Earth Day calls for broader focus at all levels

  • Published
  • By Terry Yonkers
  • Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics
Each year when Earth Day rolls around, I make a commitment to pay greater attention to our natural environment, to shift focus from seemingly inconsequential daily activities to the greater task of preserving and improving our natural environment. But this way of thinking misses the mark.

Earth Day isn't a time to shift focus, but to broaden it.

It isn't the time to put aside our very real professional, financial and mission concerns, but to take a step back and consider how the environment - particularly pollution prevention and our role in it - is woven into the very fabric of those concerns.

The military has long sought to be a good environmental caretaker. At installations around the United States, we've pushed ahead with programs to preserve rare bird and fish species, preserve forests and wetlands, and, in the case of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., brought in archaeologists to unearth centuries-old Spanish artifacts.

In this same vein, the Air Force recently established pollution prevention as a service-wide goal. On Jan. 6 of last year, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley directed aggressive efforts to identify and achieve cost-saving measures to continue investment in warfighting capabilities needed to accomplish our mission.

It might surprise some to know that pollution prevention was identified as an important way to save money and sustain our global obligations.

In keeping with Secretary Donley's direction, we are establishing aggressive goals to reduce hazardous waste; divert solid waste from landfills and reduce toxic release inventory. At installations across the world, we are already taking steps to achieve these goals and are doing so with the characteristic innovation that reflects our core values of integrity, service and excellence.

For example, a team at Columbus AFB, Miss., developed a first-of-its kind management process for de-icing aircraft. This practice not only minimizes exposure to potentially toxic runway de-icing solvents and protects critical watersheds from polluted runoff from those chemicals, but it minimizes aircraft and runway corrosion, resulting in preservation of critical Air Force resources and a significant reduction of operations and maintenance costs.

At Malmstrom AFB, Mont., workers crushed some 6,400 tons of concrete and asphalt waste into products that can be used for future repaving and construction, saving the Air Force nearly a $250,000 dollars in material purchasing and disposal fees, demonstrating that not only is going green good for the environment, but it's good business as well.

In a similar effort, the team at Travis AFB, Calif., successfully used green and sustainable remediation techniques in their base cleanup program. Recently, they were able to use materials from the cleanup of a rapid runway repair training site in the construction of a new runway for the C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane. This allowed 6,200 cubic yards of concrete, 8,000 cubic yards of asphalt and more than 28,000 cubic yards of clean fill dirt to be used for the new runway. These actions aided the mission, kept the material out of landfills, and returned 45 clean acres to the base for future mission use.

These are just a few of literally countless ways Airmen are making the environment a consideration in all they do. It shows, even if you don't work directly in an environmental role or for an environmental program, each of us can take decisive action to incorporate conservation and pollution prevention in our daily work and lives.

For example, if every active-duty Airman and member of the civilian workforce simply turned off their faucets daily for thirty seconds - less than the time required to brush your teeth - we could save nearly 250,000 gallons of water each day.

Your participation in the Air Force's new campaign, "Blue Acts of Green," will provide an avenue for Airmen and their families to share ideas like these and commit to performing acts that prevent pollution and protect our environment which, when combined, have significant and lasting impact. Visit us on Facebook at where your posts will help us share easy-to-implement ideas with the rest of the nation.

Starting now, let's lead the way on Earth Day and every day!