USSEE 2021 VIRTUAL POSTER CONFERENCE

Building Resilient Economies in a Time of Uncertainty. Friday April 16th, 3-5pm EDT

In this first virtual poster session hosted by The United States Society for Ecological Economics (USSEE), undergraduate students, graduate students, and post-docs will present their research focused on “Building Resilient Economies in a Time of Uncertainty”. The conference aims to highlight the multiple uncertainties of our time, including the COVID-19 pandemic, environmental and racial injustice, unprecedented wildfires, an extraordinary Atlantic hurricane season, and ongoing impacts of climate change. The objective of the conference is to provide students with an opportunity to present their work and receive feedback from members of the ecological economics community.

Posters will be presented in three concurrent sessions, held in separate Zoom breakout rooms after and introduction and welcoming remarks by USSEE president Robert Richardson.

Session 1: Environmental Justice, Racial equity, and Indigenous issues; Climate and Energy; Scale, Ecological limits, and Degrowth

Session 2: Ecosystem Services, Measurement and Valuation

Session 3: Natural Capital, Governance, Management, and Policy

To register for this free conference, visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ussee-2021-virtual-poster-conference-tickets-147415219891

Conference Schedule:

3:00 PM: Opening Remarks from USSEE President, Robert Richardson

3:15 – 5:00 PM Breakout Session Poster Presentations

Session 1: Environmental Justice, Racial equity, and Indigenous issues; Climate and Energy; Scale, Ecological limits, and Degrowth

Beyond the quantitative box: Local food hubs as creative leaders of food justice

Arden He, Undergraduate student University Of Wisconsin – Madison                    

Hope and Main (H&M), a large kitchen incubator in Rhode Island, used a point of disruption to impart their own food justice values into the Warren local food system. In response to COVID-19, H&M began using their farmers market as a point of distribution for school lunches; this initial collaboration with the school district led to the creation of the independent Nourish Our Neighbors program, in which H&M sought to distribute what they deemed “real food.” Beyond reaching benchmarks of number of meals distributed or macronutrients satisfied, H&M specifically strived to lend dignity to recipients of the free meals through the creativity and the beauty of the food. Anyone was eligible for the new free meals program: community members did not have to identify themselves as qualifiers for the free meals. At the same public mingling point, other community members were picking up paid-for prepared meals, and shopping at H&M’s farmers market. The Nourish Our Neighbors program also directly sent meals to other community organizations. Through interviews with various Hope and Main staff, as well as the director of the Warren Senior Center, we investigated the attributes of H&M that allowed them to quickly pivot to a highly successful and locally unique meal distribution program, given that their raison d’être is to incubate food businesses. We explore their use of the marketplace specifically as a permeation of public and private interests, and how the multifunctional nature of H&M is a significant factor in their ability to move beyond quantitative expectations. In agreement with previous research by Morales, we find that creative, multifunctional food hubs are essential originators of policy, not simply receivers of policy.

Economic Ramifications: Access to Transportation for People with Disabilities

Michael Schlicting, Doctoral student University of Wisconsin-Madison        

An efficient transportation system is an essential and crucial foundation for productivity. Efficient transportation is often taken for granted, but when transportation fails it can have a detrimental effect on everyone. Midwesterners know the crippling effect a snowstorm can have on getting to work, vacations, or seeing family, but imagine what the world would be like if transportation systems were shut down for not only hours, but years.  This is what someone with an ambulatory disability must struggle with as they may be shut out of transportation systems for a lifetime; which means shut out of work, social activities, and family outings. This study includes a qualitative analysis of feedback from case studies and a pilot study that was conducted on students’ attitude towards the accessibility of ride hailing services.  Additionally, the investigation summarizes a cost-benefit of transportation options to address the future transportation needs of the Baby Boomer generation as well as those who are disabled today and struggle with their transportation. A surprising result of the research is that the difficulty of navigating the system was a constant theme.   This includes giving those who struggle with an ambulatory disability real time information to minimize surprises and plan for obstacles ahead of time including, but not limited to, snow/ice clearing of bike paths, full accessibility inventory of bus stops and stations, and using phone apps to anticipate crowded vehicles, and alert the driver ahead of time of the disabled individuals plans.  Another finding of the report is the application of universal design to increase accessibility for a range of individuals, as well as developing transit-oriented development to all aging in place.  However, emerging technology such as ride hailing services and autonomous vehicles are a major concern.  The findings illustrate the continuous struggle that people with disabilities face regarding transportation in their daily lives. 

