The IDF embarks on a green revolution

Despite coming late to the party, the army is looking to turn its act around environmentally.

By EHUD ZION WALDOCKS
March 24, 2011 02:49
IDF Soldiers

IDF Soldiers 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

Vast tracts of land, millions of square meters of buildings and installations, hazardous materials, sewage, gas stations and infrastructure of all shapes and sizes, the IDF is the largest organization in the country and its impact on its environment and population is tremendous.

For years, the IDF was solely concerned with securing the borders and lives of its people, army sources freely admitted. Little thought was given to how to preserve the environment on its bases, firing ranges and training areas and how to conserve the massive amounts of basic resources the army consumes.

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“Until now, we saved lives. Now we are preserving the standard of living too,” as one army source put it.

What’s more, while newer construction is more environmentally friendly, many IDF bases were inherited from the British, with correspondingly antiquated infrastructure.

The result was ongoing pollution. IDF gas stations leaked into the ground. Bases were not connected to sewage systems, instead the sewage ran into wadis or into cesspools or leaky septic tanks. Ammunition storage depots and army factories contaminated the land they sat on.

The army also gave little thought to how much resources, such as water and electricity, it used. Today, it uses one billion kilowatt hours a year. What’s more, that’s after usage has begun to drop over the last few years.

The mentality was to be prepared to save the lives of citizens without thought to the environment in which they live.

All that has begun to change, said sources intimately familiar with the process. Despite coming very late to environmental awakening, the IDF has taken its first great strides to correct the misdeeds of the past and chart a greener course for the future.

Of course, “changing an entire culture is a long and involved process,” as one source put it, “There’s a lot of pressure from the soldiers themselves, so I think that when my generation is replaced by the junior officers of today, the culture will really change.”

In the meantime, the groundwork has been laid.

What started with a blistering State Comptroller’s Report in 2004 has led to the creation of an environmental framework within the IDF.

The Technical and Logistics Branch started to focus on methods to encourage conservation and energy efficiency in 2007. In 2009, the Environmental Administration was created. A year later, the General Staff issued an order to create a long-term plan to clean up the messes left behind and set out guidelines for future development.

Less than three months ago, that plan was approved. The 15-year plan will be undertaken in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Ministry and other relevant government agencies.

THE PLAN sets out five distinct priorities and both allocates funding and gets down to the tiniest details of how to implement it.

“Soldiers don’t yet know how to put together an environmental report or how to control their energy use,” a source said, “so we need to tell them how to do so.”

After a government decision ordered the IDF to connect its last bases to sewage infrastructure, that task became top priority. Before that decision, cleaning up gas stations and hazardous materials had headed the list.

There are currently 173 bases that are not connected to proper sewage infrastructure, according to a survey of environmental hazards the Environmental Administration carried out last year. Those bases will be connected over the next several years.

Even though cleaning up gas stations, oil and hazardous material contamination was pushed to second priority, that task has not been left untended.

One hundred and fifty gas stations have been closed down. Detailed lists indicate, command by command, where gas stations need to be cleaned up, when they will be and how much it will cost.

The other three priorities in the top five are waste, noise and radiation, and natural resource use.

In addition to the priority list, a detailed model was created that clearly delineates responsibility for environmental issues. The task has been handed to the logistics officers for each unit and base, as they were already familiar with all of the resources.

Each logistics officer then trains other soldiers to help her or him complete the mission. There are about 600 officers and soldiers now responsible for implementing the plan.

The plan and the orders have been given additional weight because they have been issued by the General Staff, and failure to obey them will result in punishment just like disobeying any other order.

“It sounds crazy now, but there will come a time when soldiers will receive punishments like not being let out for Shabbat for failing to uphold environmental orders,” a source said.

The same source pointed to the IDF’s program to reduce vehicular and work accidents as an indication of what the army could achieve.

“Seventeen years ago, the IDF started its program to prevent accidents. Now, we are national leaders,” he pointed out.

WHILE THERE’S a large technological component to the IDF’s environmental modification process, much of the process relies on educating the soldiers. Conferences on specific issues are held several times a year. Last year, the conferences tackled waste, gas and oil and clean air. This year, there will be a conference on environmental laws to bring the soldiers and officers up to speed on all the new legislation that has gone into effect, like the Clean Air Act and pending legislation on ground contamination.

In a sign of its newfound interest in these issues, the IDF is also actively involved in the legislative process.

Soldiers also take courses in basic training and in officer training. While older officers might care little about the environment, the younger generation has grown up with a greatly enhanced awareness, one source said.

Other sources said implementation was still incomplete.

While the regulations have been issued and officers appointed, they’re not always followed in every unit.

However, a senior officer acknowledged that it would take time to inculcate all of the soldiers.

While technical and technological innovation still relies on the soldiers to monitor and then implement, the IDF has begun to put a lot of effort into green building, solar energy, energy conservation and other technological aspects.

“While we’ve been eyeing energy technologies for several years, it is only in the last three years that we’ve found enough technologies suitable for our uses,” according to one source.

