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Sustainability Student Perspectives: How I Brought Sustainability to My Air Force Base

UW Online Collaboratives June 1, 2016
A photo of UW Sustainable Management student Nicholas Wengerd at his Air Force base.

By Nicholas Wengerd

I am an electrician and a member of the US Air Force, stationed in Germany. You may wonder, how does a Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Management relate to my career?

Some civilians may not know this, but the military is currently exploring ways to make its daily operations more sustainable. It’s all about doing more with less, reducing cost and waste, and improving the force through innovation.

Putting Sustainability into Action on Base

In the Civil Engineering Squadron, I work with broken systems, process improvements, legal requirements for environmental stewardship, and systems not yet common in the United States. And every day, I encounter issues impacted by money, the environment, and manpower.

The UW Sustainable Management program has given me tools to help battle obstacles to implementing sustainable efforts. Also, my courses taught me to focus on the triple bottom line—a holistic approach—to find solutions that are good for people, planet, and profit. Using skills from courses like SMGT 220: Systems Thinking, I am able to pinpoint areas in our processes that are not valuable or efficient and find better, long-term solutions.

Let me share an example.

On our base, we found that converting the airfield lighting system to LED reduces both labor and cost. The concepts I learned in the Sustainable Management program helped pave the way for a $1.7 million project that will save 19,200 man hours, $270,000 in materials, and $2 million over a 20-year period.

Not only that, but by converting to LED, we have eliminated the need for about 1,000 light bulbs annually and cut nearly 2,000 miles of vehicle emissions.

And the best part is the savings from this project will be used to improve the community on base, as well as the local German community.

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Sustainability Is a Way of Life

Outside my professional realm, the Sustainable Management program has impacted me personally as well. My family has adopted a sustainable lifestyle because of what I’ve learned.

And it’s a good thing, too, because in Europe, sustainable living is increasingly becoming a legal requirement. For example, Germany has strict recycling and emissions regulations. Public transportation is much more common and heavily used here. To do our part for the community, my family is committed to recycling, driving low-emission vehicles, and using public transportation as much as possible.

More than anything, the knowledge I gained from the Sustainable Management program has helped me see that sustainability is much more than an abstract concept—it’s a way of life that can translate into huge savings and progress.

This guest post was adapted from an essay written by Nicholas Wengerd, a graduate of the UW Sustainable Management program who is now a readiness NCO for the US Air Force. To learn more about the UW Sustainable Management program, contact a helpful enrollment adviser at 608-800-6762 or

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