Lessons from the U.S. Army Climate Change Strategy

As the threat of climate change becomes a reality, the world will become a more dangerous place. To meet this challenge, the U.S. Army has released its first climate change strategy.
As the threat of climate change becomes a reality, the world will become a more dangerous place. To meet this challenge, the U.S. Army has released its first climate change strategy.

One doesn’t usually think of the military as being concerned primarily with sustainability. However, the U.S. Army is proving that climate change preparation is necessary for every organization by releasing its first ever Climate Strategy. The strategy emphasizes making the Army more adaptive and resilient to a changing world while decarbonizing its operations in line with the government’s overall approach to meeting climate reduction targets.

This approach will be an important component of a strategy designed to increase the Army’s self-sufficiency and maintain its operational superiority in the face of climate-related disruption. The U.S. Army generates more pollution than 140 of the countries in the world, which means its sustainability efforts will make a significant contribution to international climate reduction goals.

The Impact of Climate Change on Global Security

The U.S. Army’s primary mission remains unchanged: to deploy, fight and win the nation’s wars by providing ready, prompt and sustained land dominance as part of the Joint Force. However, the world in which the Army operates is changing rapidly and is set to do so even further as climate change advances.

Climate change makes the Army’s job more challenging. Many nations will bear the brunt of the climate impact more significantly than others, which raises the likelihood of armed conflict for scarce resources. Fragile governments and social structures could collapse, leading to disruptions to agricultural production and supply chains. Adversaries will inevitably take advantage of these security crises to undermine U.S. national interests, which will increasingly threaten national security and the American people. The Army must therefore treat climate change as a significant security threat that will have an impact on the way the Army trains and equips its military to serve around the world.

The U.S. Army Climate Change Strategy

The Army recognizes two important elements about ESG: 1) the operation of the organization is having a material impact on climate change; 2) climate change is having a material impact on the operation of the organization. This concept of double materiality lies at the heart of ESG and is a critical component of building organizations that are sustainable and resilient in the face of global disruption, which is necessary to maintaining the role of the U.S. Army in supporting regional and international security and stability.

The U.S. Army’s Climate Strategy (ACS) will expand existing work to improve vehicle fuel efficiency and electrification, operational power generation, battery storage, land and facilities management, procurement, supply chain resilience and training, which will both mitigate climate threats and improve operational readiness. The end state will be an organization that can operate in all geographies, regardless of climatic conditions.

There are three primary goals for ACS:

  1. Achieve 50% reduction in Army net GHG pollution by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.
  2. Attain net-zero Army GHG emissions by 2050.
  3. Proactively consider the security implications of climate change in strategy, planning, acquisition, supply chain and programming documents and processes.

These goals are supported by three lines of effort (LOE) with multiple tracks, as shown in Table 1.

Table 1: LOE to Support ACS

Line of Effort (LOE)DescriptionTrack
InstallationsEnhance resilience and sustainability by adapting infrastructure and natural environments to climate change risks, securing access to training and testing lands into the future and mitigating GHG emissions.Resilient Energy and Water Supply Carbon-Pollution-Free Electricity Efficient Structures Non-Tactical Fleet Electrification Land Management Enhanced Planning
Acquisition and LogisticsIncrease operational capability while reducing sustainment demand and strengthening climate resilience.Advanced Technology Future Contingency Basing Clean Procurement Resilient Supply Chains
TrainingTraining will prepare a force that is ready to operate in a climate-altered world.What the Army Trains How the Army Trains

Implementation of the ACS: Select Examples

Each LOE has a number of different projects designed to meet the overall goals of the ACS. Here are a few from each LOE.

Resilient Energy and Water Supply – The Army will increase efforts to support resilient and sustainable resources for renewable energy, including solar fields, microgrids, battery storage and water treatment plants, each of which are designed to meet the specific circumstances and accommodations of their location.

Efficient Structures – The Army currently has more than 65 million square feet of LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) facility space around the world. The ACS includes the goal of seeking LEED Silver certification as a minimum standard for all new construction projects and Platinum certification whenever possible. Other measures to save energy include expanding the use of LED light bulbs and upgrading existing wastewater treatment systems to add water reclamation capacity with the goal of achieving a 50% reduction in GHG emissions by 2032 from a 2005 baseline, with an eventual goal of net-zero by 2045.

Clean Procurement – While the Army already complies with federal requirements for green procurement supporting sustainability, there are discrepancies in the interpretation of key performance parameters (KPP) within different Army departments. The ACS will establish a common understanding of the KPP to support clean procurement practices. The Army will also adopt a Buy Clean policy for procurement of construction materials to ensure reduced carbon emissions along the entire supply chain.

Resilient Supply Chain – Supply chain resiliency is a critical component of operational readiness. It must support operations in times of crisis and conflict under extremely difficult conditions, which means there is no tolerance of supply chain weaknesses. The ACS outlines a plan to complete a rigorous supply chain analysis of all Tier 1 sources to determine threats from climate change risk, with all policies and contracts to be in place by 2028.

Training – The Army must be prepared to fight in any environment in which it’s deployed, including hot, cold, wet and dry extremes that exceed what we’ve come to consider normal in the past. As such, the Army is incorporating climate literacy into current training to ensure universal understanding of the impact of climate change on logistical, installation and operational issues in every possible scenario.

Organizational Lessons from the Army Climate Change Strategy

The United States military operates 750 installations in 80 countries around the world, with nearly 1.4 million active-duty personnel. It is one of the largest and most efficient organizations in the world. Engaging a climate change strategy for even a portion of an organization that size is no small task, but it is a critical one to ensuring it maintains its cutting-edge operational capacity.

In January 2021, the Secretary of Defense issued a statement acknowledging the threats posed to national security by climate change risk, as well as the responsibility the military has to be a force for positive change in the development of climate-friendly technology.

Here are some lessons we might take from the ACS.

  1. You need to understand your processes. This includes knowing the depth of your supply chain more thoroughly than you ever have. With the new SEC proposed requirements for Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions likely to have a significant impact in the near future, you need to know and be able to document and report on your supply chain from source to disposal.
  2. When it comes to sustainability and the fight against climate change, everything is in scope, from facilities to supply chain. Energy efficiency is an important tool in making operations sustainable, and there are opportunities to make improvements both large and small at every point in the organization.
  3. Everyone is involved in mitigating the risks of climate change. That means everyone in your organization, from leaders to laborers, has something to contribute and something to lose when the threats of climate change make themselves felt. Training, therefore, is key to ensuring everyone understands their role.

In summary, if an organization with the size, sophistication and responsibility of the U.S. Army can implement an aggressive strategy to address the threats posed by climate change risk, you probably can as well. It’s no longer simply about being the right thing to do: it’s about facing an existential threat to our security, our societies and our planet.

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