Story by Heather Wilburn on 06/27/2019MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. -- The Office of the Secretary of the Navy recognized Fleet Readiness Center East for its continued commitment to environmental stewardship recently, when FRCE received the 2019 SECNAV Environmental Award for Sustainability Individual/Team.
The award honored the efforts made by the depot's Industrial Environmental Division, an interdisciplinary team of 33 individuals who manage the organization's environmental compliance programs and monitor the command's environmental posture. Initiatives including community outreach, water and energy conservation, and landfill diversion helped the team earn top billing in its competitive category.
"Winning this award shows our dedication to the environment, and to mitigating any negative impacts to the environment while also increasing positive effects," said Steven Azok, FRCE's Environmental Management System program manager.
FRCE's award-winning performance isn't based on the efforts of the Environmental Division alone; it takes the entire workforce to make the environmental program successful.
"We say there are 4,000 people in the environmental shop, because there are 4,000 employees at the FRC and everybody is involved." Azok said.
"The recognition is very important, because much of our success relies on the input from our workforce," explained Andrew Krelie, FRCE environmental director. "This award represents a long-standing commitment to compliance excellence by Fleet Readiness Center East."
"Hopefully, people who work here can see that their efforts matter and that there's some recognition of what they are doing, and it helps with the environmental culture here," said Matthew Willis, environmental compliance lead, noting the award provides a tangible way for the workforce to see the results of their efforts.
The sustainability award recognizes efforts to prevent or eliminate pollution at its source. Judging criteria include, but are not limited to, increasing efficiency and sustainability in the consumption of resources, including energy, water and raw materials; along with efforts in energy efficiency, renewable energy practices, greenhouse gas reduction, procurement of sustainable goods and services, and waste diversion.
During the 2019 award's achievement period of Oct. 1, 2016-Sept. 30, 2018, the FRCE Environmental Division's programs and initiatives helped the depot increase potable water conservation, reduce industrial waste water requiring treatment, increase energy conservation and increase landfill diversion and also helped cut costs for the organization. One potable water conservation effort at the Naval Engine Airfoil Center alone resulted in a 56 percent reduction in potable water usage at that activity and a $540,000 utility credit to FRCE in the fall of 2017.
The initial success seen in that shop inspired the workforce to strive for additional water savings, Krelie said.
"We involved the artisans in the process, and once they started seeing the numbers, it became almost like a game to them," he added. "They started saying, let's see how much we really can save, and started looking for other ways to reduce potable water consumption."
Aside from the fiscal benefit to FRCE, the Environmental Division's accomplishments also had a positive impact on resource management and environmental stewardship. In 2017, FRCE saw a reduction of 13.3 million gallons (or 13.6 percent) of water treated in the facility's industrial wastewater treatment plant. In 2018, just 77.1 million gallons of water went through the IWPT, marking a 25 percent reduction from the targeted goal.
FRCE exceeded goals in energy reduction for 2017-2018, showing a 25 percent decrease in energy usage from the baseline year of 2015; the goal was a 22 percent decrease. The facility also showed high performance in landfill diversion, achieving a rate of 61 percent in fiscal year 2018. The landfill diversion target was 56 percent, which was already higher than the requirement set by federal regulations.
"I think one of the biggest successes that everybody had a hand in is our landfill diversion," Azok said, explaining that the diversion rate means that 61 percent of the solid waste generated at FRCE is being put toward renewable resources, including recycling. "We're not just throwing it away; it's actually going back and it's being re-utilized. That's huge because everybody everybody plays a part in that."
"We're meeting these goals despite challenging recycling markets. It's not easy," Krelie added, while acknowledging that some goals are more difficult to meet than others. For example, increasing landfill diversion became much more difficult when Craven County could no longer support receiving FRCE's recyclables. The Environmental Division had to find another provider, and recyclables are now transported to Onslow County.
"In this environment we have right now, it is becoming harder and harder to find businesses or organizations that will actually take recycling, because the market is going down," Azok noted. "But we are still, through our efforts here whether it's at the lowest level in the break rooms to our higher-level scrap metal we are continually exceeding our goals annually for landfill diversion."
At FRCE, the environmental management system has long been aligned with international standards. For more than 14 years, the facility has sustained continual registration to industry standards set forth by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and was upgraded to 2015 ISO standards following successful completion of a third-party audit in 2018. Because the environmental management system at FRCE is mature and successful, showing continual sustained improvement in these areas required the team to work harder when searching for areas to improve.
