The Greenwash Brigade

"Be all you can be"… with the triple bottom line

Heidi Siegelbaum Dec 4, 2008


]()The U.S. Army recently released its 2007 sustainability report (opens PDF), which might strike some as odd, but the unexpected can make a good story… though not without some meaty caveats. The report, written in accordance with the well-respected Global Reporting Guidelines, is a hefty 62-page report which follows an earlier decision to incorporate Mission, Environment and Community into all the Army’s plans, processes and actions. The report contains elements not emblematic of most sustainability reports *I’ve *read.

What’s impressive?

  • Nearly all of the Army’s 161 installations have environmental management systems which offer an important strategic organizing framework;
  • Where possible, the Army is using renewable energy, particularly in their hot-house installations in the desert west;
  • 78% of their FY07 Army Military Construction was designed to at least LEED standards;
  • Between FY ’04 and ’07, they had a 32% decrease in water use; and
  • During the same period, a 8.4% decrease in energy use intensity (a way of measuring energy).

But… they’ve experienced what I think is a fairly meteoric increase in hazardous waste generation (35%) and an uptick in both Army “new environmental enforcement actions” and brand-spanking new violations (6% and 8%, respectively).

It’s difficult to make eco-friendly ballistics and with U.S. military actively engaged around the world, these hazardous waste increases are certainly not surprising. Much of the hazardous waste includes nasty TCE (trichloroethylene) which has historically been used as a degreaser for all that massive and complicated equipment.

Very similar to large manufacturing companies, the military is not a monolith and despite admirable attempts by the Army to engage in sustainability, the Pentagon has a long history of rebuffing EPA’s regulatory efforts at getting [insert military branch here] to clean up their Superfund sites. Of the 1,255 Superfund sites in the U.S., the Pentagon owns 129. They are also proud owners of 25,000 contaminated sites across the nation.

This summer Congress lambasted the Pentagon for refusing to clean up a group of Superfund sites that pose imminent threats to the communities in which they are located — in effect there’s a standoff between EPA and the Pentagon while legal minds battle over whether executive policy or EPA policy can force Pentagon compliance. In addition the Bush Administration helped pave the way for greater Pentagon intervention in setting pollution standards for perchlorate and TCE, but then again, chemical companies are sitting at the standard setting table already.

To its credit, when DOD issues a sustainability directive, they probably implement it more efficiently than private sector businesses because there’s not a lot of arguing going on around a Board table about the directives — “yessir!” Once again, look behind the product to the company and read between the lines.

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