Pilot project to help JBLM hit ‘Net Zero’

Joint Base Lewis-McChord aims to get greener faster under a Pentagon push to limit the military’s impacts on environmental resources.

The base was one of 18 military installations around the country designated last month for a pilot project called “Net Zero.” The base will work to completely offset its water use by 2020 and divert the equivalent of all of its waste from landfills by that year as well.

Army leaders admit they’re ambitious goals, and it’s not clear where the money will come from to fund some of the improvements. They’re starting with environmentally friendly policy changes that generate less waste than traditional practices.

“They’re very small things, but as everyone does them, they add up,” garrison Commander Col. Tommy Brittain told the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce last week in outlining the base’s environmental goals.

Officials at Lewis-McChord have been working on environmental sustainability programs since 2002. Last year, the base kept about 70 percent of its waste out of landfills through recycling and composting.

For example, the Army recycles old construction materials when it tears down outdated buildings. It grinds up cement and asphalt and uses the materials to create gravel trails in its training areas.

The base’s goal to offset its impacts on Puget Sound water resources partly hinges on securing money for a major expansion to its sewage-treatment plant. Brittain said the base’s Public Works Department is pushing to get the $150 million project in the Pentagon’s 2013 or 2014 budget. It would allow replenishing groundwater resources or using treated wastewater for landscaping.

The Army also has net zero energy goals. Some installations are turning to solar power. Lewis-McChord can consider using biomass and geothermal resources to produce its own energy, Brittain said.

Local Army officials are traveling to the Pentagon next month to meet with other Net Zero installations. They’ll likely trade ideas and develop networks to learn from each other, Brittain said.

Industry representatives at the chamber breakfast wanted to know whether the Defense Department would set aside more money to achieve the green goals. Brittain said that’s unlikely now but that he’d know more after the June summit.

Terry Austin, Lewis-McChord’s sustainability coordinator, said the Net Zero program would help the base accomplish environmental goals by attracting attention. That could encourage the Army to buy more products using green procurement standards, or it could help Austin and her counterparts at other Net Zero bases nudge the military to adopt new policies.

“You become the focal point for ideas and technology, and then you can share that,” she said.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646