The US Army: Who Knew that it Actually Tried to be Sustainable and Protect the Environment?

  • Published on January 21st, 2009

What sort of efforts does the US Army undertake to protect and manage its impacts on the environment? Perhaps surprisingly to some, the legislative muscle behind existing Army programs (and the push to expand those programs) to protect the environment is actually quite robust.

Environmental Management

To begin with, the Army Strategy for the Environment, was developed to serve as a policy guidance document leading the Army to “establish a long-range vision that enables the Army to meet its mission today and into the future.” Their motto? “Sustain the Mission – Secure the Future.” Some may find it trite, but without a vision and goals, it’s hard to get anywhere.


There is also the Army Environmental Policy Institute, which “assists the Army Secretariat in developing policies and strategies to improve or resolve environmental policy issues that may have significant short or long-term impacts on the Army.” It works towards the Army’s triple bottom line of Mission, Environment, and Community.

Executive Order 123423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy and Transportation Management calls for:

  • Increasing alternative fuel consumption at least 10% annually.
  • Reducing energy intensity by 3 % annually through 2015 or by 30% by 2015.
  • At least 50% of current renewable energy purchases must come from new renewable sources.
  • Construction or renovation of buildings in accordance with sustainability strategies, including resource conservation, reduction, and use; siting; and indoor environmental quality.
  • Reducing water consumption intensity by 2% annually through 2015.
  • Annually, 95% of electronic products purchased must meet Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool standards where applicable;
    • enable Energy Star® features on 100% of computers and monitors;
    • reuse, donate, sell, or recycle 100% of electronic products using environmentally sound management practices.
  • Implement EMS at all appropriate organizational levels to ensure use of EMS as the primary management approach for addressing environmental aspects of internal agency operations and activities.


If the United States Department of Defense were a country, it would be ranked as the world’s 38th largest consumer of oil. The M1 Abrams battle tank puts SUVs to shame with its 0.56 mpg fuel efficiency. In 2007, the US military spent $12.61 billion US on fuel alone.

Reducing fuel consumption is a similar mission to the Army’s efforts to reduce water consumption, and its benefits in the battlefield as well as the Army’s pocketbook. Any fuel demand that is reduced increases the effectiveness of battlefield units, as well as reducing resupply demands (which can have a significant impact on preventing IED attacks on supply convoys).

Don’t take my word for it though. In August 2006, no less a personage than Marine Corps Major General Richard Zilmer said in remarks about fuel efficiency and renewable energy systems that

Reducing the military’s dependence on fuel for power generation could reduce the number of road-bound convoys. Without this solution, personnel loss rates are likely to continue at their current rate. Continued casualty accumulation exhibits potential to jeopardize mission success…

Energy Management

The Energy Policy Act of 2005, demanded of all federal departments (including the Army) to undertake a host of energy efficiency and energy reduction activities that would affect the military, including electric metering (a simple, yet effective method to monitor facility energy use) and energy reduction goals.

Executive Order 13123: Greening the Government through Efficient Energy Management, requires government departments to achieve significant greenhouse gas reductions through energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy purchases. Additionally, strengthening previously mentioned Executive Order 123423, agencies are encouraged to select Energy-Star products where “life-cycle cost effective.”

The US Army Energy and Water Campaign for Installations encourages the Army to pursue the following 5 goals:

  • Eliminate energy waste in existing facilities
  • Increase energy efficiency in new construction and renovations
  • Reduce dependence on fossil fuels
  • Conserve water resources
  • Improve energy security

The Army also seems to be making a push for LEED certification, as about 78% of new construction in 2007 was designed to LEED standard.

Clean Air

The Clean Air Act, which banned Class 1 ozone depleting substances that include military-use fire suppression and refrigerants, is a key piece of legislation affecting the armed forces in general, including the Army. The Army has publicly come out in support of efforts to respect and promote the Clean Air Act, and since 1992 has eliminated 99% of its use of Class 1 solvents, 98% of CFC refrigerant use, 92% of halon fire suppressant use on installations, and 80% of halon use in legacy weapon systems. Other services have achieved, or are attempting to achieve similar results. However, the DoD has built a strategic reserve, which is being used to supplement existing systems in cases where it is not feasible to retrofit or redesign systems with non-ozone depleting substances.

Clean Water

Discussed above, the Army Energy and Water Campaign for Installations is part of the Army’s strategy of reducing its dependence on water. Especially in battlefield conditions (for example, Iraq or Afghanistan), any reduction in base and facility use of water is going to have an impact on the Army’s ability to function effectively.

Beyond helping the Army do its job better, reducing water consumption will also save money:

There is considerable cost-effective and untapped potential for saving potable water through minimizing water conservation practices, water needs to be as highly valued as energy at Army installations wasteful practices, water conservation and re-use at Army installations.

The Army and the Environment

No one has ever claimed that waging war and preparing for war are good for the environment. They’re not. But, if reducing the Army’s energy, water, and fuel demands means that soldiers are more effective on the battlefield, and reducing facility impacts on the environment can have significant cost benefits, then protecting the environment seems like a good idea.

Image: 081020-A-3715G-278 via Flickr’s Media Commons

About the Author

Amiel is the founder of the Globalis Group, an organization whose motto is "combining action and thought for a sustainable world." His experience includes working with the Canadian government on greenspace projects, sustainable development programs and on policy documents on issues as diverse as climate change, sustainable development, and the environmental and social impacts of transportation. He is listed on the UN’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory’s list of GHG experts, and has sat on the Canadian Environmental Certifications Board’s Greenhouse Gas Verification and Validation Certification committee.
  • We don’t have a whole lot of control on the local volcano, but we better get a cap on the beast that President Eisenhower tried to warn us about years ago.

    The sacrifices of the millions of WWII Veterans (my uncle (USMC) died on a ‘death march’) who suffered and died to roll back fascist/imperial aggression, brought the USA unprecedented worldwide good will and credibility.

    The aggressor nations, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, et. al., using the excuse of securing national interests, illegally attacked, invaded and occupied sovereign nations. Their horrible trail of their attempted conquestwas littered with death, pollution, destruction, murder, etc.. The unfathomable horror and misery of the people who endured facist/imperial oppression is well known and well documented.

    The sacrifices of those who fought and died to rid the earth of this horror is well known and well documented.

    This unprecedented worldwide respect, good will and credibility, bought and paid for by the sacrifice of our veterans has been and is currently being pissed away by traitors who have sold their allegiance to their government to the highest bidder.
    As an American, I fully realize and accept my responsibility to insure that our government remains a government ‘by and for the People’. As a veteran, I took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
    As Pres. Eisenhower tried to warn us, the ‘military-indusrtial complex’ has reached far into our government and by way of deception, their bloody, money laden hands hold the reins.
    Their infiltration into our government, and its subsequent effect on US foreign policy, has resulted in the US directly or by proxy illegally bombing peaceful sovereign nations, meddling/subverting nations, arming both sides of a conflict, arming and funding known terrorist organizations.( One fact that galls my ass is the fact that the Japanese (who killed my uncle), in spite of their frivolous cruelty to the Chinese, never put their weapons down. They were immediately once again turned on the Chinese People by the US who wanted the corrupt Chang Kai Chek’s regime in power. Gen McArthur said that we were fighting the wrong side.)
    The results of their criminal activity soils the image of the US and puts her people at risk for retaliation as evidenced by 911.
    These traiterous sellouts, many who openly claim to be ‘Israel Firsters’ spit on the oath they took, putting the interests of other countries and corporations ahead of the People they have sworn to serve.
    Their actions, solely motivated by their insatiable greed have put the people of the US in grave danger.
    Their policies of using foreign countries and their people for ‘real time’ weapons test labs, ‘pre-emptive attacks’, bombings, extrajudicial murders, invasions and occupations of foreign countries is starting to mirror Nazi/Imperial aggressions of the past.

    It is foolish for anyone to believe that any nation can dish our so much death and detruction to others without anything coming back home.

    Hitler found that out the hard way.

  • Eric Pilloni

    Guys…I hate to destroy the little green religion you guys have going here…but there is one BIG BIG problem with all of this, your average volcano, produces more pollution, than ALL of mankinf has produced in their time on this earth.(this includes the smoke coming out of your ears at your attempt to understand this, and the 2000 pound bombs sent out to destroy the “targets” that massacred U.S. citizens in the world trade centers)
    A pro life,
    pro gun,
    pro American,

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  • Jim

    So, what is percentage of the military budget goes into these so called "green initiatives" when compared to say, I don't know, the purchase of heavy heavy ordinance to drop on "targets"?

    Seems to me like you are taking an ends justifying the means approach to this which gives them a lot of leeway to do a lot of damage to people and the environment…but hey, at least they are using low-flow field showers right?

    Nope, not buying it.