Charles Menzie, SETAC Executive Director

In the 1970s, no forum existed for interdisciplinary communication among environmental scientists—biologists, chemists, toxicologists—as well as managers, engineers and others interested in environmental issues. The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) was founded in North America in 1979 to fill this void. That small group has grown to 5,200 members across 91 countries with an extended network of more than 12,500 professionals (based on the SETAC Globe subscriptions). Collectively these individuals contribute to SETAC’s vision of Environmental Quality Through Science®.

As we celebrate our 40th anniversary in 2019, we are not an old “mature” society settling into comfortable ways. Instead, SETAC is a society that continues to awaken awareness, engagement and action around the world. SETAC continues to dawn and that is a great metaphor for a uniquely global professional society. The photos included with this article capture dawn over some of the great cities and countries where SETAC held meetings in 2018. We have become a global society by recognizing the importance of global communication and exchange among scientists, by a desire to help make a difference in the condition of our planet, by our emphasis on volunteerism, and often by the notion of passing and paying things forward. Our global interactions and attributes, such as acceptance, careful listening, empowerment, inclusivity and mentoring, have become part of our SETAC culture. The millions of interactions that occur among SETAC members and larger networks are the connection that helps us orient us toward SETAC’s mission: To support and facilitate the development of principles and practices for protection, enhancement, and management of sustainable environmental quality and ecosystem integrity.

Madison, Wisconsin at dawn

Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Rome, Italy

Daegu, Korea at dusk

Daegu, Korea

Sacramento, California, USA

Each of you experiences SETAC in ways that make sense for your professional development. SETAC provides a conduit for making contributions to the greater understanding of the sciences that underpin sound decision-making regarding our world. So, what is new? Where are we headed? What is dawning for SETAC? You likely have thoughts and experiences, and please share those with us. Here are mine on membership, inclusivity, science integrity and ethics, science outreach and communication, global associations, risk certification, finances and our strategic plan.

We have grown into a global society with five geographic units: Africa, Latin America, Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America. 91 countries in all. That is amazing! However, with this global expansion, we have experienced growing pains. Those are good things as we all know from growing up. The pain reflects passage to the next part of your life. Ours stem from the fact that our membership is composed of individuals that reside within varied cultural, economic, political and environmental settings. Our views of the world have been shaped by these experiences. The challenge for SETAC, as we approach the dawning, is to find a path that simultaneously embraces SETAC’s vision, mission and principles along with recognition of how we engage productively across the spectrum of membership. SETAC has initiated an effort that will unfold over the next two to five years. This stems from SETAC’s commitment to an inclusive way to engage the world on environmental matters.

Inclusivity has long been a characteristic of SETAC. Students and young professionals commonly remark that they feel especially welcome and connected at SETAC. While more can be done, women are engaged in all aspects of SETAC, and we have dedicated activities for women at our various meetings. SETAC Africa has recently initiated a Women’s Event, the next of which will take place at the SETAC Africa 9th Biennial Conference from 6–8 May in Cape Town, South Africa. Initiatives have been launched to invite, attract and welcome scientists from minority groups including from populations that have historically been displaced or marginalized. Our diversity initiative, formation of the Indigenous Knowledge and Values Interest Group and our outreach to Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) are a few examples. The SETAC World Council is developing a welcoming statement to be read at the beginning of annual and biennial meetings, acknowledging the importance of people and place that can be tailored to each meeting.

