Peace Corps and Sustainability: Today and The Next 50 Years

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Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Logo

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), I am honored and anxious to celebrate the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s signing of the executive order that created the Peace Corps.  March 1, 2011 will mark over 10 years since I served as a water & sanitation volunteer in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa and will be a celebration of the 200,000+ volunteers that have served in 139 host countries over the past 50 years.  As we commemorate this great event and look back at Peace Corps’ history, I am interested in Peace Corps’ future and what it is doing about sustainability today and its plans for tomorrow.

I was happy to find that the Peace Corps does have Sustainability Plan.  In support of Executive Order 13514, Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, the Peace Corps embarked on two major projects in 2010 to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability.  First, it is renovating its commercially leased headquarters building with a more efficient space design which will reduce overall square footage and energy consumption as well as upgrading its data center with an Energy Star-rated cooling system.  Second, it has hired an energy expert consultant to conduct energy audits at three of its overseas posts.  This is substantial seeing as Executive Order 13514 only pertains to activities and resources within the United States.

However, Peace Corps conducts 95% of its business overseas.  How then has sustainability been incoporated into the lives and practices of its 8,000 volunteers currently living and working abroad?

Peace Corps’ Sustainability Plan makes the following three statements:

  • Volunteers can share green ideas within the countries they serve.
  • Many of the volunteers serving around the world work on direct environmental projects or agricultural projects in which teaching sustainability is often paramount to meeting basic needs.
  • Volunteers have been recognized for working on projects improving wastewater and creating alternate fuel solutions in developing countries.

In addition, Peace Corps does train and employ both Environment and Agriculture Volunteers who can incorporate sustainability practices into the projects they conduct abroad.

Peace Corps Employees in the United States are also led by a Green Team whose goal is to look for interactive ways to improve environmental awareness within the agency and look for ways to reduce the Agency’s carbon footprint.

As we celebrate 50 years of Peace Corps and look ahead to the next 50 years, I hope the Sustainability Program at Peace Corps grows to include all its foreign employees and operations.  Perhaps the new waive of volunteers should be the “Sustainability Volunteers.”

Until then, congratulations to Peace Corps for reaching this milestone, best of luck and health to all serving volunteers worldwide and to my fellow RPCVs, thank you for serving your country.

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