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Sustainability Metrics Development/Environmental Systems Management

Introduction | Environmental Issue or Problem | Research Approach |
Clients and Collaborators
| Projects | Selected Publications | Contact


EPA researchers are engaged in an interdisciplinary effort to develop a sufficient understanding of the interactions between ecosystems, the economy, the law, and technology to formulate effective long-term management strategies on a regional scale. By developing sustainability metrics and related strategies, EPA is producing robust and common-sense methodologies to manage environmental issues while preserving economic prosperity and social well-being over the long term.

Environmental Issue or Problem

Sustainability requires meeting the needs of the present population without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The goal of sustainability metrics research is to construct a useful methodology for environmental management using scientifically based metrics that assess environmental, economic, and social components of sustainability.

Research Approach

To quantify sustainability, EPA’s Sustainability Metrics researchers are integrating all the different aspects of sustainability into a unified approach. In order to characterize regional systems in Colorado and Puerto Rico, researchers have already selected four metrics from the scientific literature:

  • Dynamic order or organization estimated from Fisher Information
  • Environmental burden characterized by the Ecological Footprint
  • Flow and conservation of energy resources through the system as computed from an Emergy Budget
  • Regional economic health ascertained from Green Net Regional Product

Efforts to identify collaborations to broaden the research effort and supplement the core metrics are also in development.

Clients and Collaborators

  • EPA Region 2
  • EPA Region 8
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
  • Rio Grande Conservation District
  • San Luis Valley Development Resource Group
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Government of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico


Selected Publications

Campbell, D.E. and A. Garmestani. (2012). “An energy systems view of sustainability: Emergy evaluation of the San Luis Basin, Colorado.” Journal of Environmental Management, 95, 1: 72-97.

Gonzalez-Mejia, A.M., Eason, T., Cabezas, H. and M.T. Suidan. (2012). “Assessing Sustainability in Real Urban Systems: The Greater Cincinnati Metropolitan Area in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.” Environmental Science & Technology, 46, 17: 9620-9629.

Gonzalez-Mejia, A.M., Eason, T., Cabezas, H. and M.T. Suidan. (2012). “Computing and Interpreting Fisher Information as a Metric of Sustainability: Regime Changes in the United States Air Quality.” Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy, 14, 5: 775-788.

Heberling, M.T. and M. E. Hopton. (2012). “Introduction to the special collection of papers on the San Luis Basin Sustainability Metrics Project: A methodology for evaluating regional sustainability.” Journal of Environmental Management, 111: 272-278.

Heberling, M., Templeton, J. and S. Wu. (2012). “Green Net Regional Product for the San Luis Basin. Colorado: An economic measure of regional sustainability.” Journal of Environmental Management, 111: 287-297.

Hopton, M.E. and D. White. (2012). “A simplified ecological footprint at a regional scale.” Journal of Environmental Management, 111: 279-286.

Quantifying Sustainability in Puerto Rico: A Scientific Discussion (PDF) (EPA/600/R-12/723) June 2012

Wu, S. and M. Heberling. (2012). “The distribution of pollution and environmental justice in Puerto Rico: a quantitative analysis.” Population and Environment; DOI 10.1007/s11111-013-0188-6. 

Eason, T. and H. Cabezas. (2011). “Evaluating the sustainability of a regional system using Fisher information in the San Luis Basin, Colorado.” Journal of Environmental Management, 94, 1: 41-49.

San Luis Basin Sustainability Metrics Project: A Methodology for Evaluating Regional Sustainability (EPA/600/R-10/182) September 2011

Hopton, M.E., et al. (2010). “Development of a Multidisciplinary Approach to Assess Regional Sustainability.” International Journal for Sustainable Development & World Ecology, 17, 1: 48–56.

Heberling, M. and J. Templeton. (2009). “Estimating the Economic Value of National Parks With Count Data Models Using On-Site, Secondary Data: The Case of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.” Environmental Management, 43, 4: 619–627.


Matthew Hopton

Matthew Heberling

Heriberto Cabezas

Risk Management Research: Air & Climate Change Research | Water Research | Ecosystems Restoration Research | Land Research | Technology Research: Sustainable Technology | Environmental Technology Verification Program (ETV) | Technology Assessments

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