CT Exclusive Interview: Army Net Zero Initiative Soldiers On

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Now that the Army’s ambitious Net Zero initiative has passed the pilot stage with flying colors, planners have been gearing up for the next steps.  One of them involves expanding from a nine-part demonstration field to encompass scores of other Army facilities, but that’s just for starters. Today we bring you an exclusive insider view of what’s in store, provided by someone who has been guiding Army renewable energy and efficiency policy since 2008.

That would be Mr. Richard G. Kidd IV, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Energy & Sustainability) for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army Installations, Energy & Environment.

Army Net Zero installations.
Army Net Zero installations courtesy of US Army.

Onwards And Upwards For Army Net Zero

As we described in our previous recap of Army Net Zero, the program launched in 2010 to help transition Army energy, water, and waste management into more sustainable models.

The initiative kicked off with six individual facilities focusing mainly (though not exclusively) on energy, as well as the Oregon National Guard, which is focusing on energy net zero on a statewide basis. In addition, two other facilities are aiming for net zero in all three categories.


A new Army Net Zero report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory makes it clear that the program has achieved its goals in short order, hence the leap from pilot stage to full scale implementation.

The Secret Sauce Behind Army Net Zero Success

Mr. Kidd kicked off yesterday’s interview by noting that Army facilities face the same challenges that occur in the commercial sector and in civilian communities, and he described how the Army’s existing culture of long range planning was instrumental in the success of the Net Zero pilot. Here are some snippets, edited and condensed slightly for flow:

…I think we came at Net Zero not so much from a solving a specific list of problems, as a realization that…the nation puts great trust in the army: it gives us money, it gives us land, air, water, and the well-being of its sons and daughters, both our soldiers and their families.

In the army…we think very long term…The army recruits lieutenants today to train them to be generals 25 or 30 years from now…it is part of our culture to think long term.

And really, one of the aspects of sustainability is thinking long term…and preserving future choice. So, a lot of our net zero efforts and sustainability efforts are just a natural progression of that army culture and tendency to think long term.

We recognized that if we took a holistic look between the systems of energy, waste, water, land, and environmental services we were going to get greater value for the army, for the taxpayers, for the soldiers, and their families.

We’ve been focusing quite a bit on the renewable energy and microgrid aspects of Army Net Zero, but Kidd reminded us that land stewardship is also a huge issue. Although the Army’s training and readiness missions could grow and diversify, practically speaking there are no more large tracts of land available to add to the Army’s existing properties. That realization also dovetails with the water conservation and hazardous waste management components of Net Zero.

What’s Ahead For Net Zero

Aside from expanding Net Zero guidelines across the board domestically, Kidd articulated plans for extending Net Zero energy, waste, and water resource concepts to overseas facilities. That includes equipment and strategies for temporary forward operating bases and mobile maneuvers as well as permanent stationary facilities.

One reason why Army Net Zero met its goals so quickly was its reliance on readily available technology, and the program is also building out on that success.

We were joined in the interview by Marc Kodack, who runs the Net Zero Water aspect of the program. He described one of the more interesting demonstrations being conducted at Fort Riley, consisting of a small scale membrane bioreactor that has been deployed to intercept wastewater before it goes to a full scale treatment plant.

The goal is to explore options for localized, distributed wastewater treatment that enable graywater reclamation. In addition to improving water security at domestic facilities, the project is also eying overseas permanent and temporary bases.

That project is based on an aerobic digester, which is basically a controlled environment in which oxygen-loving bacteria break down the organic matter in wastewater. Kodack also mentioned that the Department of Defense is developing a similar project based on anaerobic (oxygen-free) digestion.

Also attending the interview was Wanda Johnsen, a sustainability planner with the Net Zero team. She highlighted some of the waste avoidance strategies being undertaken, particularly in the area of food waste. In addition to procurement and reuse strategies, composting and a combination of dehydration and composting are part of the plan.

Collaborating For Net Zero Action

Another key to the Net Zero success story is the collaborative aspect. As articulated by Army director of sustainability policy Kristine Kingery, who also joined in the interview, the Net Zero concepts were already well under way at various Army and other Defense Department facilities, as well as at other agencies particularly Environmental Protection and the Energy Department, long before the program officially launched.

Army Net Zero basically pulled all of these resources together, along with private sector and community partners, into one giant brainstorming session (edited slightly for clarity and flow):

Collaboration is really a key to the whole net zero initiative, and that is not only collaboration from within our installations, but collaboration with the surrounding community, collaboration with other federal agencies…The sharing of ideas, the ability to try differing things…really, Net Zero doesn’t really give anything new to the table, it just gives people license to explore things that are out there…

Army Net Zero And Agenda 21

With all that in mind, let’s leave the interview and take a look at what Army Net Zero has in common with a 20-year-old United Nations guidance document called Agenda 21.

Agenda 21 has been the subject of a disinformation campaign (Koch, much?), but simply put it is a comprehensive, detailed, long range planning document for global sustainability. The first section deals with mustering financial resources in aid of developing countries and poverty solutions, so we’re not particularly looking for a parallel with Army Net Zero there.

You’ll find the points of comparison to Army Net Zero — and for that matter, to corporate sustainability planning — in the second section, which deals with resource protection and pollution control, as well as in the third section, which urges collaborative action in partnership with workers, business, industry, and the scientific and technological community.

Just one final note, in a previous post we were wondering what became of the original Army Net Zero mission statement on sustainability, after the website was reconfigured. We forgot to ask about it but you can find plenty of sustainability references over there at the Army Net Zero website “Sustainability” link (riiiiight), starting off with this snippet:

Sustainability is a critical enabler in the performance of the Army’s mission, as its importance and benefits cut across the entire Army enterprise.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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