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RTI and STEPS Center publish groundbreaking roadmap toward phosphorus sustainability

The roadmap aims to reduce dependence on mined phosphates and losses of phosphorus to the environment by 25% within 25 years


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — RTI International a nonprofit research institute, and the Science and Technologies for Phosphorus Sustainability (STEPS) Center today published a comprehensive roadmap for phosphorus sustainability. This milestone publication, "25-in-25: A Roadmap Toward U.S. Phosphorus Sustainability," presents an actionable framework to address challenges of phosphorus sustainability in the U.S. and accelerate progress toward a more sustainable future. 

“Phosphorus is an essential part of the fertilizers that enable food production in the modern era, but it has negative environmental effects when not well managed,” said Cary Strickland, director, strategy and innovation at RTI. “I hope the roadmap and STEPS’ research leads to more resilient food systems while reducing ecological impact.”

STEPS, headquartered at North Carolina State University, is one of six science and technology centers launched in 2021 by the National Science Foundations (NSF) to advance ambitious, complex research in fields ranging from mechanobiology to particle physics to climate change. Developed through extensive collaboration and rigorous research, the roadmap is the result of a strategic partnership between RTI, the STEPS Center, leading researchers, policymakers, industry and practitioners.  

Justin Baker, associate professor of forest resource economics at NC State and a research theme co-lead in STEPS stated, “The STEPS roadmap was developed through an extensive contributor-driven process, and we hope that it serves as a catalyst for new research, technology development, and policy dialog. We believe the roadmap is a great starting point for exploring options and pathways to improved phosphorus sustainability in the U.S.”

The roadmap provides an interdisciplinary approach to advancing STEPS' vision to facilitate a 25% reduction in human dependence on mined phosphates and a 25% reduction in losses of point and non-point sources of phosphorus to soils and water resources within 25 years. It details the current state of phosphorus management in the U.S. including the difficulties of accounting for and recovering phosphorus and the impacts of phosphorus mismanagement. Nine impact opportunities are identified, which provide actionable steps to improve phosphorus management and sustainability in the U.S.

Highlights include: 

  • Implementing a systems approach: The roadmap recognizes the breadth of partners, practices, and policies that contribute to phosphorus management and provides a framework for sustainable actions across sectors. 
  • Embracing technological innovation: The roadmap outlines pathways for using technology to promote sustainability and efficiency, including green technologies and data-driven decision-making. 

  • Encouraging resilience and adaptation: The roadmap addresses climate change and vulnerability through strategies like disaster preparedness and sustainable resource management. 

  • Committing to equity and inclusion: The roadmap focuses on social equality, resource distribution, and empowering marginalized communities for sustainable development. 

View and download the roadmap