Environmental Factor, May 2009, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Earth Week 2009 Kick Off
By Eddy Ball
NIEHS kicked off its annual celebration of Earth Week on April 21 with remarks by Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., who addressed a group of staffers gathered on the patio outside the Institute's main building. Birnbaum's talk was the opening event of the three-day celebration sponsored and organized by the NIEHS Environmental Awareness Advisory Committee (EAAC), which was founded in 1991. The first Earth Day took place in 1970.
With the blue sky, the lush greenery of early spring and the waters of the campus lake as backdrop, Birnbaum urged listeners to make their personal commitment to increased environmental stewardship and promised that NIEHS would continue to be the "environmental institute at NIH" and work to improve global environmental health. She set a goal of environmental sustainability in every aspect of operations at NIEHS.
"Our research here at NIEHS reminds us continually that public health and environmental health can't be separated," Birnbaum began. "The overwhelming majority of scientists now believe that global climate change is a real threat, and there is an increasing awareness that changes in climate will impact our health."
As Birnbaum underscored the importance of environmental stewardship, she pointed to a "tradition of excellence" at NIEHS. She listed several impressive accomplishments, including the 2007 NIEHS Environmental Policy Statement, a comprehensive Environmental Management System, green building modifications, such as solar panels on the B-module, recycling two-thirds of the waste at the Institute, green purchasing and a water conservation program that saved NIEHS $90,000 last year by reducing water consumption by 20 percent.
Birnbaum described some of the many ways individuals can make an impact at home and at work. She suggested that employees can use promotional tote bags as reusable grocery bags, get in the habit of turning off lights and computer monitors when they're not being used, buy local food, bring reusable containers to work and meetings, reduce printing, recycle electronics and choose products with less packaging.
Looking to the future, Birnbaum promised "to hold ourselves to a higher standard" in all aspects of sustainability at NIEHS. She said she plans to issue the first NIEHS Sustainability Report this summer that will summarize all of the Institute's accomplishments and challenges as well as identify areas of future opportunity, including bringing all buildings up to green certification standards.
At NIEHS, Earth Day has evolved into a sustainability awareness and educational fair showcasing the practical ways that people can reduce their impact on the environment. Features included lectures by horticulturist Jeff Taylor, gardener Jeff Tucker, and a representative of Progress Energy's new green initiatives, free giveaways and samples, and a 5K EPA Fun Race.
EAAC members lured visitors with free cookies, organic, shade-grown coffee, and a book and video exchange to tabletop displays in the lobbies of Keystone and the main building. There, employees and contractors found tips for green cleaning, buying local, green home improvements, rain barrels, smart commuting and responsible disposal of hazardous waste.