Going Green: Environmental engineer takes her work to heart
April 11, 2013
SAVANNAH, Georgia -- If you describe Sherry McCumber as "green," it's not because she's inexperienced, envious, or suffering the ill effects of expired yogurt.
"Just because I'm an environmental engineer, does not mean that I'm an environmentalist," McCumber said. "However, personally I am, because that's what I value."
Chief of the Hazardous, Toxic, Radioactive Waste Section of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, McCumber said that, in her 17 years as an environmental engineer, she's noticed a change in the pattern of thinking when it comes to sustainability.
A reading assignment of the book Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler, first made McCumber, as a high school student, aware of what the author described as the perils of the harrowing pace of technology.
Today, McCumber encourages people she knows both personally and professionally to educate themselves before engaging in a new fad like building a backyard wind turbine or buying a popular product because it's touted as "green."
It's important, she noted, for the general public to consider the entire life cycle of a product, just like she does for the Corps. "Is the product advertised in thick, bulk-mail catalogs, then trucked across the country and left sitting in a festering landfill?," she asked, rhetorically. "Or is the product locally grown or manufactured and promoted on a website?
"What we do on a personal level is how we participate in the paradigm shift--from not caring, of just disposing of everything, which we do a lot of just for convenience--to caring about the environment," she said. "I see [the use of] alternative energy and trying to move away from petroleum-based energy dependence and our recycling efforts across the country. Those are part of that paradigm shift."
McCumber said she knows that as individuals, creating a compost bin or starting a recycling program will not have a global impact, but more importantly those actions become part of a worldwide cultural mentality. She also sees how that mindset has changed the approach to project design and execution in the Savannah District.
"We just have to start with ideas, move forward and not settle on an outcome because it appears to be helping the planet," McCumber said. "We have to look at things like alternative sources for ethanol, such as wind, hydropower, and solar power. We need to move toward fuel alternatives that are naturally occurring and a part of our environment."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers strives to protect, sustain, and improve the natural and man-made environment of our nation, and is committed to compliance with applicable environmental and energy statutes, regulations, and Executive Orders. Sustainability is part of the culture of the Corps of Engineers as well as its decision processes.