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News > Commentary - Energy dependence and saving money: it's our time!
Energy dependence and saving money: it's our time!

Posted 10/9/2013   Updated 10/9/2013 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Lt. Col. Kirk Rowe
88th Medical Group

10/9/2013 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- There's been an ongoing dialogue about going green since the first Earth Day in April 1970.

We've made many strides in the direction of energy conservation and being more respectful of our planet. But 2013 and beyond is calling us to do more. The Air Force began this discussion in 2009, but the current mind set has done little to promote "out of the box" thinking and going green.

Last year, I had the opportunity to listen to Col. Stacy Yike, 66 Air Base Group commander at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., discuss culture change in regard to energy use. She said that people at her base were starting to "get it" about energy and that it's rare that someone doesn't turn off the light when they leave the room.

Though changes like this, as well as others, are happening at Hanscom AFB, the biggest shift is the attitude, or culture, about energy use. How did that happen there and can we somehow package it and deliver it to Wright-Patterson AFB?

Culture change is often considered to be difficult, but is it really? We recently hired a new employee in our clinic, and when asked if he would turn off his computer screen when he left each night, he did it. He said, "Why not save energy and money? Sounds like a good idea."

The question is, how do we create that attitude of stewardship in everyone?

Earlier this year, I felt as if I traveled into the "energy future" when I visited a company in southern Ohio. When I drove up to the facility, I was impressed by the wind turbine and the solar panels in the field, on the roof, and on the car ports. In addition, there was an electric Chevy Volt in the parking lot, numerous Toyota Prius hybrids and solar water heating tubes on the side of the building. When I entered the front door, there was a television screen monitoring the building's energy output, as well as the energy created and stored at the facility by the wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal units, biomass, and huge array of batteries.

Natural sunlight was integral to the building's architecture. All the lights were Smart lights which only come on when a person enters the room, unless it deems the sunlight coming in as sufficient. If so, then the light stays off. If the light does come on, it turns off soon after one leaves the room. The carpet floor is made of small squares so if just one area is damaged the entire carpet doesn't need replacing. In the men's bathroom the urinals are waterless. Yes, they use no water and the toilets have dual flush capacity. It is estimated these systems require 40% less water than a conventional building the same size. Also, many of the sinks only have cold water, leaving hot water solely for the kitchen sink and the fitness room showers.

Everyone who works for this company is issued a long sleeve sweater because the heat is turned down from 72 to 68 degrees. Another innovation is that no one has a trash can at their desk. There's a central area where people bring their waste and separate it into compost, recycling material or trash.

After witnessing this display of possibilities, it occurred to me, this company is not "the future," but rather it represents "the now." As I drove away, I felt I was receding into the past. Visiting this facility made me realize how much progress can be made and someday, "going green" will be the norm.

Having a healthy military budget in the past allowed us the luxury of energy use without much thought. However, it may have prevented us from accurate insight into the future and often only addressed the prevailing needs. Today the necessity of visionary leaders is vital. We need leaders who are able to rise above the burden of the daily requirements in order to look into the future to see where we are headed. Insightful and perceptive leadership is essential to guide us in creating a culture that reinforces energy independence and conservation.

Fiscal constraints may be the perfect beginning to foster creativity about our energy future. While we may not be able to incorporate all the technologies listed above immediately, moving and thinking in that direction is an important and necessary start. Finances need to be funneled into long-term solutions such as green innovation instead of the short term fixes.

Until we can obtain the technology to run our buildings, this job can be outsourced to each and every individual on our team. We need to tap into our human energy and ingenuity. Each and every day, we all need to be thinking about how we all can use less energy. Turn things off when not in use and unplug electronics at night, and especially on the weekend. Recent "unplug" weekends have saved the base over $5,000, and this will likely increase as it becomes more of a habit. Data at Wright-Patterson has also shown that if the temperature is turned down only one degree across all buildings, the base saves $16,000 per month. There's plenty of money to be saved if we all pitch in.

So we've been talking about going green since the 1970s. Isn't it time to move from articulation to action?

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