By Jenn MillerNovember 21, 2018
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Engaging with a diverse crowd of Arizona State University students, alumni, professors, and local veterans, Ms. Karen Baker, chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Environmental Division, discussed the value of, and successful initiatives in, sustainability within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during Arizona State University's Salute to Service program earlier this month.
Participating in forums across the country, Baker aims to foster understanding of the USACE's environmental mission and the progress being seen nationwide. For her recent engagement at Arizona State University, she focused her discussion on why sustainability principles are important to national security and USACE's recent successes in energy efficiency, water conservation, sustainable acquisition, and fleet management.
"By implementing sustainability principles and practices, the Army is decreasing future mission constraints, increasing operational flexibility and resilience, and safeguarding human health and the environment," explained Baker. "Sustainability ultimately improves the quality of life for Soldiers and local communities."
This is the first year Baker has participated in Arizona State University's Salute to Service, an annual event held in honor of Veteran's Day that includes panel discussions, along with military appreciation athletic events and activities sponsored by student clubs.
"We are honored to have Karen spend time at ASU to give us USACE's perspective on sustainability," said Benjamin Freakley, special advisor to ASU President Michael Crow and retired U.S. Army lieutenant general. "As the leading sustainability school in the nation, this is an excellent engagement for ASU students to learn about USACE's global impact and to explore possible careers with USACE. We are grateful to have this unique opportunity with USACE during Salute to Service, which is when we set extra time aside each year at the university to honor all the women and men, military and civilians, who have served our nation."
In an interactive classroom lecture-style format, Baker shared some insights into her personal journey as one of the architects of the Army Strategy for the Environment, the first-ever federal sustainability strategy, issued by the Secretary of the Army and Chief of Staff of the Army in 2004. The strategy was recognized by the White House Council on Environmental Quality with a Closing the Circle Award in the "Sowing the Seeds of Change" category in 2007.
Baker explained that the strategy titled "Sustain the Mission, Secure the Future" set out to change the paradigm in which environmental compliance was seen as an added cost or burden to the mission. She discussed how the Army, through a series of collaboration within all functional areas, developed and adopted its own "triple bottom line" framework in which "Mission, Community, and Environment" were considered holistically when approaching complex problems.
The strategy explicitly stated, "It is our obligation to ensure our Soldiers today -- and the Soldiers of the future -- have the land, water, and air resources they need to train; a healthy environment in which to live; and the support of local communities and the American people."
Baker mentioned that as she led the Army-wide efforts to develop this sustainability strategy, there was a key group of experts who had already led the way in this mindset. They were the representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She explained that USACE first adopted its Environmental Operating Principles (EOPs) in 2002, a few years ahead of the Department of Army strategy. EOP #1 is "Foster sustainability as a way of life throughout the organization."
"Here we were thinking we were doing something really innovative, and our USACE partners were saying to us, 'We've already embraced sustainability,'" Baker said. "Now that I work for USACE, I understand that this is part of our DNA. Our team understands that every one of our projects and mission lines has an impact on the environment, the economy, and the well-being of the communities we serve."
Baker explained that the EOPs reinforce USACE's role in, and responsibility for, sustainable use, stewardship, and restoration of natural resources; and emphasize the importance of leveraging scientific, economic, and social knowledge and exchanging this information through a collaborative process. She talked about the continued evolution of thought that has led to thinking "beyond compliance" and simply "balancing" the environment against mission needs as USACE continues on its sustainability journey.
"The one thing that has evolved--and that I try to stress every day--is that we now recognize environmental considerations can also be an enabler," explained Baker. "It is about ensuring Soldiers and other service members have the air, water, land they need to train; It is about cleaning sites to a level that allows us to revitalize and develop infrastructure; It is recognizing that protecting an ecosystem may have economic benefits; and it is about learning how to use natural approaches as we continue to build infrastructure the nation needs."
To demonstrate the challenge of moving a large organization toward sustainable performance, Baker discussed how USACE has transitioned from all red on its first Sustainability Scorecard in fiscal year 2010 to mostly green in fiscal year 2017. With a reported 23 percent reduction in building energy intensity over fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2017, it has now moved from the lowest ranking agency in the government on its energy intensity scores to the current federal leader.
This past fiscal year, USACE received its best ever sustainability performance ratings by the White House Office of Management and Budget. The OMB Scorecard for Efficient Federal Operations/Management rated USACE green scores showing progressive improvement in facility energy efficiency, efficiency measures/investment, renewable energy use, and transportation/fleet management.
She also talked about how through its global engagements, USACE contributes to national security. She described how by providing technical assistance to partner countries to address water, energy, and other resource challenges, USACE supports all three instruments of U.S. power--defense, diplomacy, and development--in its support to Combatant Commands, State Department and USAID around the world.
Throughout the 90-minute discussion, the audience engaged Ms. Baker in a lively discussion, asking thoughtful questions, even challenging a few of the key statements in her presentation. Baker stated this was just the outcome she hoped to achieve from her interaction at ASU.
"I think I gained much more than I received today," Baker said. "One of the key actions in our USACE Campaign Plan is to 'Grow Future Sustainability Leaders.' Engagements like this give us a sense of what our future workforce is going to demand of us. We are looking for opportunities for more of our current USACE workforce to benefit from what is being taught from sustainability curriculum like that at ASU, and we seek partnerships with universities who are leading the way in this field. Of course, we also seek to give their current students a deeper understanding of the USACE mission, and hopefully attract them to come help us solve some of the nation's toughest challenges."
Additional information on USACE's Environmental Operating Principles and Sustainability initiatives available at: www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Environmental/