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NIEHS - A Pioneer in Sustainability and Green Government

By Laura Hall
July 2010

The sign warns drivers to be on the lookout for some of the resident campus geese that often wander from the mowed areas onto the roadways.
NIEHS plans for wildlife habitat and protection even down to the road signs. By the traffic circle in the main entryway, three wildlife habitat zones can be seen - mowed, meadow, and wooded areas. The sign warns drivers to be on the lookout for some of the resident campus geese that often wander from the mowed areas onto the roadways. (Photo by Laura Hall)

Shown left to right, Chris Long, Dick Sloane, and Trish  Castranio
Shown left to right, Chris Long, Dick Sloane, and Trish Castranio traveled to Washington, D.C., to accept the Organization Green Champion Award for the NIEHS. "We're extremely proud that NIEHS won the award, and that we were chosen to accept it," said Long. "Trish, Dick, and I all feel that we were just the messengers representing hundreds of current and former NIEHS staff." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Dick Sloane
In 2009 the NIEHS recycled 407,196 pounds of materials - 49 percent of our annual generated waste. Sloane was the project officer for many earlier latest recycling projects, as well as the latest one - composting post-consumer cafeteria food waste and utensils, which was implemented in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Electric Car
Facility Operations Branch employee Dennis Will, seated in car, and Electrical Technician Jim McDonough make daily use of the NIEHS electric car acquired in 2002 to travel between the campus support buildings such as the Warehouse and main building. "It's very handy," said McDonough, who transports laboratory equipment needing repair. (Photo by Laura Hall)

Mitch Williams
"The WCTF proved highly successful in reducing water use on the federal campus and in carrying forward some of these lessons into the newly leased NIEHS Keystone facility," said Williams, who headed the WCTF workgroup. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Three NIEHS employees accepted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 2009 Organization Green Champion Award June 10 on behalf of the many members of the NIEHS family who have worked for environmental sustainability over several decades (see the NIEHS Sustainability Report (  Download Adobe Reader (7MB)). 

Deputy Associate Director for Management Chris Long, NIEHS Sustainability Coordinator Trish Castranio, and NIEHS Environmental Awareness Advisory Committee (EAAC) co-chair Dick Sloane were pleased with the honor and the opportunity to exchange war stories with other sustainability awardees. "It was a good opportunity to enjoy the fruits of all our hard work and be grateful for having an institute that cares enough to work so hard to make changes," said Castranio.   

This is the first time HHS has given this award to an entire organization, honoring employees at NIEHS for their commitment to environmental stewardship( (see related story( In addition, the NIEHS Facilities and Management Branch won the 2009 Green Champion Energy and Water Award for its conservation initiatives and use of innovative contracting.

One of the reasons that NIEHS stands out is that many of the top 10 ideas in each of the six sustainability categories of the White House GreenGov Challenge -- ways to conserve energy and water, eliminate waste and reduce carbon emissions, and incorporate sustainability in government buildings, products, and purchases -- have already been implemented at the NIEHS, some decades ago.

Even years ago, the NIEHS administration was willing to change "normal" practices to lessen environmental impact. Employees volunteered their time to discover viable alternatives to existing practices to make NIEHS more environmentally friendly.


The practice of helping out wildlife, which continues to this day, started in the 1970s with the building of bluebird houses to help the campus bluebird population (see related story ( However, NIEHS environmental sustainability was jumpstarted in April 1990, when the NIEHS Office of Management formed the EAAC to advise Institute management on environmental issues and to formulate action plans to mitigate any adverse effects arising from day-to-day operations. 

Then NIEHS Associate Director for Management Charles Leasure, Jr., tapped former NIEHS principal investigator Robert Chapin, Ph.D., a self-described "lunatic eco-left fringe wing-nut," to head the committee. Approximately 30 employees, representing every program area and operational division within NIEHS, were on the committee. One of their goals was to recycle all possible materials.

"It really boiled down to the enthusiasm of the people involved," Chapin said recently. "I set a tone and managed to recruit and inflame folks with lots of internal energy, and then got the heck out of their way, and off they went."

In 1993, the NIEHS began its formal, award-winning recycling program. Since 1993, the Institute has recycled 11,600,000 pounds of many different materials. Sloane, formerly the NIEHS resource recovery specialist, was involved in finding ways to recycle the various materials.

"Dick, in many ways, set the standard for the Triangle area," said Long, whose former position at the neighboring Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) campus was managing the design and construction of EPA green buildings. "At EPA, we used Dick Sloane as a green benchmark. There were literally many times we asked, "What would Dick do?"


In 2007, during the worst drought in North Carolina history, the critical need to reduce water use galvanized different groups across the Institute and our EPA neighbors to coalesce into one group, the Water Crisis Task Force (WCTF). The WCTF, headed by Operations and Security Branch Chief Mitch Williams, identified and coordinated implementation of water conservation measures. The WCTF renamed itself E-Con in early 2009 when it took on the additional role of energy conservation (see related story(

Along with a willingness to find ways to do things a little differently, what pushes our Institute ahead of the pack is the dedication of NIEHS employees, as well as a management team that is willing to listen and implement good ideas.

(Laura Hall is a biologist in the NIEHS Laboratory of Toxicology and Pharmacology currently on detail as a writer for the Environmental Factor.)

Members of the NIEHS family who have all contributed to environmental  sustainability at the Institute
Long, front row center in blue, posed with some of the many other members of the NIEHS family who have all contributed to environmental sustainability at the Institute. Long said of his work with the NIEHS team, "Sustainability is in my DNA." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

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