U.S. Army Goes Green

U.S. Army Goes Green

The United States Army might be fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that has not stopped the military behemoth from opening a third front against global warming. The progress it has made in that conflict is highlighted in the Army's first annual Sustainability Report [PDF] released in September.

 

One reason for the first-of-its-kind report is that Congress wants the world's most powerful army to take the environment into account when its 522,000 active soldiers go to work every day. Another is that the military is realizing that green strategies help save money in the long run.

New Army buildings, for instance, must now abide by a certification process known as LEED standards that confirm a construction's environmental sustainability. The Army says 301 such buildings were erected in 2007. The Army also has decreased its water use by a third between 2004 and 2007. And in Iraq and Afghanistan, tents have been sprayed with foam to reduce energy loss.

Nevertheless, "The Army is at the very early stages of its sustainability journey... There is still much progress to be made and still much to learn," warns the 62-page report.

A shortfall is the Army's inability to stop producing so much hazardous waste -- 45 million pounds in 2006 alone. Not only is the amount large by any standard, but it is 35 percent higher than in 2003. One reason for the rise is that the Army produced more ammunition and trained its soldiers more often to prepare them in the "Global War on Terror."

The Army also was unable to control its toxic chemicals. Eighty one Army facilities in 2006 released 273 different chemicals into the environment totaling 23.9 million pounds -- an 11 percent increase over 2003.

The Army wants to manufacture more environmentally friendly "war machines." The Stryker armored combat vehicle, for instance, was designed with fewer hazardous materials so that parts could be sectioned off and recycled instead of sent to a landfill. An advanced oil management system even extracts a small amount of used oil from the engine crankcase during operation so that it can be blended with fuel during combustion. The system extends oil change intervals to as long as 525,000 miles or 4,000 hours, explains the Army report.

Renewable energy sources also play a role in U.S. Army plans to save energy and to protect soldiers' lives. "If we can reduce consumption on our forward operating bases by using renewable energy, let's say wind or solar instead of diesel generator outside the tent, then we can reduce the number of these supply convoys that need to come forward that are getting hit by IEDs," says Addison Davis, Pentagon Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Occupational health.

At Fort Carson, Colorado, the Army has built a 12-acre solar power site on a closed landfill to supply the base with power by winter 2009. Its ground-mounted photo-voltaic array will generate 3,200 megawatt hours of power annually. While at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, soldiers train in a mock Iraqi village made of recycled or diverted material from a nearby landfill. "We probably saved $250,000 on the project," says Range Officer Bill Edwards who came up with the idea in 2004.

The U.S. military seems to be on the right track when it comes to protecting the environment, but there may be some window dressing also in the air.

In 2004, for instance, the Army ordered base commanders to halt any spending on environmental protection that isn't required by law, says Plenty Magazine. The Bush Administration also won exemptions from environmental regulations protecting endangered species, migratory birds and marine mammals, writes the bimonthly publication. And the Pentagon continues to claim that the depleted uranium munitions used by U.S. troops in Iraq are harmless despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

Some have suggested the U.S. Army should allocate a larger portion of its $110 billion annual budget to environmental initiatives if it is really serious about winning the battle against global warming.