"It gets harder," Krelie said. "The low-hanging fruit is gone. Now you have to start looking at making investments in the system in order to reach the goals, and where do you stop?"
"Once you get past that initial success, it does get more challenging to continue expanding," Willis agreed. "The hardest thing is for us to go even farther, in terms of sustainability, than we have already gone. But it can be done. With energy, are we turning off the lights when we're not here? Things like that seem fairly small, but when you think of 4,000 employees, it adds up awfully quickly."
In searching for ways to grow the environmental program, community outreach efforts provided the Environmental Division for opportunities to learn, share and build on its established foundation of sustainment.
"Some of the success has been a matter of changing the culture, and that requires informing the workforce, educating and putting the word out," Krelie said. "If the path of least resistance is recyclable items ending up in the landfill, that's what happens." But if the workforce is aware of the depot's goals, and knows why they're taking extra steps toward sustainability when they recycle those items instead of placing them in the trash, that's when change happens, he explained.
An issue with a paper recycling vendor that led to full recycling containers illustrated this point, Krelie said.
"The workers wanted us to know there was an issue, and they wanted to know what other ways they could recycle," he said. "They didn't want to put their paper into the trash, and therefore the landfill. That's a cultural shift."
"Our workforce being on board with our environmental management system objectives is crucial," Willis agreed. "There's a cultural piece, and everyone can make a decision. For the Environmental Division, the easier we're able to make that decision, the more helpful and successful we'll be."
The team's accomplishments in outreach not only earned accolades for FRCE, but also made a real-world difference in environmental stewardship for the facility and the communities surrounding Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. Ongoing community outreach efforts like the Earth Day "dumpster dives" helped identify what types of recyclable materials made their way into the trash, then educated the workforce on how to recycle more effectively. This information filtered into the surrounding area when more than 4,000 FRCE employees were able to take those lessons home and put them into practice in their personal recycling efforts.
The Environmental Division's outreach program extends even farther with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality's Environmental Stewardship Initiative, a recognition program designed to promote and encourage superior environmental performance. As Environmental Stewards, the FRCE team's subject-matter experts are made available to offer education and experience to their regulated industry colleagues, helping to spread knowledge and best practices throughout the state. The program gives the Environmental Division the opportunity to learn from these industry colleagues, as well.
FRCE joined the Environmental Stewardship Initiative early, when there were only four or five other organizations qualified as stewards. Now, there are around 50 stewards. Krelie said he sees the SECNAV award as a natural extension of FRCE's longevity in the initiative.
"The Environmental Stewardship Initiative is about going above and beyond minimal compliance," Krelie explained. "Reaching the Steward level really involved having documented procedures in place, changing the culture across the Command, and soliciting more involvement from the artisans."
All this effort on the environmental front is just part of how FRCE continues to support the warfighter, Willis noted.
"We want to do all this, but we're still mission-minded," he explained. "We know why we're here: We're here to repair aircraft so that the warfighter has them ready. We know what are mission is, but we've got to do it with all of these ideas in mind safety, environmental and you have to do it the right way."
"The worst thing that could happen would be for the FRC to have to cease operations for an environmental finding," Azok added. "If that occurs, then what happens to our warfighters? They don't have what they need to do their jobs."
"We're not looking to impede, but we're looking to integrate," Willis continued. "Once the culture catches on, then it's just part of everyday business as usual."
The SECNAV Environmental Award is the second-highest environmental honor bestowed upon FRCE, which also earned the Secretary of Defense Environmental Award in 2004, two SECDEF honorable mentions, three SECNAV Environmental Awards and eight Chief of Naval Operations Environmental Awards. However, the Environmental Division doesn't see this as an opportunity to stop pushing for excellence.
The next phase of development for the environmental management system lies in ensuring new equipment brought into FRCE helps support environmental goals, Krelie said.
"You always want to view new technology through the lens of whether it can help us reach our sustainability goals" he explained. "Will it help conserve resources or raw materials, or increase landfill diversion? At the Environmental Division, we're involved in the project review process, so we can ensure facility upgrades incorporate the best technologies. By doing that, we can continue to minimize our environmental footprint."
When it comes to other ways to set up the environmental management system for future success, Azok said he's open to suggestions.
"I would love to see people come to us with ideas, the same way they can submit ideas to safety about how to make the work environment safer," he explained. "We can do the same with our environmental programs; that would be a great way to grow."