A Message from Ecology’s Director, Ted Sturdevant
The broad mission of the Washington State Department of Ecology is to protect, preserve and enhance Washington’s environment, and to promote the wise management of its air, land and water for the benefit of future generations. Sustainable practices – reducing or eliminating wastes, conserving our resources and lowering our carbon footprint – are critical to this work.
When Ecology was first formed in 1970 (predating the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) our primary focus was eliminating pollution that came from a single source, such as toxic discharge out of a pipe. We now have strong laws and mature systems to address that. Today, one of our biggest challenges is addressing environmental harm from everyday activities – such as allowing oil to leak onto a driveway, where it is carried by rain along hard surfaces and into a stream – multiplied hundreds of thousands of times.
Regulations alone cannot address that type of problem. It will require all of us to realize that what we do – whether or not we recycle, how we light our homes, if we keep our car in good repair – makes a tremendous difference.
In Washington State, this is especially true given that our population is expected to increase by two million people in the next thirty years. Unless many of our behaviors change, this growth is bound to place additional stress on our landfills, impair our infrastructure and degrade the quality of our air, water and soil.
Sustainable practices are essential to securing our long-term quality of life. Reducing waste, conserving energy and lowering our carbon footprint are good for the environment and good for the pocketbook, and will leave the earth in a better place for future generations.
One of our challenges is that, during this time of economic downturn, people tend to revert to an old way of thinking and a false choice: that one has to pick between a healthy environment or a strong economy.
But in Washington, where one-third of our economy is tied directly to natural resources – through agriculture, fishing, forestry, hydropower, outdoor recreation, waterborne trade and other endeavors – we understand the economic power of a healthy environment. We know that both contribute to quality of life. And we are seeing significant breakthroughs by bringing all interests together to develop solutions that are environmentally sound, doable from both a regulatory and a technological standpoint, and help a company’s bottom line.
We have found that it is often easier, quicker, less expensive, better for the environment and healthier to keep solid and toxic wastes out of the environment than it is to address the problem after the fact.
One example of this is our Pollution Prevention Program, which provides expert technical assistance to companies to show them how they can reduce the amount of dangerous waste they produce, streamline their processes to maximize their use of raw materials, and re-use their byproducts. Many companies have found that doing so saves them time and money and reduces their regulatory burden.
Ecology has the lead role in Washington State’s sustainability efforts, both in helping other state agencies develop and reach their sustainability goals, and in instituting sustainable practices within our own agency. We encourage others to use sustainable practices and, as an agency, we practice it ourselves.
In 2009, Governor Gregoire directed Ecology to lead state government in conserving energy and reducing its carbon footprint. In response, we implemented facility upgrades and instituted changes to our business practices that are projected to cut more than 550 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. We developed a program that helps our employees assess their own carbon footprint and learn how to reduce it. We turn food scraps from our cafeteria into compost. We encourage commuting by offering ride share opportunities, bicycle lockers and other incentives. Our state vehicles include hybrid and other fuel-efficient cars. We use video-conferencing and other technology in lieu of travel where possible. We have an organic, volunteer-run garden onsite that donates all of its produce to a food bank.
Ecology also has a well established team, representing every program and regional office, that sets agency sustainability goals. Performance measures include how well sustainable practices are integrated into decisions, employee awareness, and progress in reducing greenhouse gas.
One of the most daunting challenges before us is addressing the impacts of climate change. Our glaciers are retreating. Snow that we are used to seeing accumulate in the mountains – providing water at the right time of the year for farms and fish– will more often come down as rain. Our forests are increasingly vulnerable to wildfires and infestations of pests. Shellfish are already being affected by the growing acidity of our marine waters, caused in part by the ocean absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Communities along our seacoast are concerned, too, with how sea-level rise will affect their properties and roads.
In response to all of these concerns, Ecology led the development of Washington State’s Climate Response Strategy, a collaboration of the state departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Fish and Wildlife, Health, Natural Resources and Transportation, as well as a broad range of stakeholders with technical, scientific and policy expertise. These discussions resulted in the development of the Washington State Integrated Climate Response Strategy . Based in part on this plan, the Natural Resources Defense Council ranked Washington State as among the best prepared for climate change nationwide.
We are proud of our leadership and efforts to date toward securing a sustainable quality of life for the people of Washington. Big challenges lie ahead, but we face those challenges with confidence and optimism that solutions are available.
More information about our efforts to promote sustainability, and the challenges before us, are detailed in our report.