The Logistical and Technological Branch is responsible for the army’s technology and its bases. In its approach, bases are divided into existing and new infrastructure. Existing bases sometimes date back to the Mandate with correspondingly antiquated infrastructure which must be replaced. For new construction, such as the massive training base now being built in the South, the IDF has embraced the concept of sustainable building.

“We look at four parameters: First of all, not to build more than we have to. We have a formula for how many square meters each soldier needs,” an IDF source explained. “Second, environmental planning.

We look at where to place the base in terms of sunlight, wind and the general climate. We also look at the issue of insulation.

“Third, we look at the buildings themselves – letting light in, insulation, and climate. The fourth parameter is introducing technologies.”

BEFORE 2009, the IDF had never introduced a single energy efficiency initiative.

Now, the more energy efficient T5 fluorescent bulbs have been made standard rather than the older incandescent bulbs which use more energy and have a shorter life span.

Air conditioning and lighting systems are now remotely controlled. The IDF even developed a program to automatically shut off computers at 6 p.m. to conserve electricity. Motion sensors in buildings shut off the lights when no motion is detected.

On a slightly larger scale, each unit and base has someone responsible for monitoring electricity use.

Many more meters have been installed to isolate individual unit use and provide more oversight.

As a result of the push for more oversight and hands-on control, the IDF shaved 3 percent off its electricity use in 2009. That amounted to savings of NIS 500 million on its electricity bill.

Water use was reduced by 17% that same year and by another 4%-5% in 2010.

The IDF has also developed a database of technologies that save energy or produce clean energy. For a technology to enter the database, it has to be ready and robust. The IDF uses its equipment hard and it needs to be able to stand up to the abuse and keep going, a source said. It also needs to be vandal-proof.

That database has attracted the interest of parties outside the IDF such as the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Tel Aviv University and the Environmental Protection Ministry, a source said.

Fifty to 60 technologies were presented to the IDF last year for evaluation. Some of them will enter the database to be contacted in a few years when the technology is more developed, others will be dismissed and others will be invited to compete in tenders.

In addition to its robustness, a technology has to have a return on investment of four years. So as not to overburden the Ground Forces budget, the army loans money to itself for four years on the condition that the ROI is the same. After that period, any savings stay within the unit.

“For example, solar water heating systems are like that,” the source said. “It’s a win-win situation since the unit can enjoy the savings and it doesn’t come at the expense of the Ground Forces budget.”

Cost is a major factor in introducing new technologies and cleaning up old contaminants.

To do it in one fell swoop would cost hundreds of millions of shekels, a source said, so it must be spread out over time.

Technologies, for example, are tested in pilot projects before being implemented armywide.

As part of its move south, the IDF has also embraced solar energy. Smaller installations have already been approved for this year and a medium-sized solar field is being considered.

Solar water heating systems are part of Bahad 1, the officers training base in the Negev, which has been designated a flagship green base.

THE NEW environmental awareness is not exclusive to a particular branch of the army.

Each branch has gotten involved, with the Ground Forces, navy and air force all implementing projects.

While critiquing the army’s current efforts, even the Environmental Protection Ministry provided a positive future assessment of the green trend in the IDF when asked to comment.

“A significant change is in fact occurring in the army these days, but it is mostly declarative at this point,” it said. “A multiyear plan was created and budgeted with NIS 1b. for 10 years.

“At the same time, the ministry believes the IDF is still far behind in terms of many environmental issues, such as environmental infrastructures like sewage, waste separation, sealed containers for gas, ground contamination and self-enforcement.

“For example, regarding ground contamination, the IDF has surveyed the damage and even chosen a contractor but has yet to begin the cleanup process. In addition, many gas stations on army bases continue to contaminate the ground because of improper infrastructure, and there remains a lack of awareness among the IDF command to environmental issues.

“In summary, there is no doubt that, since the creation of the environmental administration in the Technological and Logistics Branch and the inculcation of the issue in the Planning Directorate, there has been great improvement, and it seems as though the army is making an effort to make progress on the subject of environmental protection, and we hope that in the near future the declarative will turn into actions.”

New regulations passed recently also allow ministry inspectors far more oversight over the army, something that “will push forward the great environmental change in the IDF, the beginnings of which we are just seeing now.”

IDF sources made no attempt to claim that the army had become a clean organization overnight. They fully recognized that the past two years have started a long process.

As one put it, “It is no secret that the IDF pollutes. We have a lot of land and a lot of property. The size of the organization often determines the size of the pollution but also the size of the success.”

It is too early to say whether the IDF’s green revolution will remain at the planning level or whether it will percolate down through the ranks.

However, from no plans and no one responsible for environmental issues as little as five years ago, to an administration, a budget, a multiyear plan, proven initiatives on the ground in the field of energy efficiency and the beginnings of cleanup efforts, the IDF could perhaps be considered to have come very far indeed. The next five years will be extremely telling.


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