We will continue to develop and implement policies related to scientific integrity, conduct and ethics. While we have procedures in place for checking the scientific integrity of papers submitted to our journals, Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (ET&C) and Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM), our Publications Advisory Committee is focusing on additional ways to ensure the integrity; one example is our move in 2019 from single-blind to double-blind peer review to enhance impartiality. The SETAC World Council is focusing on matters of integrity, conduct and ethics in relation to the broad range of SETAC activities, including conduct at meetings, awards and ethical considerations regarding members. We have taken action on incidents over the past few years, which have led us to develop approaches to respond to situations where there are transgressions of scientific integrity, conduct, professional civility and ethics. SETAC wants our members to be proud to be a part of this organization. Guidance will be given to SETAC leaders at all levels and is available to members on the website. Maintaining a high level of scientific integrity and adherence to codes of conduct and ethics are especially important because we are intentionally tripartite. We invite and insist on diversity including representation from academia, government and business. We provide the venues for discourse among scientists sharing scientific information from across a diverse spectrum. These individuals often hold different points of view on the meanings and implications of the science. To facilitate effective exchange and integration, the scientific information must be reliable. And, while the discourse can be passionate among scientists, it must also be civil.

Increasingly, scientists are being called upon to speak out and share their knowledge as well as provide guidance. Outreach by SETAC scientists can inform national and international policies, broaden public knowledge concerning environmental matters, encourage the reliance upon and incorporation of science, make science and scientists more accessible, and serve to educate children and young scientists. While SETAC has always pursued outreach, we envision a more cohesive effort at the chapter, regional and global levels that is tied to the SETAC brand. We will work to integrate outreach efforts across our diverse spectrum of geographies. This integration provides a framework and impetus to take messages forward. Because the messages must be relevant and appropriate for particular audiences, geographies or cultures, and educational and policy needs, outreach while coordinated and shared will take many forms and involve many voices for science.

SETAC is a uniquely global society, and we will be increasing engagement with other societies and institutions around the world. Examples of our engagements include the environmental ministries of various countries, United Nations Environment, World Bank, Society of Toxicology, Society for Risk Analysis, and International Water Network to name a few. In May, for example, SETAC Africa will hold its 9th Biennial Conference in collaboration with the Society for Risk Analysis 5th World Congress. The SETAC 8th World Congress, which will be held from 6–10 September 2020 in Singapore, is being designed to be a truly global event, and we are currently working toward engaging other societies and institutions who share our values to join with us. A number of SETAC’s key initiatives, such as the Global Horizon Scanning Program, weight-of-evidence symposia, Pellston workshops® and Interest Groups will be featured at our World Congress. The event will draw scientists from all over the world and from various organizations. It will take place in one of the most attractive settings within one of the most international cities in the world.

At our 2018 annual meetings in Rome and Sacramento, SETACers from all Geographic Units discussed and planned for a Global Risk Certification Program. While the certification is for “risk assessor,” the knowledge base required is broad and overlaps with the interests of most SETAC members. This training will be valuable for individuals seeking risk certification but will also be helpful for any person interested in learning more about risk assessment or who needs a refresher.

The financial viability of the society is contingent on dues, journals revenue and grant support. These contributions underwrite events and sponsor individual travel awards. Our Development Committees in the Geographic Units and the SETAC World Council are working on ways to expand on some of our more successful efforts.

Finally, incoming SETAC President Gertie Arts has led a global effort to draft a new strategic plan, building on our prior strategic documents. This charts a course for the next five years. Our future direction is shaped by SETAC’s vision, principles and values. You will hear more about this plan in future Globe articles. Our priorities include:

  • To promote research, education, communication and training in the environmental sciences
  • To promote the application of interdisciplinary environmental sciences in environmental management
  • To sustain the organizational health of the society

SETAC’s philosophy has proven valuable as a way to bring the diversity of scientific thought and inquiry together. What makes this work is our interpersonal and scientific connectivity. As we anticipate the dawn, we are confident that our principles and values will enable us to take on new challenges and opportunities. I wish you the best for 2019. There will be many great opportunities. I encourage you to become engaged in our efforts over the next few years and to join with your SETAC colleagues at various meetings leading up to our World Congress in 2020. You will find that active engagement (i.e., volunteerism) is one of the best ways to ensure a brighter professional future and is a path that can help achieve some good in the world through our sciences, communication of those sciences, and education.

Author’s contact information:

View job opportunities in the SETAC Career Center
Registration opens on 15 July for SETAC Fort Worth
Nontarget 2021 save the date