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USDA Forest Service
Sustainable Resource Management
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Sustainable Development e-News

Special Feature

In Her Own Words
A Conversation With Anna Jones Crabtree
Sustainable Operations Coordinator
Rocky Mountain Region, USDA Forest Service

The Way Forward: Sustainable Business Operations

Anna Jones Crabtree

WASHINGTON—The Rocky Mountain Region is at the forefront of Forest Service’s efforts to engage in sustainable business operations.  To boost national interest in reducing the nation’s “ecological footprint,” that is, human impact on the environment, the region hosted a Sustainable Operations Summit in Fort Collins, Colorado, early in November 2005.  It attracted more than 100 participants from the U.S. Postal Service, the Park Service, several state and non-governmental agencies, and the Forest Service.

One of the many provocative, challenging questions raised at the three-day summit was, What can we, as individuals, do to help in our march on the sustainability track?  Thus, the summit considered actions that can reduce the nation’s consumption ethic and to demonstrate that we can reduce our demand on natural resources, as Sue LeVan of the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis., put it at the summit.

It is those issues that underpin this conversation with Anna Jones Crabtree, who coordinated the summit in November 2005.  A second summit is being planned for October-November this year.

Q    Anna, during the past two years, you’ve been at the vanguard of our agency’s sustainable business operations.  Please give us a sense of the bases your own interest in those operations.

I have sought consistency in sustainability in all aspects of my life.  I have found that I can’t be one way at home and another way at work.  We all have a role to play in making our world a better place.  I’m privileged to work for an agency that has conservation and sustainability embedded in its mission.

What forces—social, economic, environmental—justified the Sustainable Operations Summit that the Rocky Mountain Region hosted in November 2005?

Our need as an agency is to really “walk the talk” of conservation leadership.  We are becoming an increasingly global society and the choices we make in our operations—the things we buy, the vehicles we drive, the energy sources that heat and cool our buildings—can have larger impacts than some actions we take on the “green land.”  As we enter a new century of service, the global reality of decreasing our own environmental footprint was a driving factor for holding the summit. Additionally, I found many other state and federal agencies provided great opportunities for partnerships and were much more active in sustainable operations than the Forest Service.

The November summit identified a number of priority projects—e.g., green purchasing, transportation, waste prevention, recycling, and energy use—that are being undertaken to fulfill FS sustainability mission. 

I have a two-part question:  First, how is the Rocky Mountain Region organized to accomplish that responsibility?   

My role as Sustainable Operations Coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Region is to facilitate implementing the variety of projects identified at the summit.  As such, we have already begun to form working groups to move each of those projects forward.  Our intent in many of the projects is that we will not only focus on short-term quick payback actions but also on long-term strategies to ensure that the movement toward more sustainable operations is also a sustainable effort.

Second, are there initial encouraging outcomes of some of those projects that you would like us to know?  Are there any worrisome results?

As an example of the team efforts I just mentioned, the Energy Team has taken some short-term actions such as installing occupancy sensors and vending misers.  Both of those devices sense use and shut down automatically after a period of inactivity. They are also devices that have less than a year payback.   Longer term, we are working with the National Renewable Energy Lab through an interagency agreement to develop a broader regional strategy to help us meet all the requirements of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

The Regional Office has also chartered a Sustainable Operations Committee, with membership from each staff area, to look specifically at Regional Office operations.  I understand lighting measurements have already been taken in the regional forest and Deputy’s offices and we’ve found we can take almost one-third of our lighting and still meet the lighting requirements under the lease, with no change to the employees. Some Forests, such as the Bighorn and Medicine Bow Routt, are already discussing establishing similar interdisciplinary teams so they can begin reaping the economic benefits of more sustainable operations.

The biggest challenge so far has been trying to catch up with ourselves.  There have been so many great recommendations of sustainable things we can do that the challenge lies in implementing them.

Other challenges come in communicating sustainable operations—the agency is in a state of change right now and as such new concepts aren’t always well received.  We’ve tried to make sustainable operations something that is fun, positive and solution-oriented.  We’ve got sufficient policy and direction for sustainable operation efforts already; we don’t need more.  What we do need is to find ways in which sustainable operations can help us get the job done easier and at lower cost.  And we must reduce our environmental footprint at the same time.  

Are those projects given equal weights or are some more emphasized than others?

Right now we are focused on areas where people have interest and want to be catalysts.  We are also taking action on things that can have a significant impact or have showcase potential.  Additionally, we are looking at what we might do to maintain the energy we have toward sustainable operations right now and into the future.

