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Is Sustainability Essential to the Mission?

Perhaps the strongest argument for environmental sustainability within an organization is that it is critical to the mission. Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Richard Kidd ’93 explains why strategic thinking about sustainability is essential for the military.

The idea that businesses need to integrate sustainability concerns into their strategic planning has become commonplace. A report from McKinsey & Company, for example, argues that “businesses will have to take a long-term strategic view of sustainability and build it into the key value creation levers that drive returns on capital, growth, and risk management.” The imperative to build sustainability into the worldview of an organization may be even more starkly revealed in the military, where it is increasingly seen as critical to the mission of national defense.

The Department of Defense is the nation’s largest energy user, and it has become clear that its demands for electricity and fuel have an impact on its capabilities. According to Pew Environment, a Defense Science Board report “called on the U.S. military to address two major challenges: the significant and growing demand for fuel in combat operations, and the vulnerability associated with almost complete reliance by military installations on the nation’s aging and vulnerable commercial power grid.”

Among the responses: The Navy is launching the Great Green Fleet, a carrier group run without fossil fuels, as part of an effort to get 50% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. And the Air Force is designing planes for fuel efficiency, testing biofuels for jets, and installing alternative energy generation on bases.

Yale Insights talked with Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Richard Kidd ’93, who leads the Army’s sustainability efforts, about how that branch of the military is approaching both energy efficiency and sustainability more broadly.

“All of our energy initiatives tie back to the issue of our mission capability,” Kidd said. “The Army has a collection of mandates from Congress that are focused on deploying the green energy economy of the future or reducing greenhouse gases. We respect those mandates, and we're well aware of them, but I work to justify all investments in terms of mission. And if we get the mission equation right, I think the mandate piece of that will take care of itself.”

Accordingly, many Army forward operating bases in Afghanistan include renewable energy generation and battery storage, reducing the need for resupply missions. On its domestic bases, the Army is integrating renewable energy into a broader effort to improve energy security by generating power on site.

The Army seeks sustainable solutions that are better and cheaper than current options, Kidd says. “By talking about energy and sustainability in a way that matters to the Army, we're making tremendous progress.”