Hug a tree... Save the world

  • Published
  • By Ellen Hatfield Wilt
  • 622 RSG Public Affairs
Larry Ventura is a stake-holder in a unique investment: the earth. He is a man with no children of his own, yet he is passionate about leaving a better world for all children.
He is the environmental flight chief for Homestead Air Reserve Base environmental engineering. He also is the sustainability program manager, a job he has taken to heart, embracing new technologies as well as trees.
“Sustainability is the ability to live your life without affecting the ability of future generations to live theirs,” he said. “This means using resources without using them up. An example is solar energy. There is never any less, no matter how much we use.”
The environmental sustainability initiative began here in May of 2000, powered by Air Force Reserve Command leaders and some high environmental stakes. The base is cradled between Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park, two jewels in Florida’s nature crown. In addition to the base, the command and the two parks, other stake-holders are the Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management and the Homestead Vision Council, a community planning group.
“We have a roadmap to get there with a goal of completion by 2020,” said Mr. Ventura. The operational categories the base will address are transportation, energy, building systems, water resources, procurement operations (supply/purchasing), solid waste and hazardous materials, natural resources, air emissions, and ecological efficiency monitoring.
After an analysis of what made sense, what they could reasonably accomplish, and what would give them the most value, he and his committee selected 24 projects from a possible 121 to help improve the environment.
More environmentally friendly buildings are one project, and the standard for excellence in buildings is set by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, established by the U.S. Green Building Council. When Mr. Ventura arrived at Homestead, the base was already constructing a new fire department using LEED standards – recycled carpeting, flooring tiles, wall coverings, natural lighting and water-based paints – to name a few. All subsequent building projects on base will incorporate these standards. Already in the planning is a green recycling center and a new Special Operations Command South headquarters building.
One of Mr. Ventura’s first successes was installing solar lighting on the pedestrian spine, which includes a walking/golf cart sidewalk and curved jogging path. Deriving its power from 17 solar-powered units of eight lights each, the panels are almost twice as efficient and half the size of the original panels. The sun supplies energy to the panels, which charge the batteries, and in turn, power the lights, which are nearly maintenance-free. Their batteries have a five-day storage capacity. The panels last about 25 years.
One of his sustainability efforts already has captured a coveted award, and included a trip to the White House for its presentation. A concept known as affirmative procurement involves acquiring products made from recycled content. He explained the three sides of the small recycling symbol represent the materials to be recycled, the new products they produce, and the entry of the recyclables back into the market, completing the triangle, closing the recycling circle.
An executive order governs what is on the list, what the base must buy, and the percentage of recycled content required to meet an acceptable level for purchase. He researched a huge list of products to find those meeting the criteria, and created a section in base supply for them to be sold. Appropriately, a green sign proclaiming it the Environmentally Friendly Products Section, hangs over the shelves.
Before he knew it, the section grew to three times its original size and now occupies half of a large storage room. The project won a prestigious honor, the 2004 White House Closing the Circle Award in one of five categories, green purchasing. The award was presented at the White House last year.
“I believe in living this way. It’s the responsible thing to do,” he said. You know he’s not just hugging trees. He would like to be able to “break ground” on twenty-five percent of the base projects in the next five years, so the benefits create an ongoing ripple effect.
“I would like this base to be a show piece for the community,” he said. He is proud Homestead is rated one of the Air Force’s cleanest facilities. He should know. He used to sit on the other side of the gate in his previous job when he inspected the base to make sure it met stringent standards, established not only by the Air Force, but federal, state and county governments.
“We’re so much better off for doing this,” he said, addressing sustainability. To him, an obvious advantage for the military is less dependence on traditional methods of fuel, energy and power. “You’ve got to get people to see it, touch it, feel it and like it,” he said of the environmental alternatives. “The stickler always is proving it.”