      Anna, I’ve observed that your region has active relationships with partners, state agencies, and interest groups.  How are you able to maintain those relationships within the context of accomplishing your strategic business operations?

Partnerships are key to the success of sustainable operations.  Getting the word out to employees about the actions other federal agencies are taking, setting up longer-term MOUs that both our region and other regions can use to work with other agencies.  The knowledge and resources available from both federal and state entities are tremendous—all one has to do is ask. 

One great example is our involvement in the Federal Network for Sustainability (FNS).  This is a coalition of more than a dozen federal agencies that is making a difference in sustainability and providing us a tremendous resource for learning about the successes and challenges others have already experienced.  We will be formally joining the FNS in June.

      What are some of the challenges of this program—aside from the obvious issues associated with human and financial resources?  How are you addressing them?

We are working hard to instill a cultural change in the Forest Service—a culture of taking everyday actions to reduce our overall footprint.  The challenge is to not only influence the actions of our employees in their choices, but to also remove the barriers that make it difficult to choose to use less energy, recycle materials, conserve water and the myriad of other activities that reduce our bottom line – both in our ecological footprint and our operating costs.

There is no “turf” in sustainability.  And that means it takes all of us at all levels looking at all of our activities to find what we can do better.  We can not only learn from each other but help each other accomplish our shared agency mission of conservation leadership.

Sustainability is not just another thing we have to do; it's embedded in our culture as an agency.  It's what should be setting us apart from other agencies.  In fact, sustainability is a tool to help us operate more efficiently and effectively as it is integrated into all of our programs.  Energy conservation, for example, not only lessens our environmental footprint but achieves savings that can equate to hiring more seasonal staff.

Granted, sustainability is a work in progress.  Even so, there are milestones that attest to your having accomplished your own goal to assist in getting us as an agency on a solid road toward attaining sustainable operations.  What milestones should we be watching?

Cultural shifts—people asking for the flex-fuel vehicles, people being thoughtful and mindful about the resource implications of their day-to-day operations. 

And what indicators would attest to the Forest Service being on solid ground toward accomplishing its goal of sustainable business operations? 

One such indicator would be the practice part of our thinking?  It would be a cultural shift; it would be internal.  In the long term, we don’t have to use the term in a separate way. 

How does the future of linking sustainable forestland management with sustainable consumption in the Forest Service look to you?

There has never been a more important time to broaden our understanding of the partnership humans have with the earth’s ecosystems.  I believe our role as an agency for the next 100 years will be to broaden and strengthen our knowledge about this partnership.  Resource management is no longer a concept that can be separated from the resource use that’s required to support our lifestyles.  Most Americans spend 90% of their time indoors and many do not understand the implications associated with the things they consume daily.  We need to rethink and redefine what conservation means to us for the next century.  I believe we have a significant role to play in this conversation about resource management and resource use as an agency.

      Finally, Anna, what should we be watching for?

We are already beginning to plan our next Sustainability Summit for the fall of 2006, in partnership with the University of Wyoming.  Pencil-in late October to early November on your calendars.   It will be a fun, action-oriented conference and we want diverse participation.  We are looking forward to sharing our successes of the last year as well as to talking about our next actions to continue reducing our ecological footprint as an agency.

      Anna Jones Crabtree joined the USDA Forest Service in 1992.  She is detailed as the Sustainable Operations Coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Region of the Forest Service.  This position involves providing regional and national leadership on sustainable operations issues such as alternative fuels, waste prevention and recycling, environmentally preferable purchasing, energy conservation, and renewable energy.  

      Jones Crabtree has long championed sustainability throughout her career.  She was instrumental in creating a sustainable design guide for Forest Service facilities, as well as in installing the first fuel cell in the agency.  She is Chair of the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee’s Sustainable Operations Subcommittee, which engages six national forests, two national parks and two national wild life refuges in seeking sustainable operation opportunities throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  She was the Forest Engineering Staff Officer on the Bighorn National Forest, with responsibilities for oversight and coordination of all engineering and infrastructure needs on the 1.1million-acre national forest.  She is the Board Secretary for the Alternative Energy Resources Organization, a grass-roots, Montana-based organization, where she works on local food and energy issues.  Jones Crabtree is Principal Oboist for the Cloud Peak Symphony. 

      She received her undergraduate and M.S. degrees in engineering from Purdue University and holds a Ph.D. in engineering, with a minor in sustainable systems, from the Georgia Institute of Technology.  Jones Crabtree is a licensed Professional Engineer and a U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-Accredited Professional.

Return to SDe-News Winter 2006

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    Last Modified: Friday, April 7, 2006