Toward sustainability: A case study demonstrating transdisciplinary learning through the selection and use of indicators in a decision-making process



The purpose of this article is to use a case study example to demonstrate how a transparent, transdisciplinary approach to decision making allows the US Environmental Protection Agency Region III (USEPA Region III) to fulfill its decision-making responsibilities while taking critical steps toward engaging in sustainability discussions. The case study goals were to use information about environmental condition to inform staff and fiscal resource prioritization and allocation for the federal 2010 fiscal year. This article will use a select group of 3 indicators to show 1) that data are not the same as indicators, 2) the feasibility of using disparate data in the same analysis, and 3) specific discussions about indicators can lead to transdisciplinary learning, supporting more informed decision making. We show that, when used in a transdisciplinary learning process, these indicator lessons provide a stepping stone for organizations like USEPA Region III to consider sustainability as more than just a lofty, ethical concept. Instead, these kinds of organizations can more routinely and substantively address sustainability through a progression of individual decisions. We discuss how sustainability can be linked to decision making through a process that requires stakeholders to articulate and confront their values. In this process, selecting indicators and understanding what those choices imply regarding the issues that are highlighted and the population affected is part of the assessment of environmental condition, which is the focus of the case study. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2011;7:483–498. © 2011 SETAC