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The Army Corps of Engineers Sustainability Program

Taking aim at ambitious federal requirements

On Oct. 5, 2009, when President Barack Obama issued Executive Order (EO) 13514, titled “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance,” he outlined a series of ambitious objectives for executive branch agencies, including the goal for all new federal buildings – 100 percent – to achieve zero net energy by 2030. The government, the president wrote, had to lead by example: increasing energy efficiency; reducing greenhouse gas emissions; designing and constructing sustainable buildings; and improving the livability of communities in which federal facilities were located.

Many of the ideas in EO 13514 were not new; many were based on previous federal mandates and requirements, such as the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Energy Independence and Security Act 2007 (PL110-140), and EO 13423 – “Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management” – issued in January 2007, to name a few. Mandates and requirements such as these, as well as EO 13514, affect the work of federal agencies.

In October 2009, the idea of sustainability was not new to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE); in fact, it was a key component of the organization’s mission. In 2002, when USACE introduced its Environmental Operating Principles, the first of them read: “Strive to achieve environmental sustainability. An environment maintained in a healthy, diverse and sustainable condition is necessary to support life.” In 2006, USACE established the Center for the Advancement of Sustainability Innovations (CASI) to extend the expertise of its researchers and engineers to customers throughout the Department of Defense (DoD) and the nation. The “Campaign Plan” released by USACE in 2008 features sustainability as a guiding principle, and includes, as one of its goals: “Deliver innovative, resilient, sustainable solutions to the Armed Forces and the Nation.”

The Army Corps of Engineers Sustainability Program

This carport at Fort Hood not only helps keep cars cool from the scorching Texas sun, it also generates solar power to keep the buildings cool on the inside and reduce the energy bills throughout the military facility. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Carlos J. Lazo

To organize these principles and activities in compliance with EO 13514, USACE has established a sustainability program under the leadership of Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works and USACE senior sustainability officer. She is assisted by the Strategic Sustainability Committee, which oversees the sustainability program, and the Energy Governance Council, which oversees all energy activities within USACE.

As John Coho, USACE senior adviser for environmental compliance, pointed out: “The sustainability program to some extent was launched in response to EO 13514 – although many of the activities currently rolled into that program had been going on long before the executive order came out.”


A Record of Sustainability

Within USACE, sustainability generally follows two lines of operation: internal processes that improve efficiencies in the facilities it owns and operates, and products and services that help support the sustainability goals and targets of its customers.

USACE uses the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) standards in military construction projects, requiring a minimum LEED rating of Silver – though a LEED rating of Gold has been achieved on several projects, including a recently completed DoD headquarters office complex in Alexandria, Va., that provides working space for 6,400 employees. Within USACE’s Sacramento District, nine park and dam operations offices have installed solar energy systems. The Louisville District is in the process of replacing its entire fleet of vehicles with hybrids, and USACE is working in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to convert USACE’s waterborne fleet to biodiesel.

The most prominent customer for USACE is the U.S. Army itself, which has its own particular reasons for wanting to reduce energy consumption and reliance on fossil fuels. The Army measures sustainability not only in terms of energy efficiency, energy cost reduction, reduced impact to the environment, and quality of life for its communities, but also in terms of increasing its mission capability through reduced reliance on fossil fuels, increasing installation security, reducing casualties in the transportation of fuel, and options for its future. To this end, the CASI has been conducting research into the creation of a virtual “forward operating base.” Also at the Army’s National Training Center on Fort Irwin, Calif., research is under way in the design of a hybrid wind/solar/battery/propane-powered Deployable-Renewable Energy Power Station (D-REPS) that will save fuel, decrease the logistical burden of fuel transportation, and reduce harmful emissions.

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Craig Collins is a veteran freelance writer and a regular Faircount Media Group contributor who...