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Office of Strategic Environmental Management

Environmental Innovation Portfolio

Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.


As an environmental agency executive, you know that our system of environmental protection is in transition. More and more, state and federal agencies are trying nontraditional approaches to:

  • Solve increasingly complex problems not easily addressed by conventional regulatory solutions.
  • Harness better information and technology for environmental gains.
  • Move beyond the limitations of single media approaches.
  • Encourage environmental stewardship to improve environmental performance and redefine business relationships.
  • Accomplish more in the face of budget constraints.

Agency leaders recognize that it is no longer possible to simply implement traditional programs and that it is necessary to identify the most pressing environmental concerns and apply available tools to solve them.

The Purpose of This Portfolio

photo of coastline

The Portfolio highlights a broad array of projects and programs that are underway in states and EPA to enhance public agencies' productivity, drive environmental performance improvement, and tackle complex environmental problems.

In response to this challenge, federal and state agencies have developed many innovative strategies, ranging from changes in specific programs to changes in organizational systems and culture. There has been no easy way, however, for other innovators to access and take advantage of this body of experience.

Therefore, this "Innovation Portfolio" has been developed as a quick navigational guide to the expanding variety of innovative strategies and practices available to public environmental agencies. The Portfolio highlights a broad array of projects and programs that are underway in states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enhance public agencies' productivity, drive environmental performance improvement, and tackle complex environmental problems. Targeting state and federal environmental executives as the primary audience, the document helps you efficiently sort through the myriad of "good ideas" and locate those most relevant to you. Anyone interested in creative strategies can use the document to stimulate new thinking and identify specific project opportunities.

The document groups innovative approaches into seven descriptive categories, or "change areas" for improved environmental performance. A quick scan of the Portfolio will reveal innovation opportunities relevant to priorities in your organization. Once you identify an area of interest, descriptions of innovative approaches, accompanied by a few illustrative examples, will help you access ideas and experiences from other organizations.

Numerous examples of specific innovative practices, projects, and programs developed by state agencies, EPA, and partnerships illustrate promising "real-world" activities that can be adopted or adapted in your organization. From the expansive collections of innovations available, we selected examples that have been used by environmental agencies to address a core agency function and that have experienced a degree of success.

Leading Change in Your Organization

In addition to the challenge of finding the most appropriate strategy for solving a particular problem, today's public sector environmental managers have the responsibility-and opportunity-to create an organizational climate conducive to innovative approaches that supplement and enhance traditional environmental management activities. Modeling and creating space for "innovativeness" and aligning organizational systems to support development and implementation of new approaches are key aspects of this broader leadership challenge. The following strategies have proven effective at creating an innovation-friendly organization:

  • Define strategic goals as outcomes, not activities. Defining outcomes allows individuals and organizations to develop creative and innovative solutions to environmental problems.
  • Ask questions that encourage creativity. Start by asking the right questions: What is the environmental problem we are trying to solve? Who cares about this problem and might partner to meet shared goals? What are the tools and practices available for problem solving? Can performance goals provide flexibility in meeting established requirements?
  • Facilitate horizontal and vertical information flow. Non-conventional flows of information create space for new perspectives and enable employees to connect new ideas to needs. Involving employees from day-to-day program operations brings front-line experience to change efforts, helping to ensure effective and durable solutions.
  • Encourage collaboration. Collaborative problem-solving, which engages diverse participant perspectives, is key to crafting innovative solutions to specific environmental challenges.
  • Recognize and reward innovation. Effectively motivating individuals is critical to developing and successfully applying new practices and tools to environmental protection.

Jump to the Introduction.

Table of Contents

Seven Change Areas for Improving Environmental Performance

1. Setting Strategic Direction and Priorities

2. Improving Agency Service Delivery

3. Enhancing Regulatory Outcomes

4. Supporting Superior Environmental Performance

5. Promoting Environmental Sustainability

6. Leveraging Partnerships for Environmental Protection

7. Designing Targeted Geographic Solutions

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