhood-wide engagement may be more valuable than one that leads to the passive uptake of 100 rain barrels.


You can learn more about this topic by reading the full thesis, “Community-Based Social Marketing at the Neighborhood Scale: Sustainable Behavior or Neighborhood Sustainability?” written by Deborah Lightman.