The Wisconsin Army National Guard takes environmental stewardship seriously - so seriously that the state Department of Natural Resources recently accepted the organization into its Green Tier program, which holds participants to a higher standard of environmental compliance.
According to Capt. Nathan Olson, environmental branch chief for the Wisconsin Army National Guard, the DNR approached the Guard about joining the program.
"We're very proactive on environmental responsibilities," Olson said.
This is due in large part to the rigorous environmental management system required by the Department of Defense. By meeting those requirements - energy and water conservation, recycling, waste reduction and contamination mitigation among them - the Wisconsin Army National Guard already met most of the standards for Green Tier.
The Wisconsin Army National Guard's environmental management system (EMS), enacted in 2006 and based on the U.S. Army model, established goals to protect the environment and conserve natural resources. Among those goals: assuring that environmental considerations are part of strategic decision making, restore lands and waters damaged by Wisconsin Army National Guard activities, support Army material recycling programs, actively address environmental quality issues with neighboring communities, and maintain a review process for environmental objectives.
"Seldom do we see the level of organization that [Olson and the environmental staff] has brought to this work and the degree to which he has committed to extend the environmental ethic geographically throughout the organization," wrote Mark McDermid, Green Tier program director for the DNR, in his recommendation to approve the Wisconsin Army National Guard's entry into the program last month. He also noted that the Wisconsin Army National Guard, with 85 facilities included in the application, is the largest organization to participate in Green Tier.
Scott Rickard, the environmental performance assessment and environmental management system manager for the Wisconsin Army National Guard, said that the Wisconsin Army National Guard meets the requirements to be at Green Tier's level 2 but will start at level 1 to acclimate to the program. Among the benefits of participating in a program designed for commercial and industrial businesses is one point of contact with the state for environmental issues, rather than multiple agents. Also, by agreeing to abide by higher standards, Green Tier participants receive greater consideration in areas such as permits and deferred civil enforcements in the event of regulation violations.
But Olson said the payoff goes far beyond friendlier relations with the state DNR.
"EMS gives us a better way to be aware of all of our environmental impacts," Olson said. "Being in Green Tier shows the citizens of Wisconsin we are serious about our environmental responsibilities."
Rickard said being a Green Tier participant also sends an important message.
"As the Guard becomes known for being responsive, it changes the public's impression," he explained. "A lot of private industry doesn't have the same level of compliance as the Army does."
Olson said that the entire organization is involved with environmental compliance - of all the Wisconsin Army National Guard facilities in the program, all but one are classified as very small generators of hazardous waste. The lone exception, the U.S. Property and Finance Office at Camp Douglas, is classified as a small generator of hazardous waste because it collects, distributes and disposes of hazardous materials for all of the Wisconsin Army National Guard.
Green Tier membership also helps state regulators see the Wisconsin Army National Guard in a different light, Olson said.
"We're above board," he said. "We've shown that we will do what we say we'll do. That builds a little more trust."