Air Force officials promote sustainability

  • Published
  • By Michael Briggs
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs
In general terms, it's development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

In the Air Force, it's the capacity to continue the mission without compromise.

In a word, it's sustainability.

Without it, operations are diminished or halted, bases go away, people lose jobs, the future of the service as a whole is jeopardized and recovery is slow to come if it is ever achieved.

Sustainability is receiving a lot of attention in the Air Force these days as missions evolve, new weapons systems come on board, and fewer people and bases are available to carry on the defense of America's air and space.

This new climate means people from all career fields and disciplines must work together to achieve lasting results. Gone are the days when commanders, civil engineers and the plans and programs staff were the only people involved in long-term planning of the mission and resources.

"We can't meet future mission needs without everyone on the team helping achieve sustainability," said Gen. William R. Looney III, commander of Air Education and Training Command. "It's up to the current generation to act now to ensure future generations of Airmen have the land, facilities and resources they need to fly, fight and win."

The general added the AETC mission of developing "America's Airmen today ... for tomorrow" includes instilling Airmen with a pride of ownership in the resources entrusted to them so they will protect those assets for tomorrow.

Sustainable operations are achieved through the use of an Environment, Safety and Occupational Health Management System, or ESOHMS, said Karen Winnie, an environmental program manager at AETC. The Air Force secretary and chief of staff issued a joint memorandum creating the ESOHMS in 2001.

"The Air Force has world-class environmental, safety and occupational health programs," the memo stated. "These separate programs have evolved over the years to give us an unparalleled track record. ... We are now ready to move these programs to the next level of excellence by implementing a management system, ESOHMS, which ensures commanders have a holistic view of these ... programs. Our programs will not only comply, but also enhance mission performance."

The plan calls for Air Force officials to look proactively at how the service conducts its operations with a focus on a whole-system approach to sustaining operations, rather than separate entities taking care of just their own pieces of the pie.

The first step to sustainability through ESOHMS is the establishment of an Environmental Management System. Commanders at Air Force bases were required to meet 28 EMS milestones by December 2005. The next step is to meet the remaining 17 of the original 45 EMS components by December 2008, Ms. Winnie said.
"EMS provides a systematic approach of identifying critical mission and environmental impact areas, ranking them, then building management programs to control impacts and minimize risk," she said. "In a nutshell, we want people to use the system to identify their 'big rocks,' build a process to manage or alleviate those things, and then move on to the next, lower priority set of challenges."

EMS places the ownership of sustainability at the base level, and lets commanders and their teams determine their own priorities and how they should align their resources to tackle those issues.

"EMS says you must have a basic structure, but it doesn't say 'how,'" Ms. Winnie said. "How units accomplish the work can be tailored to the unique regulatory and mission needs of that base."

Beyond the determination of priorities, commanders must ensure word gets out so everyone can play a role as the Air Force moves past just regulatory compliance to sustaining resources by balancing mission requirements with human needs, the economy and the environment. The result will be an evolution of smarter planning and execution, Ms. Winnie said.

"More and more benefits will accrue as we work to alleviate our regulatory burdens by looking for ways to change our processes to reduce waste of resources while lowering costs," she said.

That means people who previously may have given little thought to the environmental consequences of their actions will now need to get involved in helping map the way toward sustainability.

"The most critical things people need to know in this step of the EMS process are the environmental issues associated with their day-to-day jobs," Ms. Winnie said. "They need to know what procedures they should be following. They need to be able to articulate the environmental impacts of their work and to eliminate or minimize them. Everyone's environmental impact footprint is rather sizeable, even an office worker's."

Working to achieve sustainability shouldn't be complicated, she added.

"Historically, environmental, safety and occupational health compliance was tough to understand and implement," Ms. Winnie said. "The goal of the EMS is to provide an 'easy button' for the common man. Work should be focused on ensuring people in the unit have the training and tools they need to maintain compliance. Do they have readily available and easy to use procedures? Do they know what they are supposed to be doing, and are they doing it?"

People can get more information from the Air Force Guide to Sustainable Operations on the Air Force Center of Environmental Excellence Web site at 

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