With its vast stock of vehicles, ships, planes, buildings, lands, and other facilities, the U.S. Department of Defense could foment a green revolution all by itself – and that seems to be just what it intends on doing, starting with the Army. Working quietly for the past couple of years, DoD has been nudging closer to developing an ambitious net zero program for a group of U.S. Army bases. That applies not only to energy production and consumption, but also to water resources and waste disposal as well.
National Defense and Sustainability
You can go all the way back to General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1948 book about World War II, Crusade in Europe, to find evidence that senior military officials have long recognized the limitations of a modern national defense strategy that depends on fossil fuels. More recently, the Department of Defense has adopted a broader sustainability goal, which recognizes that environmental security is a key element in national security. In other words, the U.S. military has adopted sustainability as a national defense strategy. It’s not going to happen overnight but when you look at military bases around the country, they’re a buzz of new sustainability projects from geothermal, solar, and water conservation to biofuels and green roofs.
Net Zero Bases for the U.S. Army
The Army has been working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on the program, officially dubbed “Army Vision for Net Zero.” With a few tweaks, its mission statement could be applied to just about any green-minded organization or business: “We are creating a culture that recognizes the value of sustainability measured not just in terms of financial benefits, but benefits to maintaining mission capability, quality of life, relationships with local communities, and the preservation of options for the Army’s future.” One standout example is Fort Bliss, which among other programs is looking at taking in waste from nearby El Paso as part of a hybrid solar power/waste-to-energy operation.
Net Zero Water and Waste
A 2008 Defense Science Board report asserted that under the current energy landscape, some bases face “unacceptable risks from extended power losses,” so net zero energy is a priority for the program. However, water resource protection and waste disposal are also critical elements. In the case of waste disposal, part of an individual base’s success will depend on another recently ramped up DoD priority, to reduce or eliminate its use of hazardous or toxic materials such as paints and other coatings, and replace them with safer alternatives.
Leading by Example
The idea now is to focus on a small group of bases that are the most likely candidates for achieving net zero in energy, water, and/or waste, and the selections will be announced shortly. They will be used as learning tools by other bases and by the civilian world as well. It will be a big advantage for companies seeking to invest in sustainability, and for local governments seeking public support for sustainability initiatives, to use major military installations as living examples of success. Unfortunately, it appears that not everyone is as interested in environmental security as the Department of Defense is…oh well, you can’t win ‘em all.
Image: Fort Bliss courtesy of U.S. Army on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.