“Our management recognizes and understands that sustainability, if done right, reduces mission risk.” – Dan Clark

Since 1967, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center has been home to cutting-edge technology and innovation in space travel. With countless shuttle and rocket launches, the agency has captivated the world. Even as the shuttle program ended, KSC shifted as a place for companies such as SpaceX and Embraer to take the space industry to new heights. The agency continues to innovate, but not just when it comes to space flight. KSC has utilized a sustainability plan in order to preserve the wildlife around the center, as well as incorporated more efficient energy measures that not only are beneficial to the environment, but the bottom line as well.

Executive Order 13693: Planning for federal sustainability in the next decade. This proposal was created to cut the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent from 2008-2018 and increase the share of electricity the government consumes from renewable sources to 30 percent. It was also the catalyst for NASA’s initiatives, starting with the NASA Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan (SSPP). KSC followed up with the Sustainability Plan, which, according to its five-year plan from 2016-2020, is “promoting, maintaining and pioneering green practices in all aspects of our mission.”

Kennedy Space CenterIn addition to government plans to reduce emissions, there was a concerted effort from those in management to think in an environmentally friendly way, and KSC employees were empowered to participate in sustainability efforts. The financial aspect of becoming more sustainable was another motive for KSC. NASA Sustainability Team Lead Dan Clark noted how it simply made sense from a biological and business standpoint to think green.

“Our management recognizes and understands that sustainability, if done right, reduces mission risk,” Clark said. “It saves money. For example, energy and water conservation measures avoid remediation costs. Sustainability also helps protect critical launch infrastructure, and creates a healthier work environment for employees.” ▸

Working with Wildlife

In fiscal year 2017, KSC diverted 82.8 percent of its non-hazardous waste from its landfill. The organization also incorporated strong reusable measures, recycling 424,000 pounds of glass, plastic and aluminum containers and 310,000 pounds of mixed paper. When a building is torn down, the concrete is crushed and used with spec river rock as ground cover for KSC’s new 1.98-megawatt solar plant, which will go online in the coming months. Also, through an analysis of its exterior lighting system, KSC found a way to assist the wildlife around the center.

“We’re removing all of the light poles that aren’t needed for safety and security reasons,” Clark explained. “We’re in the process of converting the light poles remaining to amber LEDs, which will reduce energy consumption, have a longer lifespan and make the center more sea-turtle friendly. KSC is a prime nesting ground, and any exterior lighting they can see when they hatch can disorient them and lead to a higher mortality rate, so by going to amber LEDs, we’re reducing light pollution for our neighbors and wildlife in particular.”

Nestled on the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, which supports one of the highest numbers of threatened and endangered species anywhere in the nation, KSC understands the importance of working to sustain the wildlife that live there. Clark noted that KSC has experts who are constantly finding ways to ensure the staff is able to execute their daily tasks while avoiding infringing upon the habitats of animals such as scrub jays and manatees.

The Future of Sustainability

KSC has put in maximum effort towards ensuring a sustainable center and will continue to do so over the next few years. According to its long-term success criteria for fiscal year 2025, KSC plans to reduce scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by at least 47 percent, compared to a fiscal year 2008 baseline. They also look to reduce scope 3 emissions by 32 percent according to the same baseline.

KSC is also looking to reduce potable water consumption intensity by at least 36 percent, compared to a fiscal year 2007 baseline, and have at least 25 percent of the center’s total electric and thermal energy coming from renewable and alternative energy sources. In order to execute these plans, KSC is utilizing different initiatives. In addition to the 1.98-megawatt solar plant set to go online, there is a one-megawatt solar plant that has provided electricity for the center since 2010. The center is also looking at using rooftop solar panels on some of its buildings, as well as the suitability at KSC of other renewable energy technologies.

For Clark, being involved in Kennedy Space Center’s sustainability initiatives has been a rewarding experience and has allowed him to use his engineering background to come up with ways to be as efficient as possible with the resources he has at his disposal.

“I’ve been interested in sustainability before I even knew what it was. Back when I was a teenager, I was just drawn to it,” he said. “Finding ways of making the most of your resources, keeping your costs down, designing waste outs and what you can repurpose or divert from the landfill is all very challenging but gratifying work.” ◆