When I joined the Federal Green Challenge team in October 2011, I had no idea what I was getting in to but quickly realized this dynamic group of regional staff was out to make a difference in the way the government does business. At first it seemed like a daunting task – how can we “green” the federal government when I can’t even get my coworkers to compost and recycle correctly?
Size makes it even more daunting– together, federal agencies have a big geographic and environmental footprint. The EPA alone has over 17,000 employees. So, how do we start to make a dent in this?
We start with a group of hard-working staff reaching out to federal agencies striving to make a change in our environmental impact. Then we find champions – dedicated human beings willing to go beyond their daily duties by: making sure employees double-side print jobs, power electronics down over the weekend, understanding teleworking is a transportation alternative. These are just a few innovative examples of creative solutions the federal government is using to “walk the talk.”
Many projects and initiatives throughout the country at federal facilities have been extremely innovative. Who knew that changing your facility cleaning routine – like switching a cotton loop mop for a microfiber version – could make such a huge impact on water and product usage?!?! Some facilities went to great lengths to investigate technological solutions to install solar farms on government property, subject to certain restrictions, to sell electrical power back to the grid. Others overcame major roadblocks (e.g., cost and culture) to upgrade and retrofit existing infrastructure.
These may seem like uncomplicated, quick decisions anyone could make to save a buck, but as federal employees know – these decisions can take time… lots of time… hours of meetings, and draft proposals and analyses and management approval, so any change is a major accomplishment! We know small changes add up to big results – helping the triple bottom line – social, financial and environmental benefits.
Folks with these ideas are our Federal Green Challenge champions – and we are happy to recognize them and share their stories of leading by example.
I am so proud to be a part of a team that can see these successes and even prouder to recognize all the hard work that has been going on to save money, improve people’s live and protect the planet.
About the author: Lana Suárez started with EPA in 2004 and currently works in the Office of Resource Conservation & Recovery. She started in this office because “waste is her passion.” Prior to joining EPA, she was an environmental educator in Nicaragua. She has a B.S. in Environmental Policy and Behavior from the University of Michigan.