The U.S. Army’s Garrison Grafenwoehr in Germany began winning environmental awards when President Bush was still in office, and now it bills itself as the leader in an ambitious new sustainability program launched under President Obama called the Army Net Zero initiative. As a military installation that also lays claim to the title “The Crown Jewel of U.S. Army Europe,” Grafenwoehr offers a critical lesson about the true meaning of genuine energy independence. After all, no matter how much the U.S. oil industry produces for civilians in the 50 states, military facilities and operations overseas still need to get their energy from somewhere.
Army Net Zero Initiative
The Army Net Zero initiative launched in April 2011 with the goal of taking U.S. military facilities off the grid. That means using no more energy than can be produced on site or locally sourced, using only water harvested on site, and sending no waste to landfills.
With all the saber-rattling over the Strait of Hormuz and the broader fiscal and logistical issues surrounding military oil dependency, it’s more than obvious why the Pentagon has been transitioning as rapidly out of fossil fuels as current technology allows.
Net zero for water and waste might seem a little less obvious as strategic military goals, but water and waste are both critical factors in energy consumption and cost control, particularly when it comes to transportation and resupply issues.
Grafenwoehr Net Zero Waste
The Army began assessing facilities to lead the Net Zero program in 2010. Based on its past environmental record, Grafenwoehr was among only 15 facilities that made the cut. Not all facilities have a realistic chance of achieving net zero in all three categories, so Grafenwoehr’s goal only applies to waste reduction.
A recent update on Grafenhwoehr’s net zero progress notes that, since 2010, household solid waste has been reduced by 60 percent, easily beating a short-term goal of ten percent. Construction waste went down even farther, by 99 percent.
Recycling has played a major role in the progress, of course, but it’s also instructive to see how other aspects of the new waste initiatives interact with the community at large.
The non-recycled waste is shipped to an incinerator, producing ash that can be used as fertilizer (demonstrating, btw, the importance of transitioning to eco-safe household products).
Steam from the incinerator goes to a nearby factory where it is used both to heat the building and to run the operation. The factory also gets electricity generated by the incinerator, and anything it can’t use gets shunted into the grid.
Grafenwoehr Clean Energy
Grafenwoehr’s energy solutions also demonstrate community interaction, as new solar panels on six different buildings produce electricity that goes into the local grid. The German government pays the base back for every kilowatt-hour of clean energy it generates, which partly offsets the price that the base pays for grid-supplied energy.
As for achieving Net Zero energy status, that is beyond the reach of cold-climate bases like Grafenwoehr, at least given the current state of technology. However, the base is still forging ahead with new solar thermal systems along with stepping up its energy conservation measures, including more intensive educational efforts aimed at getting base personnel to generate less waste.
Green for the Army and the Rest of Us, Too
Grafenwoehr’s most recent environmental leadership award came in 2011, and this is where you can really see the direction that Net Zero is heading in terms of community impacts.
Aside from covering Grafenwoehr’s record in recycling and conservation, the award also recognizes the base’s cooperation with local civic and nature conservation authorities.
In a prepared statement announcing the award, Brig. Gen. Steven L. Salazar, commanding general of the Joint Multinational Training Command, said:
“Just like we take our responsibility to train Soldiers and care for Army families seriously, so, too, are we committed to being good stewards of the generous, highly complex, yet fragile environmental resources here.”
Keeping in mind that this is the same prestigious award that the base won twice under President Bush, it’s another reminder that until just a few years ago environmental stewardship received at least a minimal level of attention and support across party lines.
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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+.