In Her Own Words
A Conversation With Anna Jones Crabtree
Region, USDA Forest Service
The Way Forward:
Sustainable Business Operations
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.
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
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?
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
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
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
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?
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
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.
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
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.
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