Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • Doing Well by Doing Good — Remembering Ray Anderson

    The Federal Government is among the organizations that Ray Anderson's work has informed and inspired. President Obama's Executive Order 13514 challenges the Federal Government to lead by example, and to live up to its responsibilities as our Nation's single largest energy consumer. The people in military and civil service who are making the President's goals a reality – myself included – have Ray Anderson's example, and the examples of many others, to thank for making the path a little clearer.

    Ray Anderson's vision for making the $1.1 billion global carpet tile company he founded the first sustainable company in the world set a highwater mark for corporate sustainability and gave a new generation of American business leaders a model of a social enterprise – how to do well by doing good. I know it first-hand: Ray Anderson taught me the business case for sustainability.

    I grew up in LaGrange, Georgia, less than 10 miles from Interface's first carpet tile plant. I never thought I'd end up back there after grad school, but I did, and I’m very grateful it was working for him.

    It was shortly after Ray had read The Ecology of Commerce, and been so inspired that he made it Interface Inc.'s mission to become a sustainable company – taking nothing, doing no harm. "Climbing Mt. Sustainability," as he called it, began with a war on waste. And waste, by the way, was defined as "any cost that [Interface] incurred that does not add value to our customer and that translates to doing everything right the first time, every time."

    That was about 1995, and even then you could tour any Interface manufacturing plant, and whether you were talking to the plant manager or a second shift tufting machine operator, he or she could tell you exactly how their work connected to sustainability and quality for the customer.

    Of course the war on waste was just the beginning. Ray challenged the company to redesign products to use less material and last longer, reengineer processes to use less energy and water, and create a recycling program that used old carpet to create new products instead of sending it to a landfill as trash.

    But what did it do for Interface's bottom line, and for their shareholders? Ray described it this way: "Our costs are down, not up. Our products are the best they have ever been. Our people are motivated by a shared higher purpose — esprit de corps to die for. And the goodwill in the marketplace — it's just been astonishing."

    As a young person who'd always been passionate about the environment but didn't know how to connect it with my profession, seeing how Ray's vision transformed a company from the inside showed me how to marry profit with purpose.

    His influence, of course, didn't end with Interface. His evangelical zeal for using his company's success as a demonstration that green business is good business led him around the world as leading advocate for corporate sustainability and helped to inspire a green building movement that is creating better, more efficient places to live, work, and go to school in communities around the world. Ray Anderson may have passed on August 8 of this year, but his legacy will continue to grow.

    Michelle Moore is Federal Environmental Executive at the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • Conservation, Innovation and Collaboration Creates Jobs in Rural Oregon

    As a forester, I have always believed that smart, common sense initiatives to conserve our lands and waters go hand-in-hand with growing our economy and creating jobs. Under President Obama's leadership, the health of our natural treasures and the communities and economies that they support has seen robust advancement. On a recent fact finding trip to John Day Oregon, I saw this support firsthand. On the Malheur National Forest, a collaborative partnership between local businesses, local government, the Federal Government and conservation groups has restored forest health and reduced wildfire threat while sustaining the local forest products industry and starting a local clean energy market. This allowed a local lumber company to add infrastructure and retain and create new jobs equal to six percent of the non-farm workforce in Grant County. This new clean energy industry is estimated to reduce energy costs by $4.4 million across the regional economy. 

    This rural economic development success in John Day demonstrates the interdependence of a healthy environment and a strong economy and the good things that happen when local communities and the Federal Government work collaboratively to solve complex problems. This approach is a cornerstone of the President's America's Great Outdoors Initiative (AGO), a 21st century conservation agenda built in partnership with the American people, and reinforces the work of the White House Rural Council

    Established to improve rural economic opportunity and quality of life, the Rural Council is tasked with finding opportunities to enhance collaboration for Federal investments so that innovative developments like the one in Oregon can find success across the country. Throughout August the President and the White House Rural Council have been engaging local leaders in rural America to hear directly from them about the issues and actions that matter to them most. 

    Rural Americans arguably have one of the strongest ties to, and often live off of, the land which motivates innovative solutions to complex problems. This infrastructure success in John Day represents what the President’s Rural Council will learn and build from and look to repeat across the country: an amazing bottom line of protecting the environment, reducing wildfire threat, creating clean energy, promoting energy independence, and adding local jobs, all while diversifying and strengthening the regional economy. Below local residents in Oregon share their views on how this collaboration with the Federal Government has made a difference for their communities and economy. 

    Jay Jensen is Associate Director for Land and Water Ecosystems at the White House Council on Environmental Quality 

    Oregon Truck

    Chair Sutley and Jay Jensen greet the camera before exploring the public-private partnerships that are helping to make Grant County, Oregon, a leader in advancing our Nation's clean energy future. (Photo Credit: Sustainable Northwest)

    Posted by Cassandra Moseley:

    Grant County is a dramatic, arid landscape where, for generations, people have made their livelihoods working the land. But by the late 1990s, battered by a changing global economy and a two-decade conflict over federal land management, businesses had closed, jobs disappeared, and many families had left. In the early-2000s, looking for new solutions, community leaders decided it was time to talk instead of yell. They reached out to their neighbors, environmentalists, and timber industry representatives. These conversations turned into collaboration and then into innovation. They found a willing partner in the U.S. Forest Service. In 2009, the Forest Service's Malheur National Forest began awarding innovative stewardship contracts to implement their restoration projects. Federal investments in forest restoration in Oregon create jobs and these investments create even more jobs when the byproducts of restoration – small trees – are turned into value-added products and energy. 

