Environmental Factor, July 2010, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
NIEHS - A Pioneer in Sustainability and Green Government
By Laura Hall
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).
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(https://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/stewardship/index.cfm) (see related story(https://www.niehs.nih.gov/2010/june/spotlight-sustainability.cfm)). 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 (https://factor.niehs.nih.gov/2010/july/inside-hawk.cfm)). 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(https://www.niehs.nih.gov/2010/june/inside-earth.cfm)).
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.)