MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Voices from the Earth Volume 1 Number 1
Sustainability Indicators Focus of Innovative Border Plan

Lynda Taylor with Antonio Azuela, head of Mexico's PROFEPA environmental enforcement agency.

For many years, Lynda Taylor of Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) has worked with individuals and communities along the U.S.-Mexico border including Sunland Park, New Mexico-based Coalition for the Maquiladoras, and others. This work led to Lynda's appointment by President Clinton to the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC), created as part of a side-agreement of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The BECC has been the backdrop to Lynda's commitment to sustainable development for people in this rapidly growing area.

In recent years, there has been a growing discussion among international groups regarding sustainable development. How do we improve environmental protection and natural resource conservation, and at the same time integrate social and economic factors to make development the basis for improving the quality of life for the world's several billion population? In order for us to achieve global sustainability, we must have a vision. But this vision must be nailed down to include some important items including:

  • A performance-based regulatory system (are we reducing pollution, conserving resources, etc.?).
  • A broader array of tools such as subsidies and tax reforms that remove incentives to waste, and create incentives to conserve.
  • Methods to measure progress, or lack thereof, in environmental, economic and social conditions, such as the use of indicators.
  • The placement of economic values on natural resources (so-called natural resource accounting)
  • The application of a uniform environmental management accounting system to demonstrate the benefits of environmental stewardship.

Taylor has worked to integrate sustainable development into the work of the BECC, promoting the vision discussed above, particularly the use of sustainable indicators. During the last six years of its existence, BECC has been recognized as one of the leading international environmental infrastructure development organizations. It has developed specific criteria and requirements for sustainable development projects. In addition, it provides technical assistance moneys to assist in developing sustainable projects, as well as access to a staff made up of engineers and experts on the environment. It has encouraged projects that focus on incorporating sustainability from the early planning phases through certification and final design. And most important, it has encouraged public participation all along the way.

The New Plan

This summer, the BECC's Sustainable Development work group has been working on a new Work Plan for border projects and activities. Public comment was solicited and received through August 31, with the target date for plan approval set for September 14.

The new Work Plan draft lays out a framework for a formal operating structure for the work group.

Section 2 of the Work Plan sets out the goal of integration of sustainable guidelines in project development and technical assistance grants.

Finally, the BECC wants to collaborate with other organizations, institutions, universities and research centers currently investigating and developing theories, models and techniques of environmental and natural resource cost accounting. This kind of accounting tries to place an economic value on natural resources such as water, watersheds, open space, wildlife habitat, clean air, forests, wilderness, and extractive minerals.

Now, we are realizing it is difficult to put a "price tag" on Mother Nature's treasures, whether for resource consumption, economic activity or aesthetics. Without this monetary assignment, our finite natural resource "principal" will continue to be depleted at devastating costs. We will not learn good stewardship practices that instead demand that we live "off the interest" so that future generations will have the benefits of these natural resources.

In the border area, where population is predicted to explode to 29 million in the next 25 years, sustainable development is more than a popular phrase. It is a critical necessity.

The binational BECC is leading the pack, locally and internationally, in grappling with the vastness and complexities of implementing measurable environmental, economic and social development goals in its corner of the world.


Temis Alvarez/Eric Hutson
Environment and Sustainable Development Directors
PO Box 221648
El Paso, Texas 79913
Tel. 011-52-16-25-91-60
Fax 011-52-16-25-91-80
E-mail: ehutson@cocef.org

Mary Kelly/Cyrus Reed
Texas Center for Policy Studies
44 East Avenue, Suite 306
Austin, Texas 78701
Tel. 512-474-0811
Fax 512-478-8140
E-mail: tcps@econet.org

Mark Spalding
International Environmental Policy and Law
11055 Cedarcrest Way
San Diego, California 92121-4136
Tel. 858-838-0785
Fax 858-838-0784
E-mail: mspalding@uced.edu

Interhemispheric Resource Center
Box 2178
Silver City, New Mexico 88062
Tel. 505-388-0208
Fax 505-388-0619
E-mail: resourcectr@igc.org

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"Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth…that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamt would have come his way."
– W.H. Murray in The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.

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