The Minnesota Army National Guard (MNARNG) Sustainability Team is making a huge impact across the state by showing others the economic and environmental advantages of incorporating sustainability practices.

The team manages environmental stewardship for Camp Ripley, Arden Hills Army Training Site (AHATS), 63 armories, eight field maintenance shops, and two Army aviation support facilities. For their efforts, the group won the Sustainability Team award in the Secretary of the Army Environmental Awards program for fiscal year 2014.

Among the team's endeavors is a partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency allowing for the hire of a Green Corp intern at Camp Ripley, a 53,000-acre training facility for military, federal, state, local, and civilian communities. The intern educated facility managers on energy reduction measures and the ability to compare their current energy use with historic data for the facility. The Sustainability Team challenged each facility to reduce usage by three percent from the previous year, with the winner receiving $10,000 for an energy upgrade.

Collaborating with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the team helped establish AHATS and Camp Ripley as Net Zero installations. At AHATS, a 40kW solar photovoltaic system meets some electrical needs, and a solar thermal array preheats water. At Camp Ripley, the installation of a 10MW solar array will equate to a 100-acre solar field--the largest in Minnesota and the largest on a National Guard installation nationwide.

"This solar project represents an important milestone for Minnesota," said Minnesota Commissioner of Commerce Mike Rothman. "It's not only a partnership between the National Guard and Duluth-based Minnesota Power, but it fundamentally demonstrates where we are in Minnesota in getting to a clean energy future." Other phases will include backup power generation, making Camp Ripley independent of the electrical grid in emergencies.

A feasibility study evaluated construction of a biomass-heating district(s) for thirty-seven buildings at Camp Ripley. The district(s) will be fueled by wood chips generated through Ripley's forest management program. This will offset 91 percent of the buildings' fossil fuel heating requirements and eventually replace 58 older, natural gas-fired boilers. It will also reduce natural gas by 42,300 cu ft. and reduce carbon emissions by approximately 2,220 metric tons. The team is pursuing state and federal funding and a partnership with Minnesota Power to augment National Guard Bureau (NGB) funding of the project.

Geothermal heating systems installed in 2011 in three troop billet structures at Camp Ripley reduced energy consumption by 45 percent, so MNARNG installed additional systems 2014 and 2015 at three other buildings, two at Camp Ripley and one at AHATS.

As part of Net Zero goals, the team advised facility managers in water use reduction and water-conserving upgrades; as a result, MNARNG reduced water usage by 26 percent (12 million gallons), surpassing the two percent annual reduction goal.

In 2013, the team completed an update to the Camp Ripley Wellhead Protection Plan and a comprehensive storm water management plan for AHATS. The NGB, along with MNARNG and the Sustainability Team, also implemented the Operational Range Assessment Program, which involved collecting samples at outflow points to ensure no munitions constituents of concern were leaving the training site.

Behavioral change is key to reducing waste, so the team installed water bottle fill stations throughout the state with awareness materials that discourage use of single-use plastic bottles. In another effort, members tracked material usage and needs; viable materials not needed by one facility are now re-routed to a facility that can use them, saving about $20,000 in purchasing and disposal costs.

MNARNG set an ambitious goal to divert 50 percent of its waste from landfills; it is exceeding that goal with a 55 percent diversion rate. In 2013, approximately 1,800 pounds of working electronics went to a local elementary school for reuse. Also contributing to diversion and Qualified Recycling Program revenue was 80 tons of recycled small arms brass cartridge casings, a trend that continues today.

MNARNG's Sustainability Team designs all new and rehabilitated structures to a minimum of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standards. The recently completed 107,500 sq. ft. field maintenance shop at AHATS topped that with a Gold LEED rating.

One of the largest, most modern maintenance facilities in the country, it collects rainwater from half of the building and stores it in a 25,000-gallon underground cistern for site irrigation. Rainwater collected on the other half is stored and used in vehicle wash bays. This facility is a benchmark for future construction projects.

The team started the first Camp Ripley vanpool and hosted a "Made in Minnesota" electric vehicle demonstration to bring awareness to Camp Ripley and AHATS of the potential use of electric vehicles within cantonment areas. Consequently, MNARNG ordered a vehicle for Camp Ripley and one for AHATS.

Sustainability Team members also provide technical input to the Interagency Pollution Prevention Advisory Team and to Minnesota's Energy Efficiency Working Group. Several members are involved in the Camp Ripley Army Compatible Use Buffer program; last year, funds were secured to permanently protect 2,889 acres within the buffer zone bringing the total land area protected to date to over 15,000 acres.

The team's guiding document is its Joint Sustainability Master Plan, which outlines goals and strategies for reducing energy use, reducing waste, and conserving water. The plan was created after the Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard, Major General Rick Nash, shared his vision for the future, which included a commitment to a sustainable infrastructure while achieving Net Zero goals.

"We will use deliberate efforts to reduce energy consumption, effectively manage natural resources, and minimize waste streams," said Major General Nash. "This will ensure our ability to sustain our capabilities into the future and remain good stewards of our limited resources and the environment."

Over the past two years, team members have been responsible for outreach activities affecting literally thousands of visitors annually. These outreach activities extend beyond sustainability and include environmental tours; hunting and fishing programs for youth, veterans, and disabled hunting programs; an Adopt-a-Highway initiative in the name of MNARNG's environmental program; and publications of The Steward, a quarterly environmental newsletter.

The team's partnerships with state agencies, local companies, and communities highlight MNARNG's Sustainability Team as an environmental leader. It will make them a tough competitor in the Secretary of Defense Environmental Awards competition later this year.