Each year Air Force installations around the world observe Earth Day on April 22 by taking actions to support the Air Force's Earth Day theme of "Conserve Today - Secure Tomorrow."
This year, Air Force activities will focus on sustainability, referring to the capacity to continue the mission without compromise and operate into the future without decline - either in the mission, or the natural and man-made systems that support it.
Sustainability includes, to a large degree, sustainable installations and is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have, the water, materials and resources to protect human health and our environment.
In its 2013 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, adopted by the Air Force, the Department of Defense outlined four key priority areas: energy and reliance on energy, chemicals of environmental concern, water resource management and maintaining readiness in the face of climate change.
The Air Force is committed to reducing energy demands at its installations and increasing the availability of renewable energy sources.
While the Air Force's commitment to sustainable and energy-efficient facilities is not new -- the first policy to "apply sustainable development concepts" to facilities and infrastructure projects dates back to 2001 -- the Air Force issued guidance in June 2011 building on the Air Force's vision for sustainable installations where new vertical and major renovations fully incorporate federal requirements for high-performance and sustainable buildings. This includes achieving a minimum of 20 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, points dedicated toward energy efficiency and water conservation.
At Aviano Air Base, Italy, a new 144-Airmen dormitory was constructed in accordance with the latest energy efficiency standards, guaranteeing energy-saving performance. The facility's energy-reduction initiative included a solar-heating system for domestic hot water production.
The 64-panel heating system provides domestic hot water for the entire building, providing anticipated energy savings of at least 50 percent. Compared with traditional gas boilers, a total savings of more than 10,500 cubic meters of natural gas per year is anticipated as well as a reduction of 23,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions per year. The structure is the largest of its kind on the installation and additionally serves as covered parking for Airmen.
Six sustainable technologies were installed atop a roof on a security forces building at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas: cool roofing, solar-power generation, solar thermal, above-sheathing ventilation and rainwater catchment. The features are expected to reduce the utility bill, produce energy and provide water for irrigation. The project was funded by the Department of Defense Environmental Security Technologies Certification Program, which provides grants to industry to demonstrate sustainable products and systems. Preliminary data shows a 44-percent reduction in energy consumption, said Mary Lumsdon, Goodfellow's base energy manager.
"We were very excited to have been selected to have this project completed on our installation," Lumsdon said. "This project is a combination of several technologies coming together to aid in our goal of energy reduction and develop our on-base renewable energy sources."
Besides energy conservation, the Air Force is also focusing on reducing the use of hazardous and toxic chemicals and materials as part of its sustainability efforts.
At Vandenberg AFB, Calif., the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron implemented a green product procurement initiative to encourage more than 220 client shops to specify more environmentally friendly commodities when submitting their hazardous material requests. Any time a hazardous product is requested, the HAZMART team researches and recommends green alternatives.
Sometimes, making a change in an existing process can drastically reduce the production of hazardous waste. Engineers with the 72nd Air Base Wing at Tinker AFB, Okla., installed a filter press to remove water from hazardous industrial sludge prior to disposal. The filter reduced the amount of sludge disposed by 92 percent and over seven million pounds per year, saving about $1.2 million annually.
Fresh water is a limited and mission critical resource, and water conservation plays an important role in sustainability efforts. Installations across the Air Force are installing low-flow sinks and lavatories in their facilities, as well as promoting the use of landscaping using indigenous drought-tolerant lawn and plant varieties.
Wastewater treatment plays an import role in conservation. In 2013, Hurlburt Field, Fla., began operations to clean and recycle water for reuse. The water will predominantly be used for irrigation and wash rack purposes.
"Hurlburt Field is in a water resource caution area," said Jonathan Colmer, air and water program manager for the 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron at Hurlburt. "Implementing the Hurlburt Field Reuse System will help conserve these groundwater resources for years to come."
Small changes can reap large savings, even at a facility which was built to save water. Engineers at Tinker AFB, Okla., discovered that installing valves on the cleaning discharge lines at a wastewater treatment plant there, and asking plant operators to close the valves at the end of their shifts, resulted in a fiscal 2013 savings of 104 million gallons of water and $1.7 million.
As stated in the DOD's sustainability plan, strategies which improve sustainability can also make the DOD more resilient to climate change. Conserving energy and water, while increasing the use of renewable energy, can help the Air Force be less vulnerable to fluctuations and shortages of the resources.
Although the Air Force continues making progress, officials emphasize more needs to be done and every Airman can make a difference.
"The Air Force recognizes its responsibilities to conserve, reduce waste, prevent pollution and make the Air Force a cleaner, more sustainable force every day," said Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force Chief of Staff. "Earth Day provides an opportunity for every individual Airman to show their commitment to the environment and to wisely using our limited natural resources."
The Air Force will continue to collect personal posts on its "Blue Acts of Green" Facebook page at . Airmen and their families are encouraged to demonstrate their support by committing to perform an act of "green" at home or work to benefit the environment.
To assist installations in observing Earth Day, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center is producing an Earth Day Toolkit which will be available March 3 on the AFCEC website at