U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Living its Environmental Operating Principles Earth Day and Every Day

Guest post by Karen J. Baker, Chief, Environmental Division, HQ, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

This year’s Army Earth Day theme is “Sustain the Mission. Secure the Future. The Readiness of the Army Depends On It.” This theme recognizes that sustainable approaches are critical mission enablers for the Army. Our installations play a vital role in supporting readiness, as power projection platforms where our Soldiers train and in providing quality of life to our Army Families. Sustainable practices allow our installations to be more resilient, efficient and effective in delivering the mission.

Earth Day is always a time of personal reflection for me. In 1995, I led the Army’s national celebration of the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, in which we showcased the commitment of the dedicated professionals at our installations to protect our vital natural resources while enabling the Army’s mission. It turned out to be such a success that the Army has participated every year since, both with recognition from our senior leaders, as well as events and service partnerships with local communities around the globe. At one such event, I was honored to meet Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, a memory I continue to cherish.

It’s been a long personal journey with stops in a number of Army organizations that eventually led to my current position as Chief of the Environmental Division at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I am extremely honored to work with so many talented professionals who share my passion for sustainability and environmental stewardship. Since 2002, the Corps of Engineers has operated under a set of Environmental Operating Principles, which provides a guide for incorporating environmental consideration into all our operations. The first principle is “Foster sustainability as a way of life throughout the organization.” I often tell people that sustainability is in the DNA of the Corps, because no matter where you work within the organization, you understand that everything we do considers the impacts on the environment, our economy, and the well-being of the communities we serve.

This Earth Day, many of our districts will be celebrating Earth Day with their local communities. They are participating in or hosting watershed cleanups, planting trees, and providing educational workshops. One district is even unveiling the first electric vehicle in its fleet of transportation vehicles. Here at headquarters, we were proud to host Valeria Merino, who conducted a webinar for our Corps of Engineers offices across the country on the importance of ending plastic pollution. We were surprised to enter our personal data into the Earth Day Network’s plastic calculator and discover how much plastic we each use in our daily lives. I have challenged our team to provide me with recommendations for how the Corps can take plastic out of our operations.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to strive to live to our principles every day and develop better practices that enhance our mission of delivering engineering solutions to the nation’s toughest challenges. We recognize that Earth Day is every day!