    With ecological goals at the forefront, the harvested trees are small. To take advantage of this new timber supply, folks again innovated. The Malheur Lumber Company partnered with an energy company to integrate a new pellet and biobrick facility into their sawmill. With little private financing available, they used a USDA Recovery Act grant, New Market Tax Credits, and other federal programs to fund construction. Today, these products are helping to cleanly heat homes, the local airport, and hospital, while reducing heating costs, decreasing dependence on foreign oil, and creating jobs.

    The President's proposed fiscal year 2012 Forest Service budget would accelerate similar innovation in communities like Grant County. By combining line items that contribute to restoration, this modernized budget structure would allow the agency to break out of its silos, address complex problems, integrate restoration and job creation, and improve partnerships.

    Cassandra Moseley is the Director of the Ecosystem Workforce Program and Institute for a Sustainable Environment at the University of Oregon

    Grant County

    Chair Nancy Sutley visits the Malheur Lumber Company to witness how its innovative pellet and biobricks are created. (Photo Credit: Sustainable Northwest)

    Posted by Maia Enzer and Chad Davis:

    Transforming our economy while stewarding vast landscapes requires local, regional and national partnerships. That is why Sustainable Northwest and our partners launched the Dry Forest Investment Zone, an initiative catalyzed by the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities' $2 million investment to build strong forest-based rural economies.

    Public and private partnerships are critical to achieving results in rural communities. The addition of a pellet mill at Malheur Lumber Company in John Day is a great example. Supply is secured through forest restoration projects. Pellets are being used as a source of renewable energy to provide heat at several community facilities. The use of wood pellet fuel reduces energy costs and offsets the consumption of imported petroleum-based heating fuels keeping dollars spent on local energy.

    Throughout our history, rural America has been a stronghold of innovation and resilience. We hope the Rural Council will glean successful models from the entrepreneurial vision of communities like John Day. We need strong conservation-based rural economies. Rural America is where our food, fiber and energy come from, it's where we vacation, and it’s these places that our art and music celebrate. Ultimately, it's these places that will define the future of America.

    Maia Enzer is the Policy Director and Chad Davis is the Forest Stewardship Director at Sustainable Northwest

  • Sprint Declares Commitment as E-waste Impacts Grow

    E-waste is the largest growing waste stream in the country. Americans generate 2.5 million tons of e-waste a year— more than enough to fill a line of dump trucks from our Nation's capital to Disney World. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates 140 million cell phones – 65,000 tons – are discarded in the U.S. each year. Some are shoved into drawers, others end up in landfills. Today, only about 10 percent are collected for reuse or recycling.
    On July 20 the EPA invited Sprint, along with Dell and Sony, to Austin, Texas to be among the first corporations to publicly commit to follow a new national e-waste strategy. We were honored to join EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, General Services Administrator Martha Johnson, and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley as they issued the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship.
    The collaborative work of the EPA, General Services Administration (GSA), Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the dozen additional agencies represented on the e-waste task force that developed the National Strategy over the past eight months is an example to all who manufacture and distribute electronic products. Sprint commends the Federal Government's commitment to ensure that all electronics it uses are reused or recycled at a certified recycler. An e-waste solution will require on-going collaboration, shared commitment, accountability and meaningful action from companies in all sectors. I am proud that Sprint – along with Dell and Sony – has implemented sustainable business practices early on.

    The E-Waste Gang

    (Left to right): GSA Administrator Martha N. Johnson; Round2 Recycling CEO Randy Weiss; Mark Small, Vice President for Corporate Environment, Safety and Health, Sony Electronics Inc.; White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley; Sprint CEO Dan Hesse; EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson; Dell Inc. CEO Michael Dell. (Photo by Eric Vance, US EPA)

    Sprint's Electronics Stewardship Policy sets aggressive e-waste goals, including the collection of nine phones for reuse or recycling for every 10 sold by 2017. To date, Sprint has collected more than 25 million mobile phones— keeping them out of landfills, helping to conserve resources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and preventing air and water pollution.
    For the second year, Sprint received the Sustainability Leadership Award from the International Electronics Recycling Conference for our full-lifecycle product approach. On the design end, we have more environmentally-friendly devices and accessories than any other carrier. We recently launched our fourth green device and first eco-friendly Android phone – the new Samsung Replenish. It's made with 82 percent recyclable materials, and is the first phone in the U.S. with a solar battery cover.  And it's the first mobile device to receive UL Environment's Platinum certification. 
    At the other end of the lifecycle, Sprint's industry-first Electronics Stewardship Policy gave us the opportunity to work with environmental organizations like BSR, Basel Action Network and ABI Research to develop goals. The new national e-waste policy will enhance progress in the area of sustainable electronics management. Sprint's commitment to the new national strategy will boost our goals in several areas including greater transparency in our operations.
    Sprint is honored to be among the first companies to sign the new sustainable electronics management policy and to make our commitment public.