Through Technicolored Glasses: Embracing Complexity in Economic Depictions to Support a Sustainability Transition

Naomi Cunningham, Master’s student University of Vermont              

By developing new economic depictions through critiquing and revising previous models, particularly the circular flow diagram, Ecological Economics (EE) has preserved many implicit assumptions of the Neoclassical paradigm. This presentation proposes a new modeling framework developed to align with the core EE principles. Specifically, this framework centers around implicitly emphasizing inter-generational equity and relational values, which are more inclusive of indigenous and non-western worldviews. The modeling framework includes 1) a temporal dimension, indicating that economic overshoot has the potential to impact the quality of life of future generations, and 2) an illustrative mechanism to depict qualitative improvements in well-being. A modeling framework offers a distinct advantage to a singular model of the economy because it can be adapted to new contexts to reflect different theories and values. An adaptable framework also provides a common ‘language’ to illustrate a host of economic concepts, including development, uneconomic growth, and the Ecozoic.                                    

Explaining Changes in U.S. Energy and Economic Trends of the 1970s via the HARMONEY model  

Sajed Sadati, Post-doctoral researcher University of Texas at Austin

This work uses an existing long-term economic growth model, HARMONEY (Human and Resources with MONEY), to explain relationships among biophysical and economic variables. The model uses a stock and flow consistent post-Keynesian economic framework that enables the study of relationships and tradeoffs between resource extraction, consumption, growth, debt, and wages (and hence inequality). The model consists of two industrial sectors, namely Goods production and Extraction of natural resources, and it accounts for both the physical and monetary intermediate demands of the sectors.  As the depletion of natural resources increases resource extraction costs in a negative feedback that slows growth.   At present, the HARMONEY model is not calibrated to the U.S., but because of its inherent formulation that endogenously couples biophysical and ecological economic principles, the HARMONEY model mimics many important trends in the U.S. economic data that changed in direction during the 1970s. In this poster we show that the HARMONEY model helps explain (1) how resource consumption rates and wage bargaining coalesced in the 1970s such that the real wage increased with economic productivity before the 1970s, but not after the 1970s; (2) the increasing quantity of private debt after versus before the 1970s, and (3) decreasing industrial capital capacity utilization after the 1970s. Our results indicate that while wages could have remained high after the 1970s, this would have coincided with very low or no corporate profits. Thus, both increasing private debt and the actions to reduce wage bargaining power, and thus wages, seem to have been a reaction to maintain a capitalist system with profitable firms in the face of stagnating per capita resource consumption.             

The Mortality Cost of Carbon          

R. Daniel Bressler, Doctoral student Columbia University

A large body of scholarly literature has projected that climate change is expected to cause a significant number of excess deaths over the 21st century. However, no studies have yet quantified the number of excess deaths caused by marginal emissions. This is crucial because the effect of marginal emissions today is more important for informing both policy and individual decision-making than the total effect resulting from the emissions of all global economic activity in aggregate across time. This study determines the effect of marginal emissions on temperature-related excess deaths by creating a coupled climate-economy-demographics integrated assessment model called DICE-EMR that includes a climate-mortality damage function estimated from studies chosen from an interdisciplinary systematic research synthesis of the scholarly literature. The impact of marginal emissions on excess deaths is captured in a new metric introduced in this paper — the mortality cost of carbon (MCC) — that avoids many of the pitfalls that plague discussion of the social cost of carbon (SCC) because it measures the marginal mortality impact of climate change in units of excess deaths without discounting or valuing lives. We find that marginal 2020 emissions have a surprisingly large mortality impact over the 21st century: in a baseline emissions scenario, the 2020 MCC is 2.26×10-4 excess deaths per metric ton of 2020 emissions. This implies the emission of 4,434 metric tons of carbon dioxide released in 2020 — equivalent to the lifetime emissions of 3.5 average Americans — causes one excess death globally between 2020-2100. In addition, DICE-EMR updates the climate policy prescribed by Nobel Prize-winning economist William Nordhaus by extending his influential DICE model to include the effect of climate change on human mortality. Before incorporating mortality costs, the 2020 SCC in DICE is $37 per metric ton in the baseline emissions scenario and optimal climate policy involves an emissions plateau and then gradual reductions starting in 2050. After incorporating mortality costs in DICE-EMR, the 2020 SCC increases over seven-fold to $258 per metric ton in the baseline emissions scenario and optimal climate policy involves large immediate emissions reductions and full decarbonization by 2050.      

