SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  16 August 2012
Volume 13 Issue 8

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Boston, Berlin and Beyond: An Update on the SETAC Sustainability Discussion from the SETAC North America Science Committee

Ron McCormick, USDI - BLM, Cynthia Stahl, USEPA, Markus Hecker, University of Saskatchewan, Trina von Stackelberg, E Risk Sciences, Mary Ann Ottinger, University of Maryland and Bruce Vigon SETAC North America

As a society, both SETAC specifically and the world generally, we are coming to recognize that global environmental issues are exceedingly complex. Traditional reductionist approaches suitable for addressing obvious environmental contamination (e.g., point discharges, industry-specific emissions) are less suited to the “wicked problems” of coupled social-ecological systems. The science of sustainability has emerged as offering systems-based approaches to addressing this complexity based on the concept of the nested pillars of ecology, economy and society and the necessity for integrated modeling approaches that go beyond just the biophysical sciences. A recently accepted paper in Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM), based on a successful debate held at the 2011 SETAC North America 32nd Annual Meeting in Boston, MA, USA, set the stage for the development of a statement “Toward a Discussion on Sustainability,” which was presented and discussed at the 6th SETAC World Congress/SETAC Europe 22nd Annual Meeting in Berlin, Germany, this May.

The draft statement offered to SETAC members in Berlin represented a formal step toward engaging the SETAC community in shaping our role with regard to sustainability concepts and actions. The Berlin World Congress featured a closing plenary roundtable discussion including Ron McCormick (Bureau of Land Management, Washington, D.C. USA), Sverker Molander (Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenborg, Sweden), Dayanthi Nugegoda (School of Applied Sciences, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia) and Klaus Kümmerer (Universität Lüneburg, Germany) along with Larry Kapustka (SLR Consulting, Calgary, Canada) as moderator. Kapustka provided a brief history of SETAC’s role in sustainability and status of the draft declaration on sustainability.

Many attendees took advantage of the opportunity to provide comments on the draft declaration throughout the meeting, and those initial comments framed the panel discussions. The comments highlighted the subjective nature of how “sustainability” as a concept is defined and interpreted, emphasizing the opportunity for SETAC as an organization to assume a leadership role in advancing sustainability science. Since the meeting, a formal draft “Berlin Declaration on Sustainability” has been prepared and is being circulated within the Advisory Group on Sustainability, the SETAC World Council and leadership from the Geographic Units for comment. You are also invited to provide comments and contribute to this discussion.

Discussions about the science of sustainability will continue at the SETAC Asia/Pacific 2012 Annual Meeting, 24-27 September in Kumamoto, Japan, and the IV Congress of the SETAC Argentina Chapter, 16-19 October in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with the goal of having the SETAC World Council approve the final Berlin Declaration on Sustainability prior to the SETAC North America 33rd Annual Meeting, 11-15 November in Long Beach, CA, USA. If you want to help shape the role that SETAC will play in the larger sustainability debate, the time is now! The chairs of the Advisory Group on Sustainability – Tom Seager (USA) and Paolo Masoni (Italy) – invite and encourage you to join the discussion by going to the new Advisory Group on Sustainability webpage, where you can check out the draft Berlin Declaration and the summary of the sustainability debate in Boston.

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