Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • The Youth Sustainability Challenge: Creating an America Built to Last

    Today we are excited to announce a new initiative in partnership with America's young leaders. We're asking you, America's youth, to tell the world how you're fostering sustainability and creating an America built to last. Starting today, submit your video message for the Youth Sustainability Challenge and share how you're making a difference.

    This June, leaders from around the world will convene in Rio de Janeiro to mark the 20th anniversary of the historic "Earth Summit," formally known as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. The conference is an opportunity for the world to engage in a global conversation and take action to build a healthier and more sustainable future for our planet.

    Here at home, we are focused on taking action to protect the health of our families and communities, and build a strong and growing economy and middle class. Americans are already working together to create innovative solutions to our shared global challenges, including through clean energy innovations and investments that support hundreds of thousands of jobs and have put us on track to double renewable energy generation in the U.S. by the end of this year.  

    The Obama Administration will continue to support American innovation and smart investments that will build a strong and healthy country and economy. We also believe that real progress begins with individuals who take action in their own homes and their own communities. That's why, as we prepare for the conference in Rio, we are challenging America's future leaders to do their part.

    This Tuesday, May 8, Obama Administration officials and youth sustainability leaders will gather for an event at the White House to mark the launch of this Challenge. But you can get involved now. Join the conversation. Encourage others to do the same. Demonstrate how you have power to create an America built to last – and to change our world for the better.

    • Twitter: Use the hashtag #EarthDayEveryDay
    • Facebook: Update your status and profile image

    Nancy Sutley is Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality

    Lisa P. Jackson is the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

  • Champions of Secure Energy

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Katherine Hammack, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment.

    Today in a special White House ceremony, I was privileged to meet, listen to, and help recognize nine individuals from around the nation who are being acknowledged as Champions of Change for Innovations in Renewable Energy.

    Among those being recognized is U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Alan Samuels, a Reserve Officer assigned to the Army Reserve Sustainment Command in support of the Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM), a part of the Army Material Command. Samuels deployed to Afghanistan for nine months in support of RDECOM's initiative to stand up a science and technology collaboration and integration center in theater. During his deployment he organized and led efforts for a 1-mega watt micro grid project the Army installed in Bagram. This project reduced power outages by 50 percent and fuel consumption for power generation by over 20 percent.

    When not serving as an Active Reserve Officer, Lt. Col. Samuels is a Department of the Army civilian, working as a research chemist studying remote sensing technology at Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. Throughout his deployment Samuels continued to work with the Center's Army Science and Technology programs, offering them a "boots on the ground" perspective that allowed them to fine tune the Army's emerging technologies to better meet the needs of our war fighters.

    Power and energy are a serious focus of the United States Army. In theater, 70-80 percent of our logistics efforts are focused on moving fuel and water. Fuel and water must be transported by convoys which are often targeted by our adversaries. Any reduction in the amount of fuel we use translates into fewer convoys, and thus fewer lives lost protecting that fuel.

    Today, we witnessed firsthand how the military and civilians are working to find better ways for America to manage their power and energy resources. My personal congratulations go to Lt. Col. Samuels, and those who were recognized today as Champions of Change for Innovations in Renewable Energy.

    Katherine Hammack is Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment

  • Voice of an Innovator: Sustainability Makes Sense

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Sarah Van Aken, founder of Philadelphia-based design house SA VA, which has committed to social and environmental sustainability through living wage apparel and sustainable manufacturing processes.

    When I launched the clothing company SA VA in 2006, it was because I had a dream of becoming a fashion designer. I never dreamed that becoming a socially sustainable company would be my next goal – but that's what happened. 
    In 2008, I looked at our product lifecycle and realized something had to change. We purchased textiles from mills in Europe, air-shipped them to Bangladesh, and then air shipped the garments to the U.S – all in the name of fashion. I knew that I had to transform my business, and I worked with the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation to open a local manufacturing center, creating 15 American jobs and cutting our carbon footprint in half. We pay living wages, use sustainable and recycled materials, and promote community partnerships. The apparel industry is a big environmental polluter. As SA VA grows, our hope is to create more jobs, build an infrastructure for others to do the same, and help shift demand for sustainable practices in our industry.

    Women Sustainable Business Roundtable

    CEQ Chair Sutley meets with SA VA founder Sarah Van Aken and other women sustainable business owners from the Greater Philadelphia area to share ideas to advance sustainable business practices across the country. (Photo Credit: SA VA)

    Sustainable businesses are not only good for the environment, they are good for our communities. Three times the amount of money spent in local, independent businesses stays in the community that it's spent in. As President Obama has said, we don't have to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy – that is a false choice. Sustainable small businesses like ours are proving we can have both. 

    Sarah Van Aken is founder of Philadelphia-based design house SA VA

  • A Secure Approach to American Energy

    When I served as an Army officer in Baghdad, Iraq in 2003, it became a ritual that our soldiers would reposition fuel trucks on our compound just as the sun went down. Soon after moving these trucks, insurgent mortar fire would target the area where they had previously been sitting. These were the moments when my soldiers and I began to realize the importance of energy to our warfighters on the battlefield. The issue also surfaced as the roads in Baghdad became more dangerous during our 15 month deployment, but we still needed to send daily logistical convoys into those streets to go pick up the new fuel supply. 