A shift in the weather: Does experience with extreme weather events inform attitudes towards the relationship between the natural environment and the economy?

Daniel Pratson, Doctoral student University of Vermont            

Perceptions of the relationship between the natural environment and the economy can influence attitudes towards climate change, as the impacts of climate change affect both environmental and economic responses. Literature suggests that personal experience with extreme, short-term weather events can lead to feelings of concern around climate change. However, decision-making regarding climate change is often framed in a way that suggests tradeoffs between the wellbeing of the environment and the strength of the economy. We asked participants of a national online survey to indicate personal experiences with extreme weather events, as well as identify how they perceive of the relationship between the environment and the economy. We provided options that operationalized the concept of the economy embedded within the environment, consistent with one of the core ideas of ecological economics, in order to address the following research questions: How do individuals view the relationship between the environment and the economy? Do experiences with extreme weather events inform this view? Analysis of survey responses is currently underway and will be complete by early spring, 2021. This work will provide current insight to how extreme weather events may impact perceptions of the relationship between the natural environment and the economy. The work will also look to determine whether individuals who have personally experienced extreme weather events may be more aligned to the idea of an “embedded” economy. Results can inform targeted efforts in advocating for a resilient economic system aligned with principles of ecological economics.                                                                                                                                   

Session 2: Ecosystem Services, Measurement and Valuation

Responding to Social Distancing in Conducting Stakeholder Workshops in COVID-19 Era

Catherine Tobin, Doctoral Student, University of Massachusetts Boston

In March 2020, COVID-19 disrupted global society. Impacts as a result of COVID-19 were seen in all industries, including higher education research, which was paused in order to accommodate newly imposed restrictions. Social science research, specifically stakeholder engagement research, was one area that was potentially impacted given its need for person-to-person interaction. Here, we describe how we successfully adjusted our stakeholder engagement methodology to accommodate for socially distant requirements. Initially, we planned to host in-person workshops to assess stakeholder perceptions of microplastics impacts on oysters in Boston Harbor and coastal Massachusetts using the deliberative multicriteria evaluation (DMCE) methodology. To transfer these workshops online, we used familiar, open-access platforms, Zoom and GoogleDrive, to enable dialogue among participants and evaluate preferences. While modifications to length (5 to 3 h) and order (participants were asked to watch expert videos before their participation date) of the workshop were necessary, most other elements of the methodology remained the same for the online format. The main element that was lacking was the in-person interactions. However, with video conferencing tools available, this element was not completely lost.

The value of shade tree disease regulation on coffee farms: a bioeconomic model of coffee rust infestations        

Khashayar Ghorbani, Master’s student University of New Hampshire    

Coffee is under threat of more frequent and more pronounced coffee Leaf Rust (CLR) outbreaks around the tropics due to more extreme temperatures and wet seasons, causing yield losses up to 50%. The Shade-Grown Coffee (SGC) farming system is a recommended climate adaptation and mitigation strategy, but it has remained controversial because of the nonlinear effects of shade on CLR and coffee yields and profits. Shade trees provide disease regulation and other ecosystem services, but they compete with coffee shrubs for soil water, soil nutrition and sunlight. Also, a price premium may be awarded to coffee growers whose production practices align with shade-grown certification framework. We propose a bioeconomic model that integrates an ecological model capturing the effect of shading trees on the CLR temperature and humidity-dependent infestation dynamics, crop growth, and timber production, with a farmer profit-maximization model of optimal shading selection in the presence of CLR infestation. Finally, our model accounts for the value of timber and possible price premiums paid by buyers of shade-grown coffee. Using parameters from the Coffee Triangle region in Colombia, our simulations indicate that in the presence of CLR, the farm expected net present values (ENPV) over 25 years are higher in a SGC system than a sun-grown coffee system in the range of 6-36% shade cover. The optimal shade cover is 23% without any price premium. For higher values of crop growth ecosystem services, the optimum shade cover increases to 28% and decreases to 18% in the absence of a price premium for shade-grown coffee.

How to Save the Elephants

 Brian Gallagher, Undergraduate student Temple University

For over four decades, elephants have been an endangered species. The allure of their ivory tusks, and the products made from them, have attracted traders and craftsmen for generations. However, massive world-wide markets have pushed the demand for ivory beyond sustainable use. The disappearance of elephants would have reverberating effects on other kinds of wildlife, and no doubt impact ivory markets irreversibly. To remedy this crisis, this project focuses on the temporary removal of ivory from markets worldwide and models the restoration of elephant populations to ensure this species’ existence. To curtail poaching, the literature from the last half century suggests a total ban on ivory trading from the world marketplace. Today, Japan remains the largest legal market for selling ivory. A two-step process is required to curtail ivory sales. First, the Japanese government must buy back the nation’s ivory stocks, and then it must educate its populace about the implications of buying ivory products. While this ban is taken into effect, elephant populations will have time to replenish. This project examines Kenyan elephant populations. Using a Leslie Matrix and researched survival rates (under zero poaching), an analysis reveals the nation should see its elephant populations return to carrying capacity in 15-30 years.  As long as there is a financial incentive to hunt elephants, they will always be endangered. For the foreseeable future, the only solution is to close the ivory markets. Perhaps one day, elephants and ivory products can coexist; but for now, preservation should be the priority.

The case for providing financial incentives to local food producers: a measure of economic, social, environmental impact of community food systems

Brian Wiedenfeld, Undergraduate student University of Wisconsin – Madison

In the current state of agriculture in the US, the largest producers are paid to keep being the largest as existing smaller operations are forced to get out, with newer operations struggling to navigate complex markets and systemic barriers. The 2021 Farm Bill budget is $146 billion (USDA, 2021). One quarter will fund farm, conservation, and commodity subsidies. From 1995-2020, the top 10% of subsidy recipients received 78% of the payments (EWG, 2021). Many of these “farms” are subscribed to the industrial agriculture system producing large quantities of product with highly mechanized and chemically intensive processes. This method of farming is synonymous with bad agriculture practices and producing foods that individuals don’t eat. Meanwhile, those who produce nutritious food often do not receive subsidies. In 2020, just $37 million was allocated for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and Regional Foods System Partnership (USDA, 2020). Farmers markets offer a way for farmers to reach consumers in a local setting, with measurable impacts in communities. Funding for local food producers and farmers markets is a step forward, but more can be done to support these efforts. It starts with measuring the impact of local food systems. Farm 2 Facts is a non-profit born out of University of Wisconsin – Madison that provides impactful tools for data collecting, analysis and visualization to farmers markets (farms2facts.org). A series of metrics have been developed by F2F to track food miles, farmers market visitors, demographics of vendors, dollars spent at the market and a number of others. This presentation reports research in progress of quantitative and qualitative analysis of vendors enrolled in Farm 2 Facts to determine impact on sustainability goals. The conclusion includes suggestions for how to monetize these impacts in the form of financial incentives for local producers and farmers markets.

Farmer Pest Control and Pollinator Health Choices: Evidence from a Choice Experiment with Midwestern Cucurbit Farmers.

Linghui Wu, Doctoral student University of New Hampshire    

Pollinators are declining globally, threatening food production and many ecosystems’ health. Among all bee species, the European honeybee has become the single bee species most heavily relied upon to provide crop pollination services and the most studied. However, ecological studies suggest that wild bees are more productive and more resilient to pests, diseases, and extreme weather.  Despite their importance relative to honeybees, we know little about farmer perceptions of wild pollinating bees and their willingness to conserve them, especially from pesticide exposure. We designed a choice experiment survey asking growers of cucurbits – crop family including squash, pumpkin, watermelon, cucumber- about their preferences for different sets of pollinator and pest management options. We mailed the survey in February of 2019 to a sample of midwestern cucurbit farmers. The dataset includes 143 useable responses. We estimated conditional logit and mixed logit models and found that respondents generally prefer management options with higher pest control effectiveness and do not think honeybee availability and quality have declined over the years.  However, farmers who state that wild pollinators are (very or extremely) important for cucurbit crops, 48% of the sample, are less likely to choose management options with pesticides leaching to nearby soil and water bodies. They are more likely to choose management options that keep managed honeybee colonies strong throughout the season. Surprisingly, even cucurbit farmers who recognize the importance of wild pollinators do not make choices that maintain wild bee populations when adopting management options and consider options that maintain honeybee strength instead. Our results suggest that the perceived notion that honeybee colonies’ availability and quality have not declined over the years induces cucurbit farmers to prefer management options with higher pest control effectiveness and makes them less likely to choose options that sacrifice pest effectiveness for strong honeybee colonies.

Cost Benefit Analysis: Global Sustainable Aquaculture Expansion Versus the “Business as Usual” Scenario

Kaileigh E. Murphy, Undergraduate student Temple University           

In the last 50 years, there has been a sharp increase in wild caught fish exploitation which has led populations to sharply decline and many species to go extinct. In response, regulated harvest rates continue to decline year after year for many species, one being that of Bluefin Tuna, which has cost the US economy millions in profits. Highly regarded literature and data sets suggest this exploitation model has also created negative trophic cascades and many negative externalities to be placed on developing countries or small fishing businesses. Shared belief is that this is the fault of an increasing population while other conceptual models suggest large corporations are doing the majority of exploitation without culpability. Solutions proposed in research suggest the implementation of adaptive frameworks such as the expansion of aquaculture centers globally. Aquaculture is the process of rearing, breeding, and harvesting aquatic species in controlled aquatic environments to increase food production services, restore threatened species, enhance wild stock populations while also enriching and vitalizing communities in the process. Through the lens of Cost Benefit Analysis, this project argues for the installation of four new Bluefin Tuna aquaculture centers off the coast of the US as findings suggest there will be 80 million dollars more in profits as compared to the continuation of business as usual scenario. Moreover, literature also suggests this model will act as a beacon for community-based economic stability, job creation, and science literacy which will help in mitigating the effects of food deserts and species extinction.

Social dependency and forest management in community managed forests of Kumaun Himalayas

Paranjay Kiumar Singh, Doctoral student Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar  

Uttarakhand has a history of community forest management. This paper attempts to investigate different socio-economic characteristics, phytosociology and carbon stocks and their interaction in the Kalsa-Gola sub-watershed of Kumaun Himalayas, Uttarakhand. A total of 406 households from 51 villages in the study area were surveyed using a semi-structured questionnaire. Similarly, phytosociology and carbon stocks were measured in 119 sample plots across 9 different forest types of the study area. Binary logistics model, Spearman correlation, and Whittaker pairwise comparison method were used for the analysis of data. The majority of the households were dependent on forest resources due to lower education level, lesser income, and inadequate alternate livelihood opportunities. The study revealed a significant correlation between diversity index (H’) and tree carbon stock (r=0.381, p≤0.01), herb carbon stock (r=-0.293, p≤0.05), and litter carbon stock (r=-0.398, p≤0.01). Also, it was found that the diversity index has a significant positive/negative correlation with the different carbon pools and extraction of fuel-wood, fodder, and litter. The study found that even with the high dependency of communities with the extraction of different forest products, the forests do not appear to be degraded in terms of diversity and carbon stock. Overall, it can be concluded that village forest communities through experience has evolved an inherent mechanism of sustainable forest management.”

Session 3: Natural Capital, Governance, Management, and Policy

Social Media for Social Change?

