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.
“Until now, we saved lives. Now we
are preserving the standard of living too,” as one army source put
What’s more, while newer construction is more environmentally
friendly, many IDF bases were inherited from the British, with correspondingly
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
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
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
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
THE PLAN sets out five distinct priorities and both
allocates funding and gets down to the tiniest details of how to implement
“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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
Other sources said implementation was still
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
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
“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.
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
“Third, we look at the buildings themselves – letting light
in, insulation, and climate. The fourth parameter is introducing
BEFORE 2009, the IDF had never introduced a single energy
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.
slightly larger scale, each unit and base has someone responsible for monitoring
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
branch has gotten involved, with the Ground Forces, navy and air force all
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
“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.”
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.
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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