Net zero energy use is 100 percent benefit

The Army has a bold vision for managing natural resources on its installations: It will become net zero. That is, our use and production of resources will balance out so that we do not over-consume or waste. The most exciting part of the Army net zero vision is this: we all have a part to play in achieving it.

When the concept of net zero was first applied to installations, it was in terms of energy. Army net zero goes beyond energy, though, to also include water and waste.

Installations reach net zero through reduction, repurposing, recycling and composting, energy recovery and disposal. To achieve net zero energy, garrisons start with conservation efforts to reduce the amount of energy being used. Then they repurpose energy in ways such as finding secondary uses for building exhausts. After energy conservation, garrisons will employ renewable or alternative energy projects.

A net zero water installation limits the consumption of fresh water and returns water back to the same watershed, so as not to deplete the groundwater and surface water of that region. Installations aiming for net zero water repurpose the water used in showers, sinks, washing machines and cooling towers, capture rainwater for on-site use and treat wastewater for replenishing groundwater aquifers.

A net zero waste installation aims to make disposal an unnecessary step. Garrisons start by reducing the initial amount of waste, and then find ways to repurpose waste with minimal processing. For example, they might crush construction rubble to use on trails. When they cannot reuse waste, they recycle or compost as much as they can or convert it into energy.

Over the past year, I have seen how our garrisons have taken steps — great strides, in some cases — to manage resources more efficiently, so I know there will be tremendous interest in an opportunity that the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment is launching this month. The ASA (IE&E) is asking garrisons to nominate themselves to become net zero energy, net zero water or net zero waste installations, or all three, by 2020. Five will be selected in each category, and one will be selected to become all three. These installations will receive long-term, in-depth training and support and become showcases for the best practices of sustainable resource management.

I encourage every garrison to take on this challenge. It will require commitment and a lot of hard work. We have to learn about energy, water and waste management best practices and technologies, along with the business practices that support them.

Everyone — every Soldier, civilian and family member — has a role to play in managing our resources. Maybe it seems like a smaller role — turning out the lights or separating out recyclables at home. Maybe it is running an installation waste management program. Regardless, every effort adds up, and what it adds up to is important: our future.