Martina Yorde and Natalie Ruben, Undergraduate students Northeastern University

There is no doubt that the speed of climate change necessitates collective global action to educate, mobilize, and address how lifestyle changes are needed to establish values aligned to the natural rhythm of the environment. However, culture, language, and consumerism are significant barriers to rapid and meaningful deployment. These limitations are compounded by the challenge of how to access individuals. One channel that offers multiple communication threads is social media. Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter offer both unique and overlapping opportunities to connect with people. The use of images and visual content reduces language barriers, while access to these media applications increases routine engagement. This paper provides a brief historical overview of the demographics of social media users over the past decade and a foundation for how social media has been used across its different threads. In our assessment we highlight the social media campaigns of selected consumer goods companies (e.g., The Pangaia, Blue Land), limiting our assessment to Instagram and Facebook. We define success as being related to the organic use of a marketing-initiated hashtag. We provide outcomes of these campaigns and we classify the degree of success by hashtag use and participation in non-virtual social action to promote, facilitate, and maintain environmental policy. In concluding, we highlight the limitation of social media, as well. Though social media can catalyze call to action, the understanding and following of a particular social media engagement may be attributed to a preexisting bias. Further, given the limited information that accompanies social media, engagement may not signify understanding of an issue. Finally, research has highlighted that awareness in combination with knowledge presents a tipping point for pro-environmental action. Our next steps include surveys of followers of specific social media engagements to assess what characteristics enable transformation from awareness to action.

Assessing Community Economic Resiliency in Vermont

Emma Spett, Doctoral student University of Vermont    

Vermont is a unique place, and subsequently requires a unique, participatory approach to recovering from the social, health, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This study presents the use of a holistic community development framework and mixed methods research design to consider the key challenges and opportunities for industries and communities across Vermont. The purpose of this study is to consider diverse perspectives from across political, industrial, and social sectors of Vermont to consider the best practices with respect to COVID-19 recovery, and to set the stage for building a more resilient Vermont. This poster will present the preliminary results from a series of roundtables that brought together broad representation from across Vermont sectors, regions, and perspectives that assisted in setting an agenda for community economic development in the state. The poster will also display results from a series of economic analyses aimed at assessing resilience in Vermont. It will then conclude with a look at upcoming research programs aimed at considering the challenges and opportunities that the business and non-profit communities face in Vermont, with a specific focus on BIPOC and women-owned businesses, emerging industries, and non-profit organizations.

Water Market Failure: Solutions in Sustainable Economics

Taber Skiba, Undergraduate student Northeastern University 

Our economic system, by its defined focus, is resource intensive. The number of resources we possess, in effect, defines our well-being. Indeed, GDP has become synonymous with standard of living and quality of life. In the present period, acknowledgement of the anthropogenic impact to the planet is increasingly understood. A conundrum exists in that the measure of well-being based on natural resource quality is adversely impacted as a result of its attainment, as captured in the indicator developed to measure the same. This paper addresses one specific resource, water, as it relates to GDP. I provide a historical perspective on the use and protection of this resource in the United States. Highlighting Adam Smith’s paradox of value, I discuss how the use of economic incentives though necessary are not sufficient in fostering value for water. Findings from a preliminary survey conducted at Northeastern University (Boston, Massachusetts) and designed for this research project reveal that education resulting in voluntary conservation is a more significant tool than rationing or price. The discussion of the survey and results address the relationship between social change and active stakeholder engagement. Next steps related to this study are provided and include a proposal for a stakeholder engagement process.

Connecting the Supply Chain with Consumption: Can Education Reduce Food Waste?

C. Lucia Moreira & Belkis Montas, Undergraduate students Northeastern UniversityMore than 820 million people struggle with hunger every year, while billions of tons of food are wasted. The challenge is indiscriminate, existing in developed, as well as, developing economies.  Related to the issue is food waste, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), one third of all food produced globally is lost or goes to waste. In the U.S., the existing economic system fails to address the contradiction between food waste and food insecurity; instead of providing a channel for price differentiated distribution, commercialized food production incentivizes waste. Given the resource footprint of agriculture, which includes freshwater withdrawals, deforestation, and greenhouse gas emissions, the estimated 35 percent or nearly 140 million tons of pre-market food waste represents more than a humanitarian issue, food waste and our relationship with food is a climate change issue. The problem of food waste is found in the pricing and related commoditization of food that basically distorts its value as a necessity for life to a market price that is not reflective of this significance. In this paper we address the paradox of value inherent in food waste. We evaluate the reason for food waste in a college community where meal plans, and convenience dominate food choice and where the institution has the ability to educate. Using an electronically distributed survey, we gather information related to food aesthetics, purchase motivations, and student understanding of the relationship between food and health. Based on the results, which highlight the limited understanding of food waste, we provide recommendations for reducing food waste through education, food portions, and institutional policies. Further, we advocate for institution-based solutions for food waste reduction, given that microlevel policy is better able to adapt to the characteristics of individual units from the household to the corporation dining hall.

