Wage war on energy impact

March 5, 2012
Peter Garforth says the road to zero waste, water and emissions now goes through U.S. Army facilities.

In January, I had the honor to speak at a meeting of an organization that’s spelling out its route to having “net zero” energy impact for its major facilities in the United States and around the globe. The organization developed a logo for the program that clearly summarizes the pathway to zero waste, zero water, and zero GHG emissions: Reduction, Re-Purposing, Recycling and Composting, Energy Recovery and Disposal. With branding like that, it might come as a surprise to many that this organization is the U.S. Army and not a group of environmental optimists.

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Armies from the days of Genghis Khan have understood the value of conservation. The most key and yet vulnerable part of any military force’s effectiveness is its supply line, whether this is diesel tankers under threat in the Khyber Pass on the road to Afghanistan, the electricity grid supplying West Point or Fort Bliss, or the horse and cart bringing wood to warm Napoleon’s soldiers in a frigid Russian winter. This also is among the most expensive variables, with a gallon of gasoline on the battlefield costing many times the price you pay at the local gas station.

Recognizing the strategic advantages of achieving near 100% renewable energy supply at highly efficient facilities, the U.S. Army committed to achieve net zero emissions at five major facilities by 2020. This experience will be replicated across another 25 bases by 2025. This is being done as much to reduce costs as it is to reduce risks from non-conventional attacks and other supply failures.

Being a global multinational, the U.S. Army wisely benchmarked its performance around the world before designing the program. The benchmarking was done in two ways. The army first reviewed its extensive facilities in Asia and Europe, as well as the United States, and discovered the Japanese and European facilities were among their most efficient. The Army also talked with the agencies of many other countries through the International Energy Agency to develop systematic ways to retrofit government buildings and assets. In fact, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chairs the committee that produced one of most comprehensive tool kits for assessing and retrofitting government facilities.


Based on this global benchmarking, the U.S. Army realized that to achieve net zero, it could borrow from the municipal and neighborhood Integrated Energy Master Planning common in Europe’s towns and cities. From its own facilities, the army drew from examples such as the U.S. Army facilities in Mannheim, Germany. Recognizing that true patriotism is to be as effective as possible, the U.S. Army put the not–invented-here argument aside and teamed with experts from around the world to develop these energy master plans.

The pilot sites for the program include iconic facilities such as West Point and Fort Detrick, major training and storage sites in California, along with the electronic intelligence site at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. This latter uses electricity produced from diesel generators with the fuel shipped in by tanker. The value of energy conservation becomes self-evident in such a situation.

The Army follows the classic loading order. The highest priority is energy and fuel efficiency, supported by effective metering and controls. This is closely followed by extensive integration including installing or upgrading heating and cooling networks. Supply security and efficiency are frequently enhanced by on-site cogeneration. Once these are implemented rigorously, the site can be considered net-zero-ready with the last gap to zero emissions closed with various renewable electricity, thermal, and fuel options.

The value of efficiency was highlighted in Iraq. The simple act of insulating tents vastly reduced the need for generator fuel to power air conditioning. This reduced the number of tankers that had to navigate tenuous and dangerous supply routes. Efficiency was measured not only in dollars, but far more importantly, in lives not lost.

The speakers at this conference exhibited a passion that went beyond serving their units’ mission through the rational use of valuable resources. I saw their pride in being examples and pathfinders for the wider community. If a large base can go net zero, so can the nearby city. I also detected that many clearly understood the science and risks of climate change and that their efforts could be the basis for a truly global contribution. The U.S. Department of Defense considers climate change to be one of the greatest security threats to the United States.

There was also a clear understanding that becoming net zero would require effective long-term planning and systematic process. This also couldn’t be achieved without engaging the senior leadership and everyone else on the base, and plans were developed to ensure this, as well. It was fascinating to see the clear understanding that doing the right thing for the planet and the country wasn’t an optional extra, but was core and center to the U.S. Army’s mission. There surely are lessons for us to take from this level of understanding and organizational commitment.

Peter Garforth is principal of Garforth International, Toledo, Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected].