Remarks at the State Department's "Greening Diplomacy" Earth Day Event
Secretary of State
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you all very much. Thank you. Well, I am absolutely delighted to be here on Earth Day, and especially to be with my colleagues from the State Department and USAID and so many who are representing the diplomatic missions of the countries that are here in Washington, D.C. with whom we interact on such a regular basis.
Obviously, this is a special time to think about what more we can do on behalf of these issues that are so critical to how we care for this planet we share and what kind of future we will bequeath to our children. I want to thank Todd Stern, our Special Envoy for the Climate Change talks, and the general issue that we take so seriously in the Obama Administration. Todd is off to a great start on a very difficult path, and we will need to forge an international consensus. We’ll have to work very hard between now and Copenhagen to lay the groundwork for that consensus.
We’re delighted to have Nancy Sutley here from the Council of Environmental Quality in the White House, and I know Nancy worked with a friend of mine, Mayor Villaraigosa, in Los Angeles on some of these issues. And I am always pleased to be with Pat Kennedy, who has done an excellent job being our Under Secretary for Management and has just a great ability to help identify and solve so many of the problems we face, and under whose leadership the Department has really been brought together.
We’re trying to green diplomacy and we want to do it every day, not just on Earth Day. That starts with our foreign policy, and accepting that climate change is more than a scientific phenomenon. It’s a political challenge, it’s an economic force, it’s a security threat, and a moral imperative. We’ve already seen the results of climate change, which has, because of rising waters, because of desertification, displaced communities, and jeopardized food and water supplies, helped to spread epidemics and threatened the continued existence of island nations. So we know climate change has to be an urgent challenge that we work at the highest levels of our government to address.
But that’s not enough. What we are trying to do today is to bring the message home to individuals, to embassies, to the State Department, and across the world that our goal is to make climate change, the greening of the world, a responsibility that starts with each and every one of us. We have, in the Obama Administration, not only moved to address climate change, and there was a recently completed two-week session of negotiations in Bonn – and on Monday, we’ll host the Major Economies Forum here. But we also have moved on some other important environmental issues.
In a reversal of longstanding policy, the Obama Administration pledged in February to take the lead in developing a global treaty to regulate mercury. This is a critical issue particularly for pregnant women and children. We are moving ahead with efforts to increase access to safe drinking water, conserve the world’s forests, slow the depletion of the world’s fisheries.
So we know that there’s a big agenda ahead of us. But I have just visited the displays that are outside and down the hall, and I invite all of you, when you leave here, to take a few minutes to look and see what the State Department is doing, because we’re trying to translate our rhetoric into the reality of everyday decisions. That means making this a personal challenge, not just a governmental or global challenge. The State Department has more than 250 embassy compounds abroad, more than 100 facilities here at home. In total, that adds up to 42.5 million square feet of office space.
We heat buildings near the Arctic Circle and we cool those near the Equator. We power legions of computers, copiers, and fax machines. Our staff uses every mode of transportation to travel to remote corners of the world. And we know that the business we conduct, this business of diplomacy and development, has an impact environmentally, financially, and publicly. And leadership is more than just giving speeches. It truly is serving as an example and setting us forth a series of steps that we can travel together.
When I came to the State Department just a few months ago, I was heartened to learn that there already were many initiatives underway to make the Department more sustainable. I’ve heard from 33 Chiefs of Missions abroad who comprise what is called the League of Green U.S. Embassies, which coordinates and supports efforts to green our missions overseas. Several bureaus, including Europe and Eurasia, Consular Affairs and Overseas Building Operations, have their own green teams to make our offices more energy efficient and less wasteful.
Now the State Department’s computer servers take up about 3 percent of our building space, but consume 40 percent of our electricity load. We are working with a team from the IT Department to narrow that ratio. But one thing we could all do is turn off our computers. That actually would save energy.
I know that there are ways that we can get behind this Greening Diplomacy Initiative. It’s a pledge that we will take to improve the environmental impact of our operations here and abroad. It has four key objectives: first, to develop and implement policies and initiatives that will reduce the State Department’s environmental footprint; second, to empower employees to contribute to greening efforts by providing a hub where people can go with their ideas; third, to share best practices and track our progress; and fourth, to connect the management of the Department with the work we do in diplomacy and development so our staff can continue working on environmental issues around the globe, highlighting the progress we’re making, coming back with good new ideas and generally moving the agenda forward.
Many of our embassies around the world have adopted cutting-edge practices. Our mission in Monrovia is getting ready to install a massive tank to collect rainwater. Our mission in Kathmandu uses native plants to control water runoff; Embassy Abuja, which uses solar panels to produce hot water; Embassy Geneva, which today is cutting the ribbon on a new kind of air-conditioning technology called magnetic levitation chiller – which I, for one, had never heard of – but it turns out it requires less fuel, creates no friction, and needs less maintenance than other air conditioners.
Even here at the Harry Truman Building, we’ve taken action. We’ve installed solar panels on our roof. The new entrance on D Street will have a green roof covered with plants. And all of the excess materials left over from the current construction work are being recycled.
When some of our personnel move into the new building across the street, it will be the first gold LEED building in Washington. Now programs like these deserve our praise and replication. The Greening Diplomacy Initiative will help scale up these kinds of innovations and give us the impetus to go even further. The initiative will be overseen by a Greening Council. That is a new Department-wide body that I am asking Under Secretary Kennedy to chair.
I’m asking that it draws up a clear roadmap for where we’re headed. Now in order to do that, we have to know where we are today. So the State Department will conduct its first-ever comprehensive Global Sustainability Survey of all of our facilities worldwide. It will give us helpful data on energy and water use, building materials and office operations. Once the survey is complete, I will ask the Greening Council to give us ambitious targets for reducing our environmental footprint and cutting costs. But we need your help, so we’re asking you to send your suggestions to the sounding board and tag them with the keyword “green,” and we’ll consider your ideas.
I’m very excited by all of the possibilities ahead of us. And oftentimes when you face such an overwhelming challenge as global climate change is, it can be somewhat daunting. It’s kind of like trying to lose weight – (laughter) – which I know something about, where you think, oh, I only have to lose X numbers of pounds, but it seems like such a far away goal that if you’d been with me when we were touring the exhibits, you would have remarked as I did that one of the ways that people are being attracted to come and see all of these energy saving ideas is that every single table is filled with candy. (Laughter.) So we’re mixing messages here, but one thing at a time.
But sometimes it seems as though if you set these big goals, it just is too daunting and overwhelming, we’ll never reach it. It’s kind of like world peace, and so therefore why even try? Well, because we’re called to try. That’s who we are as human beings, and that’s especially how we think of ourselves as Americans. But it’s not in any way exclusive to us.
Every single day, we can do something to make the world a better place, to exercise some common courtesy and kindness, maybe shake a hand of somebody you don’t agree with. There’s just lots of things we can do. (Laughter.) And so I think that if we – (applause) – we keep in mind the big goal, but we break it down into baby steps, those doable, achievable, objectives, we can do so much together.
And so I’m very proud of this Department for many, many, things, and every single day. But for the leadership that we are showing and the initiative to green our diplomacy, I think we can set a real example. And we are also more than willing to work with and consult with any other missions. And we have lots to learn from all of you. This should be a global effort, where we all try to have our symbols of our national presence in each of our countries represent the best technology that any of us can put together in retrofitting buildings and building new buildings, and then personally doing what each of us can do to make our contribution.
Thank you so much for joining us here today on Earth Day. And please know how much we enjoy working on behalf of this Administration, not only to tackle these challenges, but to seize the opportunities of the 21st century. Thank you all. (Applause.)