Guiding Humans Toward a Sustainable Future

Patricia McKay, Doctoral student Michigan State University   

Individual, institutional, and policy decision management (i.e. governance) has contributed to a disruption of socio-ecological systems (SES). These disruptions have resulted in unprecedented system challenges (e.g., climate change, the pandemic, and associated consequences such as severe weather, poverty, social unrest; and the decline of ecological health and well-being). Little research has focused holistically on how to transform SES governance for sustainable and resilient SES well-being. This research provides insight into the collective behavior of SES, and underlying problems and barriers to achieving the requisite social change when tackling wicked SES problems. We provide a framework, diagnostic tools, and processes by which improved SES governance can occur. A State of Michigan environmental and public health program provided a longitudinal mixed methods action research case study. This program underwent a re-invention to improve the rate of risk reduction associated with uncontrolled hazardous waste in the environment. At the heart of this re-invention effort was a shift in governance – moving from more traditional hierarchical governance to the Quality Governance Framework (QGF), aligning individuals, institutions, and policy with the complexities of today’s SES. Significant and rapid risk reduction actions occurred. Further, trust was built among the practitioners and the public. We also studied the impact of subsequent system shock on the durability of the social transformation and provide lessons learned. We aim to contribute to the growing body of collective knowledge regarding SES governance and transformative change to meet the challenges we face.

COVID-19 and Seed System Resilience: The Effects of the Pandemic on Seed Sourcing and Access in Vermont

Carina Isbell, Master’s student The University of Vermont       

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have rippled across the United States’ (US) food system, resulting simultaneously in skyrocketing demand in some sectors and shrinking markets in others. The US seed sector was particularly marked by the former in the spring and summer of 2020; panic-buying, rising gardening demand, and heightened safety precautions in seed fulfillment facilities precipitated a commercial seed sector overwhelmed and unprepared to meet consumer demand for seed, especially for non-commercial growers. In response, prominent scholars and seed system actors have emphasized the need to refocus on farmer- and gardener-managed seed systems which often maintain higher degrees of crop diversity than the privatized, highly consolidated, and corporate-led global seed system in which four companies control 67% of global market share. However, limited attention to non-commercial seed systems in the US, coupled with an information lag on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on growers, first warrants investigation into the strengths and vulnerabilities of existing seed systems. This paper examines how commercial and non-commercial growers adapted to seed shortages amidst the pandemic. Using a mixed-methods approach which includes data from online surveys and semi-structured interviews with seed growers and farmers who grow crops from seed in Vermont, initial findings suggest the COVID-19 pandemic led growers to adapt their seed sourcing as well as the types of crop varieties they typically grow. Depending on the seed sources used and crop varieties grown, some growers also faced more difficulties than others in obtaining preferred seed. These findings highlight the varying capacity of different seed systems to contribute to resilience and/or vulnerability among growers. More broadly, the insights from this study illuminate how directing resources and attention to the often-overlooked non-commercial seed system can help US growers meet and respond to manifold challenges.

Microeconomic Perspective of Sustainability: What influences businesses to adopt sustainable practices?

Annie Prince Periapurath, undergraduate student City University of New York (CUNY)          

Sustainability first appeared in 1987 in the Brundtland commission report published by the United Nations. It means satisfying “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland Report, 1987).  The framework which helps achieve the needs of the present and protect the needs of the future, is the three pillars of sustainable development which is described to be “economic development, social development and environmental protection” (2005 World Summit Outcome Document, 2005). This framework also requires that progress in any one of these pillars should not reverse the developments of other pillars. This means that progress in all three sectors is equally important in achieving sustainability.  Organizations that buy and sell goods or services for profit are businesses. Due to the nature of buying and selling, these businesses engage with the economy, society, and the environment. In recent years, businesses have tried to emulate similar sustainable development frameworks despite the added costs of researching sustainable alternatives. Unfortunately, they have ignored their moral responsibility of protecting society and the environment by going against the sustainability framework and prioritizing economic development over social development and environmental protection. This paper attempts to understand what drives businesses to go against the sustainable development framework by analyzing how it makes economic decisions. The paper also attempts to study why businesses research sustainable alternatives in their production process. Qualitative analysis is conducted to understand the framework used by businesses in making decisions.

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