    Over the last 10 years of war, America's warfighters have gained a better understanding of the significant and inherent connection between energy independence and national security. As a result, the Department of Defense is making great strides in addressing these issues and enhancing our nation's energy security. That is why, as a veteran and in my new role as the Federal Environmental Executive, I am so proud of today's announcements by the Obama Administration, which take steps to bolster energy security for not only our brave men and women fighting on the front lines, but for all Americans.

    Today, the Administration announced:

    • The Army will open a new 30,000-square-foot lab in Michigan to develop cutting edge energy technologies for the next generation of combat vehicles. This new lab will support the launch of the Army Green Warrior Convoy, which will test and demonstrate advanced vehicle technology including fuel cells, hybrid systems, battery technologies and alternative fuels. 
    • The Energy Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency will launch a research competition to engage our country's brightest scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs in improving the capability of energy storage devices that can be used in the battlefield and for civilian applications. 
    • Building on the commitment President Obama made in his State of the Union Address, the Department of Defense (DOD) will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history, with a new goal to deploy three gigawatts of renewable energy – including solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal – on Army, Navy, and Air Force installations by 2025 – enough to power 750,000 homes.  

  • Champions of Change: Corporate Environmental Leaders

    Across the country, millions of people wake up every day with a mission to make their workplace and their community a better place. Tomorrow, at a Champions of Change event that you can watch live, the White House will honor an extraordinary group of these Americans. 

    This event will highlight individuals who are demonstrating how environmental leadership contributes not just to the well-being of our planet, but to our economic growth and our public health. Every day, these Champions rise to meet some of the most significant environmental challenges of the 21st century. 

    The President is also a leader on sustainability. He has taken unprecedented action to build the foundation for a clean energy economy and protect our environment, including by investing in and supporting leaders in the private sector and in communities across the country. Just a few of the Administration's actions include:

    • Adopting historic fuel economy standards that will double the fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks by 2025, save consumers $1.7 trillion at the pump, eliminate 6 billion metric tons of CO2, and cut oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels per day.
    • Partnering with dozens of CEOs, mayors, university presidents and others to commit nearly $4 billion in combined federal and private sector dollars for energy efficiency upgrades to buildings over the next 2 years at no net cost to taxpayers.
    • Investing $90 billion in clean energy through the Recovery Act, which has supported hundreds of thousands of jobs and put us on track to double US renewable generation by 2012. 
    • Directing the Federal Government – the largest energy consumer in the U.S. economy – to dramatically reduce energy use, waste and carbon pollution. These reductions can avoid up to $11 billion dollars in energy costs and eliminate the equivalent of 235 million barrels of oil over the next decade.

    We all have a role to play in building a more sustainable future – for our organizations, for our communities, and for our country. 

    Please tune in to learn from these Champions' experiences, and see if you can apply the lessons they've learned in your own organization. We know you will be inspired.  

    The program will begin at 1:30pm EDT on April 12, 2012 at:  

    Rohan Patel is Associate Director for Public Engagement at the Council on Environmental Quality

  • Energy Performance Upgrades Offer Savings, Jobs, and are Self-Funded

    Last week, GSA announced the Deep Retrofit Challenge, which challenges the private sector to bring innovative, energy saving retrofits to Federal buildings and to take performance-based contracts to the next level. These retrofit projects create jobs, and performance-based contracts provide government with decades of lower utility bills and long term cost savings without an up front investment from the taxpayers.

    The Deep Retrofit Challenge is offering 30 buildings across the country, totaling nearly 17 million square feet, that will use Energy Service Performance Contracts (ESPCs) to make existing buildings more energy efficient. ESPCs retrofit buildings for guaranteed greater energy performance at no net cost to taxpayers. The retrofit projects are paid for through energy savings over time.

    Last December, President Obama announced nearly $4 billion in commitments to perform energy efficiency upgrades to buildings over the next two years. Two billion dollars of this effort will come from the private sector through upgrading manufacturing facilities, retail stores, universities, and other buildings. Up to $2 billion more will come from Federal buildings through the use of ESPCs, which the President directed in a Presidential Memorandum to all government agencies. GSA’s Deep Retrofit Challenge will contribute to the President's performance contracting goals for the Federal government.

    As the President said, performance-based contracts are a “triple win”-- they create jobs, offer guaranteed energy savings, and they come at no cost to taxpayers. Through an ESPC, building owners leverage private funds to perform energy efficiency upgrades. When the work is done, money will be saved on energy costs. Federal buildings are built to last, and these contracts span a maximum of 25 years; therefore, the Federal government stands to reap the benefits of energy and cost savings for decades without making an initial investment.

    GSA already has extensive experience with performance contracting. Since 1998, GSA has contracted over $460 million in ESPCs through the Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program. GSA owns roughly 182 million square feet of space in over 1,500 buildings nationwide, and we are eagerly reviewing our owned building portfolio to determine where we can best use ESPCs to increase energy efficiency. 

    In addition to the Presidential Memorandum on Implementation of Energy Savings Projects and Performance-Based Contracting issued in December 2011, President Obama issued Executive Order 13514 on Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance in 2009, which requires agencies to meet a number of energy, water, and waste reduction targets in existing Federal buildings. Performance based contracts help Federal agencies to meet these benchmarks and to become more sustainable. 

    Martha Johnson is Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration