Environmental problems occur when changes in the biological or physical factors of the environment have adverse effects on the environment that affect humans. For example, ecological changes in a lake may affect the local fishing industry; or changes in a waste management site's disposal mechanism may introduce pollutants into the groundwater. The goals of a five-stage approach addressing environmental problems are to ensure that the problem and solution are clearly defined; the appropriate regulatory mechanisms and enforcement agencies are involved; and that key players work together to develop and implement a plan for resolution.

Identify the Environmental Problem

A problem statement should be developed that is descriptive enough to allow a regulatory agency to determine whether or not the problem justifies action. Effective problem statements include enough research to analyze and document why the problem is serious enough to be addressed; are presented in such a way that measurable results can be obtained after the implementation of a solution; clearly define the pollutant or indicator and the environmental risks posed by it; define the geographic boundaries of the problem; and indicate whether the vehicle for the environmental threat stems from a non-compliance issue.

Establish Goals and Measures

Your blueprint for successfully addressing your environmental problem will be drawn as you set specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-sensitive goals and identify the measures that you will use to determine your progress. Checking on your progress along the way can help you determine whether you need to alter your actions to more effectively address the problem, and ticking off milestones helps you stay on track toward your end goal. You can use this stage to measure the effect of each of the tools you are using to address the problem, such as compliance assistance, incentives, monitoring and enforcement.

Put Together a Problem-Solving Toolkit

Environmental problems can often be solved by simply asking the offending party to rectify the problem. This may involve public education and involvement -- for example, requesting that homeowners only water their lawns on certain days during times of drought to avoid exacerbation of groundwater losses. Resolution goals may also be achieved through compliance-based activities. The Environmental Protection Agency uses tools such as compliance assistance, compliance monitoring, compliance incentives, enforcement and innovation to help steer stakeholders towards a desired behavior that will lead to a positive environmental result.

Determine Roles and Responsibilities

The appropriate working groups, committees and subject matter experts should be identified and brought together to define actionable steps and delegate the responsibility of ensuring those steps are carried out. This stage involves a clear assignment of roles and responsibilities among the entities and is designed to ensure that the best minds are applied in the most effective and efficient manner.

Implement the Plan

The development of a step-by-step plan is worthless without implementation. This last stage of environmental problem solving involves implementing the plan through careful scheduling; identifying key challenges and opportunities; and evaluating milestones and progress. Once stakeholders identify and begin a work plan, if periodic evaluations show that the desired progress is not being made, then they can re-visit their strategies and evaluate a revised work plan. It is through this kind of adaptive management strategy that newly developed technologies and ideas can influence the successful resolution of an environmental problem.