Katherine Hammack - Redefining Army 'Green'

Saving energy... Saving lives
Dec 21, 2011 1:00 PM ET

Katherine Hammack - redefining Army 'green'

The Honorable Katherine Hammack gives a whole new definition to the term “Army green.”

“We expect a tremendous amount from our soldiers and I expect a tremendous amount from myself,” she says. “For me, this truly is a mission.”

Assistant Secretary of the United States Army Katherine Hammack, former Ernst & Young senior manager, is on a mission to save soldiers’ lives by making the Army more, well, green. Lest you think that’s just some eco-idealism, consider this: according to Hammack, one of every 46 convoys in Afghanistan suffers a casualty.

Further, 70%–80% of convoy weight is fuel or water. “Water we conserve or energy we don’t waste means fewer convoys,” says Hammack, “and fewer convoys mean fewer casualties.” Casualties can be a loss of limb or life. It’s a case, she says, of not only saving energy, but saving lives.

A four-star opportunity

Hammack’s official title is a long one: Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy & Environment. The civilian equivalent of a four-star general, Hammack was appointed to her position by President Obama in January 2010, then confirmed by the Senate and sworn in June 2010.

As one of the Army’s five assistant secretaries, Hammack is the primary advisor to the Secretary of the Army and Chief of Staff of the Army on all Army matters related to installation policy and oversight and the coordination of energy security and environmental stewardship. Her responsibilities also include policy and oversight of sustainability initiatives, resource management and base realignment and closure.

In all, Hammack oversees a massive operation encompassing more than one billion square feet of building space, 15 million acres of land and a US$4 billion utility bill. “We are essentially small cities, and what we do makes a difference,” states Hammack. “The better stewards of resources we are now, the more we ensure the Army of the future will have the resources it needs to protect our citizens and fight terrorism.”

Hello, this is the White House calling

Trained as a mechanical engineer, Hammack joined Ernst & Young in 2001 in Phoenix. She worked closely with Steve Starbuck to build the firm’s Climate Change and Sustainability Services practice in the Americas. Over the years, she served a number of Fortune 50 clients, “helping them to understand sustainability and energy efficiency and how they could make a difference.”

She also volunteered on several national boards and commissions under the Clinton Administration, including a “greening of the White House” initiative. One day in 2009, while sitting in the airport returning from an Ernst & Young event, Hammack’s cell phone rang.

“I answered it and this person says, ‘Hi, this is the White House Office of Presidential Appointees, do you have a minute?’ And I’m like, ‘No, I really don’t, I have a plane to catch!’” Eventually, Hammack was interviewed by both the Navy and the Army. The Army made the offer. “Essentially, the theme was, ‘Your country needs you.’ And that’s something that’s hard to say no to,” says Hammack with a determined grin.

A greener Army

While the focus is on conservation, Hammack is pouring much of her energy into the Army’s net-zero initiative. This means that by 2020, an Army installation cannot use more energy than it generates on-site; it can’t use more water than it injects back into the same aquifer and no waste can go to the landfill.

“At first, I thought we were going to have to convince installations to do it,” says Hammack. “But we asked for volunteers and over 100 (out of 153) of our units applied to take part.” The Army is now piloting its net-zero initiative with 17 installations.

Hammack says that many people are surprised to learn that, not only is there a significant energy/sustainability focus in the Army, but that the Army was the first federal government agency to issue a sustainability report. It recently issued its third annual report. “The Army has the opportunity and responsibility to set an example for the nation.

The taxpayer funds us, and we need to appropriately steward the funds available,” she says. Seeing her job as having an impact far beyond the Army, Hammack is inspired by a line from Thomas L. Friedman’s book Hot, Flat and Crowded (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008): “When the U.S. Army desegregated, the country really desegregated; when the Army goes green, the country could really go green.”

On a mission

Two of the big adjustments Hammack had to make upon reporting to work at the Pentagon were the sea of uniforms and being referred to as “ma’am” or “Madame Secretary.” But there was another, more significant and much more powerful change.

Hammack’s third-floor office sits near the point of impact of American Airlines flight 77, which terrorists crashed into the Pentagon on 11 September 2001. From her office window, she looks out over the new Pentagon Memorial, with its 184 benches, one for each soul who lost a life there that day, including 125 Pentagon workers. For Hammack, it’s a vivid daily reminder of why she’s there.

“We expect a tremendous amount from our soldiers and I expect a tremendous amount from myself,” she says. “For me, this truly is a mission.” .

Going green by going digital

One way the Army is conserving resources is by leveraging digital media. Hammack and her team are increasingly turning to digital platforms, including Facebook, to replace costly and resource-intensive live meetings. For example, the Army has successfully used Facebook to hold virtual town hall meetings following a number of recent community disasters. More and more, they’re also using digital networks for video teleconferencing training and to keep deployed soldiers connected with Army leadership, as well as with goings-on in their home towns. You can follow Army activities on energy and installations on Facebook. Search for “Assistant Secretary of the United States Army — IE&E.”