VA Goes Green

"Wow. These are some fancy handouts."
We were in a meeting and VA Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth was flipping through a full-color PowerPoint presentation that had been neatly packaged in a professionally prepared folder. The one in her hands had probably cost five or six dollars to create. Content aside, I could tell it bothered her.
"You know, you guys didn’t need to go to all this trouble to put these together," she said to the presenters. "I'm okay with simple black and white handouts next time." Then she added: "And by the way, everything around here needs to be printed on both sides of the paper. None of this one-sided stuff. It’s just a waste."
And that was my introduction to VA's culture—what eventually became the department's "Green Routine" Initiative this month. At the Department of Veterans Affairs, it’s not that we're neurotic, or that we value such attention to detail at the expense of more important, core issues for the department—like healthcare for veterans, the GI Bill, or remaining on the cutting edge of research. The fact is that during a transformative process—like the one now occurring at VA—you have to pay attention to every last detail. That's how effective organizations run—from the military, to private companies, to federal agencies. Whether it's in how you treat student-Veterans when their GI Bill checks are late, how you distinguish between PTSD and a personality disorder, or how you run a top-tier organization that doesn't waste—it's all about being conscientious to what’s going on around us. And at VA, the leadership is committed to that level of detail in everything we do.
So to kick off Energy Awareness Month at the Department of Veterans Affairs this week, Secretary Shinseki announced the "Green Routine" campaign. The premise is simple enough: It's a campaign designed to increase awareness among VA employees of their environmental impact as individuals and as members of the federal government. 
To make that happen, we’ve got a new web site devoted to environmental tips at www.va.gov/greenroutine. Along with a video from VA's Chief of Staff, the site includes tips on how employees can "green" their workplaces. It also contains a reference tool for managers and employees entitled the Greening Action Guide and Toolkit which recommends actions such as selecting a "green champion" in each office to help promote environmentally friendly steps like holding electronic meetings without paper handouts, turning off cubicle lights when not in use, unplugging cell phone chargers, recycling printer cartridges, and, of course, printing on both sides of the paper.
I'll be the first to admit, when I watched Assistant Secretary Duckworth's blooming irritation at the unnatural celebration of corporatism in the form of a lavish PowerPoint handout, I found it interesting. But at the time, that was about as far as it went for me. Being my first week on the job, I didn't realize that that's just the way we were going to do things from now on at VA. But now I know.
Reducing our carbon footprint and providing the highest quality care and services to our Veterans and their families are not mutually exclusive tasks. In fact, the thing they have in common is what will ultimately set this department apart: And that's an attention to detail in every single aspect of how we do our jobs here—from the office to the operating room.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is clearly not an organization without its faults. But with the leadership we now have in place, the department is on a path toward efficiency in everything we do. And that ultimately means the best possible care for our Veterans and their families.
Brandon Friedman is the Director of New Media at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.
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