    Dan Hesse is CEO of Sprint

  • America's Great Outdoors: Homegrown Community Revitalization

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Sally Prouty, President and CEO of The Corps Network, which mobilizes hundreds of thousands of youth and volunteers each year to improve their community and environment through service.

    Corps Network

    Community activists and Mr. Peanut roll up their sleeves at the Washington, D.C. Planters Grove. (Photo courtesy of Planters)

    Recently, I had the pleasure of joining forces with White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley and several other leaders in Washington, D.C., including Mayor Vincent Gray and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, to open a new urban park in the Northeast community of Lincoln Heights. Once an unused and overrun piece of land that attracted illegal activity, the space has been transformed into a sustainable and welcoming outdoor park through a partnership between Planters and The Corps Network, the national nonprofit I lead that represents the country's service and conservation corps.

    For the past month, we have brought together our local member Corps including Washington Parks & People, Earth Conservation Corps and the Student Conservation Association to work in tandem with the private sector, city government, community organizations and local residents to bring the vision of the park—called a Planters Grove—to life. Borne out of the ideas and goals laid out in the President's America’s Great Outdoors initiative, it is so much more than simply a new park. It is a nexus of neighborhood revitalization, community service and outdoor activity, and proof that public-private partnerships can seed community transformation and growth.

    We know this transformation of community transforms lives. Built by the local member Corps noted above, the park has already contributed to the employment and training of young people in Washington at a time when we know our country's youth face tremendous challenges and disadvantages. For example, one young woman who helped us build, Ashley, is originally from the Lincoln Heights neighborhood. After an abusive childhood, she has recently graduated from the Earth Conservation Corps, is now attending college and preparing to be a social worker and, through motivational speaking, is giving peers and youth inspiration through her story. Just one of several Corps members involved in the project, Ashley is representative of the powerful and lasting change these young people are driving in their communities and in themselves through this project.

    Service and learning will continue to define the Planters Grove for years to come. The opportunities to engage the community are endless. We hope the re-imagined urban park will soon be used to teach community members green job skills and offer opportunities for residents, especially local children, to spend time outdoors and take part in healthy-living activities. The Planters Grove is truly a model for the broader city of Washington, D.C. and the nation for connecting residents of urban communities to nature and each other.

    Sally Prouty is President and CEO of The Corps Network

  • The Health of Our Lands and Waters and the Health of Our Economy

    Chair Sutley and Secretary Salazar at the Economic Rural Forum

    Chair Sutley and Secretary Salazar engage with stakeholders at a breakout session on conservation, tourism, and the economy at the White House Rural Economic Forum in Peosta, Iowa. (Photo by Tami Heilemann - Department of Interior)

    From the beginning of his Administration, President Obama has been a champion for the wise stewardship of America’s natural treasures, understanding the strong connection between the health of our lands and waters and the health of our economy. Smart, community-led conservation presents a tremendous opportunity to improve quality of life across America, and to build and grow local jobs in industries like recreation and tourism. In fact, one in every 20 jobs is related to outdoor recreation, making conservation integral to a thriving American economy. 

    Beginning very early in 2009 with the President’s historic signing of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, this Administration has invested in land and water protection by creating the most important conservation initiative in more than a generation. Through his America’s Great Outdoors initiative, the President has announced an action plan, built with ideas from the American people, to achieve lasting conservation of the outdoor spaces that communities care about, and to reconnect people – especially children – to the outdoors.

    In our most recent travels throughout the Northwest and the Northeast, we saw firsthand the intersection of conservation and economic growth in rural communities. Below are just a few of the highlights from our trips:

  • A Student Goes to Washington

    Teirra Scott

    Teirra Scott, Green Youth Farmer for the Chicago Botanic Garden

    I am Teirra Scott, an incoming freshman at Howard University. I've been an employee at the Green Youth Farm in Chicago for three years, starting as a crew member and now a  crew leader. Recently, our organization had the pleasure of hosting White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley at our farm and showing her our organic gardens. With approximately 20 high school students working at each of our four sites every year, Green Youth Farm (GYF) harvests and sells sustainably-grown produce throughout the City of Chicago and neighboring areas.

    When I first heard of the opportunity to work at GYF, my initial reaction was "Yes! I can make some good money this summer!" But after starting, I realized that the work I did motivated me more than the pay I received. It felt good to grow healthy, organic produce for a community where obesity is too common. This is why I have returned to the Farm every year. Though I know I am still young, I want to help as many people as I can. GYF has taught me that anyone regardless of his or her age can do just that. In addition, I have learned many gardening skills that I hope to apply when I plant my own garden (or perhaps at the White House garden) in the future!

    Leaving high school, I'm glad to have been a part of GYF where I have developed leadership and communication skills and, most importantly, learned more about myself. I know that in college next year I will be better equipped to live in a new community and talk to people about the importance of eating healthy and sustainable food.

    Teirra Scott, age 18, is a Green Youth Farmer for the Chicago Botanic Garden