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USDA Works to Reduce Its Environmental Footprint – Here’s How

Did you know that USDA manages 193 million acres of land; occupies approximately 89 million square feet of office and laboratory space and operates over 23,000 buildings?  And if this isn’t enough, USDA also operates a fleet of over 40,000 motor vehicles and equipment.

Photo of green roof on court 5 of the South Building.  Saves energy and reduces excessive stormwater runoff (which supports our efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay).

Photo of green roof on court 5 of the South Building. Saves energy and reduces excessive stormwater runoff (which supports our efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay).

With statistics like these, it is no wonder that USDA remains focused on reducing its rather significant environmental footprint by using clean energy while working towards improving the environment.   To accomplish this, USDA conducts its operations in a sustainable manner, complies with environmental laws and regulations and walks its talk.

In order to realize these goals, USDA works on many fronts to:

  • Reduce its reliance on nonrenewable energy by improving energy conservation;
  • Increase efficiency and promote renewable energy projects and programs;
  • Support green transportation and travel practices that reduce harmful emissions;
  • Increase operational and fuel efficiency; and
  • Reduce nonrenewable fuel use.

To better coordinate this effort and build on past success, the Department created the USDA Sustainable Operations Council.  This Council includes representatives from each USDA mission area which represents each of USDA’s agencies.  The efforts of the Council are supported through several other groups, specifically, USDA’s Asset Management Council, Procurement Council, employee green teams and various workgroups throughout the Department.

Photo of one of our new “Cool Roofs” (made from biobased materials) at the USDA HQ Complex Facility - helps save energy.

Photo of one of our new “Cool Roofs” (made from biobased materials) at the USDA HQ Complex Facility - helps save energy.

Green teams embody USDA’s efforts to achieve sustainable operations at the grass roots level.  A USDA green team is a group of employees, regardless of discipline or organizational level, specifically chartered by leadership to promote and foster sustainable operations that reduce a unit’s environmental footprint.  For example, some successes which can be attributed to USDA green teams include:

  • Reductions in electricity use by seven percent and natural gas use by 26 percent in the Pike-San Isabel National Forest; and
  • Installing electric steam kettles and electric hot water heaters within the USDA Headquarters Complex for summer mode use which yielded an annual savings of $194,000.

And another success can be illustrated through USDA’s energy initiative, the “USDA Unplugged Challenge,” which was designed to bring awareness to USDA employees about the energy usage and waste that occurs at the USDA facilities during the evenings and on weekends.  The “USDA Unplugged Challenge” demonstrated that employees can make a significant difference in reducing electric consumption and costs. USDA energy managers found that employees within the Headquarters Complex were able to reduce electric use by 9,000 kilowatt-hours in a 24 hour period during the work week and by 24,000 kilowatt-hours over the weekend during the “USDA Unplugged Challenge.

USDA has synergistically combined its strategic plans and policies with the services that the U.S. Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) provides to create effective management tools and energy initiatives.  Examples include FEMP-sponsored Energy Savings Performance Contracts and Utility Energy Service Contracts, green power purchase agreements, internal USDA Agency scorecards, corporate energy data management systems and environmental management systems.  Specific energy initiatives entail increasing the use of alternative transportation fuels, procuring more energy efficient replacement vehicles, performing facility energy evaluations and strategically disseminating energy-related outreach and awareness materials.

The Forest Service is building net-zero energy installations, including the San Dimas Technology and Development Center, shown.

The Forest Service is building net-zero energy installations, including the San Dimas Technology and Development Center, shown.

As you can see, USDA is working hard at reducing its environmental footprint, however there still is much more work to do.  For example, in the future USDA plans to:

  • Reduce GHG emissions from USDA operations by 21 percent by 2020 (compared to 2008 base year);
  • Increase use of energy performance-based contracting investments by $5 million over the next 2 years;
  • Complete energy evaluations of USDA’s most energy-intensive facilities by July 1, 2012; and
  • Increase alternative-fuel use in fleet vehicles by 10 percent by 2014.

More information about USDA Sustainable Operations can be found at http://www.greening.usda.gov which includes additional details about USDA sustainability programs and green team activities.

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