Sustainable Operations

White-colored 4 door sedan with a hooze attached to it. Two individuals open a door in a composting cylinder. A man on a ladder uses tools to attach fan to ceiling. Plastic recyling can placed outdoors adjacent to signs. A square electrical device with three green batteries inserted in it. Rectangular shaped ceiling light next to Ecological Restoration sign in an office.

Sustainability is central to the U.S. Forest Service's mission of "sustaining the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations." Region 5 is a leader in this arena by finding and implementing innovative ways to run its day-to-day business operations in more sustainable ways.

Sustainable Operations Partnerships

In April 2011, R5 joined the 36-member Environmental Protection Agency Federal Green Challenge (FGC ) Program. Under this initiative, federal government facilities pledge to reduce their carbon emissions by 5 percent or more per year in at least two of six areas:

  • waste
  • water
  • energy
  • transportation
  • electronics
  • purchasing

Region 5 focused on energy and transportation.

In April 2013, the Region received a “Leadership & Innovation” Honorable Mention Award from the FGC for its Power-IT-Down (PID) pilot program where employees power down their work computers and unplug their appliances two weekends per month. R5 did this because electric plug loads accounted for 22 percent of the Region’s energy use.

In May 2014, the Region received a second “Leadership & Innovation” Award from the FGC for an innovative, web-based “Summit Mt. Whitney Green Challenge” that drove leadership by example. Forest Service individuals and teams were encouraged to track their environmental results in a friendly, 6-week competition during which employees earned “green points” to climb up the virtual mountain. Over 300 individuals from 13 Administrative Units participated. The green actions saved 7,032 kWh of electricity, conserved 5,106 gallons of water, cut 855 pounds of solid waste and reduced 461 pounds of paper use. These actions are estimated to have reduced 30,000 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent.

The Region 5 Sustainable Operations Program is also an active partner with General Services Administration Region 9, the California Energy Corps, and the Yosemite Gateway Partners Working Group.


Region 5 was among the first locations in the Forest Service to pilot the Power-IT-Down (PID) Program. PID requires employees at all administrative facilities to power down personal computers and Information Technology (IT) peripherals at the end of each work day unless they have an explicit, business-related reason not to do so. In 2014, Region 5 scaled up its efforts and transitioned to National PID. National PID Phase 1, which started in December 2013, focused on the Region’s highest energy-consuming facilities (i.e., Energy Independence and Security Act Covered Facilities, Regional Offices, and Research Stations). National PID Phase 2, which began in May 2014, increased the scope of involvement to High Performance Sustainable Buildings and all Supervisors’ Offices. National PID Phase 3 launched in January 2015 and expanded PID to all interested units and Green Teams. By the end of September 2015, all Region 5 units will be participating. To date, Region 5 has saved approximately $331 and 2,980 kWh per participating unit.

Utility Bill Cleanup

In 2011, the Forest Service began a process of reviewing our utility accounts. From 2012-2013, R5 determined that Utility Bill Cleanup actions—such as lowering consumption, reducing billing errors, scheduling power shut-offs when appropriate, and participating in rebate programs—could reduce our environmental footprint and save an estimated $95,000 per year.

Employee Engagement

Building on similar programs launched in other parts of the Forest Service, Region 5 launched a 6-week Footprint Reduction Contest from June - July 2013 and again from June - July 2014. More than 550 employees participated in these “Summit Mt. Whitney Environmental Footprint Reduction Contests,” which encouraged actions set forth in the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA 2007) and Executive Order 13693 (Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade). This Law and Executive Order relate to decreasing the impact of Forest Service business operations by reducing energy and water use, increasing sustainable fleet management, improving recycling, promoting green purchasing, and continuing with sustainability leadership.

Competitive Funding for Low-Cost/High-Return Projects

Three plastic bins with different colored lids.

SusOps Microgrant funds are used for things such as these multi–purpose recycling bins that have clear labeling for less confusion and increased waste diversion.

R5 Forests and the Regional Office implemented 25 Microgrant Projects in 2014, which, in turn, addressed 5 of the 6 Forest Service Footprint Focus Areas, especially Energy and Water. Combined, these projects have a payback period within 2 years and a 290% return-on-investment in 5 years. Estimated five-year cumulative resource savings from these projects are:

  • $18,942.29 cost-savings
  • 1,181,015 gallons of water
  • 37,837 kWh of energy
  • 1000s of battery units, tons of debris, and ink cartridges

Interns Hired through Diversity-Focused Programs

The SusOps Program hosted two summer interns from June to August 2014 - one hired through the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL); the other hired through the Hispanic American Colleges and Universities (HACU) National Internship Program. Both Programs foster diversity in the federal government’s workforce. The two interns supported a range of efforts including one-on-one coaching for R5 Forests on the Leadership in Sustainable Operations database to preparation of the FY14 Sustainable Operations Microgrant Report.

R5 Climate Change Team

Recognizing that sustainable business operations are key to mitigating climate change, the Region 5 Sustainable Operations Program provides technical assistance to each unit’s Climate Change Coordinator in accomplishing Climate Change Scorecard - Element 10 (Sustainable Operations) action items. Additionally, Sustainable Operations is part of the Region, Forest, and Station Climate Action Plans.

Employees Recognized for Excellence

Since the R5 Regional Forester Honor Awards started in 2010, 20 employees have been nominated and 6 have received a Sustainable Operations & Energy Management Award. This award recognizes an individual or group that demonstrates contributions above and beyond normal job responsibilities toward reducing the environmental footprint of a Forest Service Unit(s) in Region 5 through project accomplishments, partnerships, and/or education. This includes working across disciplines within the Forest Service, as well as other agencies, partners, and communities, to reduce energy and water consumption, improve fleet and transportation, promote green purchasing, prevent waste, and encourage recycling.

The Right Vehicle for the Job

White colored 4 door sedan with a nozzle attached to it.

This Ford C–MAX Energi, plug–in hybrid is the newest addition to the Regional Office. The car runs on both electricity and gasoline.

Region 5 has replaced older vehicles in its fleet with new, more efficient vehicles such as the Ford Escape Hybrid and the C-MAX Energi, plug-in hybrid. Between 2013 and 2014, Region 5 reduced our fleet vehicle miles by about 14.8% while increasing the number of alternative fuel and hybrid-electric vehicles in our fleet. Also, we reduced the number of internal combustion engine vehicles from 5228 to 4932, a 5.7% reduction.