NEON’s primary role is to observe changes in our natural world and enable scientists and decision makers to use information to address the challenges presented by environmental change. As such, NEON, Inc. and its staff recognize our responsibility to help make a positive contribution in a world that continues to experience unprecedented economic, environmental, and social challenges.
Further, NEON’s stewardship of National Science Foundation funds implies conserving tax dollars making its existence possible in the first place, and maximizing the proportion of funding and all other resources directly accomplishing science goals.
Thus, it seems only natural that at the core of NEON’s mission is a dedication to sustainability, and it makes perfect sense that NEON will embrace efficiency to the extent possible. NEON is committed to minimizing its environmental footprint and will operate sustainably and develop sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices.
Since NEON is a new project, as it grows in size and scope, its footprint also grows. In our first annual sustainability report (2009) we share our progress in addressing the challenges associated with greening a brand-new, growing organization, identify where we believe we can have the most impact, and acknowledge our opportunities for continued improvement. We’re both taking advantage of the changes and improvements we can make in the short term, and simultaneously strategizing how to synthesize sustainability into our long-term plans.
Despite working under restrictions of a building lease and constant growth and change, our report notes that NEON took several strong steps in 2009 to minimize environmental impacts. Some of NEON’s major sustainability actions include energy auditing, changing light bulbs building-wide, establishing a successful compost and recycling program, and producing only 100% recycled, FSC-certified marketing materials.
NEON is a project of firsts; we’re the first continental-scale ecological observatory and the first NSF facility of the BIO Directorate. I hope we can soon add to our list that we have become the first facility to lead the charge on bringing comprehensive, aggressive sustainable practices as a core component of our strategy. After reviewing our first annual sustainability report for 2009, one of our NSF colleagues, Peter McEvoy, commented: “This looks very inspiring…. and very fitting that the National Ecological Observatory Network would be leaders in this area for us to consider emulating.”
I’m proud to say that our sustainability report has been distributed to other NSFG-supported facility projects for them to use in developing their own plans.
We recognize our road to sustainability may be rocky at times. For example, NEON’s national scope means that travel will dominate our carbon footprint for the foreseeable future. We have already begun planning options for mitigating our impacts; incorporated into our construction and operations plans will be means to take advantage of every possible collaboration technology and management strategy that will reduce the need for travel.
Sustainability cannot be a stand-alone issue that’s separate from or unrelated to our projects. It’s not an abstract or philanthropic program. Simply put, sustainability will be built into NEON’s plans because it is an integral part of NEON’s mission. It is also an outgrowth of the ideals and energy of NEON’s staff. NEON’s sustainable trajectory was initiated by a self-organized group of NEON employees that came together on its own initiative and began the process that led the first report and plans.
Like the grassroots pioneers that created the concept for a continental-scale ecological observatory, the sustainability group has pioneered a plan for NEON to become a sustainable distributed science facility – truly an organic outgrowth of our company’s spirit and vision.