Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • 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

  • Conservation That Works

    I was recently in Atlanta, Georgia to speak at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference about Working Lands for Wildlife, a new effort to focus both conservation dollars and wildlife management expertise on the recovery of seven at-risk, threatened or endangered wildlife species. This unique approach to conservation concentrates federal resources on private working lands—home to a majority of candidate and listed species under the Endangered Species Act. Working Lands for Wildlife was developed by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior through their membership in the White House Rural Council.

    Working with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners is critical to President Obama’s vision of an economy built to last, one where rural communities provide clean air, clean water and wildlife habitat to generate economic opportunities for outdoor recreation and jobs, while protecting farm and ranch traditions. Working Lands for Wildlife demonstrates the President’s focus on the rural economy and his commitment to keep working lands working.

    Knowing I was speaking to an audience passionate about wildlife, I took a moment to revisit a time from 100 years ago when Theodore Roosevelt addressed a similar group, saying, "There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country."  People of all political persuasions have found commonality around the fundamental principle of conservation—a principle that has always recognized the importance of wildlife.

    Working Lands for Wildlife is a partnership between the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make measurable progress in wildlife conservation through focused community-driven, locally led efforts across America.

    To engage private landowners, NRCS has committed $33 million to share in the cost of conservation practices benefiting the bog turtle, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, greater sage-grouse, lesser prairie-chicken, New England cottontail and the Southwestern willow flycatcher. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will work to provide landowners with regulatory certainty and tools to assist them in making long-term business decisions.

    This collaborative approach builds on the success we are realizing in the Western U.S. with NRCS’s Sage-Grouse Initiative (SGI), where ranchers are projected to have increased sage grouse populations by 8 to 10 percent through wildlife habitat conservation practices such as prescribed grazing, brush management and fence flagging.

    Through SGI, on the Bedortha Ranch in central Oregon, intensive efforts to boost sage grouse habitat are underway. As part of that effort, crews have cut and flattened invasive juniper trees. These trees have expanded beyond their historic locations into sagebrush terrain throughout the West, out-competing other valuable shrubs and plants that provide habitat for the ground-dwelling sage-grouse.

    Rancher Gary Bedortha

    Rancher Gary Bedortha removed nearly 7,000 acres of invading juniper on his ranch to improve his working lands for sage grouse habitat.

    As the junipers increased on his ranch, Gary Bedortha watched the sage-grouse population decline. “When I was a kid growing up in this country, I knew some of these draws had an excess of 100 sage grouse—you would ride through the draws and the whole ground would move in front of you. At that time, we didn’t have the juniper like we do now,” Bedortha said.

    This ranch is only one example of the success we can accomplish on private lands. Bedortha used the information and financial assistance he received from NRCS to remove nearly 7,000 acres of invading juniper in less than three years. We know taking a focused approach to wildlife conservation maximizes the public’s investment and return.

    We hope to increase populations for all seven focal species targeted by Working Lands for Wildlife. Americans dedicated to wildlife conservation on private lands will ensure that it is not only an effective tool for wildlife but that it works as a viable tool for outdoor recreation, jobs and opportunities to create rural wealth.

    Since the White House Rural Council was established last June, the Council has provided a forum for increasing conservation work and creating jobs in rural America. The Working Lands for Wildlife joint partnership between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior exemplifies the progress we can achieve through the work of the Rural Council.

    Harris Sherman is Undersecretary for USDA’s Natural Resources and Environment

  • White House Rural Council Sponsors "Working Lands and Healthy Watersheds Roundtable"

    Success Stories Highlighted

    On Wednesday, the White House Rural Council sponsored a Working Lands and Healthy Watersheds roundtable. The Rural Council, established last June, provides a forum for discussing how to support conservation work and create jobs in rural America. This week's roundtable brought together folks from across the country with experience in farming, ranching, conservation, and water quality to share their experience in how to more effectively and efficiently invest resources to improve water quality for rural communities.

    The roundtable was an opportunity to celebrate some of the good work already happening and to share innovative ideas for continuing progress. We heard how leaders from three states successfully used EPA Section 319 grant program and USDA Farm Bill conservation programs to improve water quality in critical watersheds. We also heard about what stakeholders most need to carry out new and long-term on-the-ground efforts, and how EPA and USDA can improve their support for those efforts at the local scale.

    Some of the themes that emerged from the session are:

    • Partnerships and On-the-Ground Leadership are essential to success. It takes time to forge the relationships that lead to results.
    • Stakeholder Education and Engagement helps landowners and producers understand their broader role and tie their actions to a broader community and mission. 
    • Using a Watershed Scale Approach creates a community for all who impact or depend on the watershed.
    • Flexibility is essential to success on the ground, and allows stakeholders to work strategically and to leverage resources to support watershed efforts.
    • Tracking the outcomes and impact of projects over time is critical to success and assists in identifying where further investments are needed.

    The nation's rural landowners, farmers, ranchers, and forest owners are often our best environmental stewards, providing clean water and wildlife habitat from the healthy, functioning watersheds on their lands. We are committed to supporting this good work, and look forward to continuing the conversation about partnerships that support farmers, ranchers, forest owners, and  the healthy watersheds communities depend on.

    Here's what some of the roundtable participants had to say about the discussion:

    Successful water quality improvement projects appear to be united by four primary themes. Positive relationships between landowners/land operators and the agency specialists that facilitate projects are a critical first step to success. Access to, and understanding of, water monitoring and practice performance data leads to setting goals, targeting implementation and measuring outcomes at the watershed level. Coordination and information sharing between partners expedites the process of implementing watershed improvement plans. Versatility in how funding can be used from public and private sources can lead to unexpected opportunities and benefits.

    It's easy to see we have the system in place to provide great technical expertise, but we need to incorporate lessons learned from watershed project successes around the country and utilize a strategy that facilitates and empowers watershed communities, priming individuals to act.

    ~ Chad Ingels, Extension Watershed Specialist, Iowa State University Extension

    Voluntary efforts to address nonpoint source pollution can work. The trick is you need strong partnerships with local entities like conservation districts that have a positive history with landowners You also must coordinate programs from EPA 319 and USDA to ensure you get the most bang for your buck. This, combined with monitoring data to assess the effects of best management practices on tributaries, has achieved show significant reductions in nonpoint source pollution in many priority watersheds.

    ~ Clay Pope, Executive Director, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts

    Farmers in the U.S. have made tremendous strides over the past several decades toward increasing production while at the same time improving environmental conservation. EPA Section 319 grants and USDA Farm Bill conservation programs have played an important role in supporting the voluntary adoption of best management practices. Using a watershed approach, we are also able to more accurately measure how conservation practices are directly improving water quality in a particular region, which in turn helps farmers and landowners focus our efforts.

    As the world's population increases to 9 billion people by 2050, we understand that agricultural producers will be expected to do more with less. We have a finite amount of land, water and other natural resources; however, through research, technology development and support from federal programs, American farmers will continue to produce the most abundant and affordable supply of food, feed, fuel and fiber in the world. We will be equipped to meet growing demand while also preparing to pass along the land, better than we found it, to the next generation of producers.

    ~ Rod Snyder, National Corn Growers Association

    Ann Mills is Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment at USDA

    Larry Elworth is Chief Agriculture Counselor at EPA