Eighteen months ago, the U.S. Navy announced it would source roughly half of its energy from alternative sources by 2020. Since then, the Navy has launched a number of innovative green projects, such as switching some Marine forward bases in Afghanistan from fossil fuels to solar power.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, whom I recently saw speak about his energy program, runs a $150 billion budget and oversees 900,000 "employees." His experience can teach any organization some important lessons about making the case for green and executing the vision.
- Connect green to your core mission and strategy . For the Navy, going green is about security and reducing dangerous reliance on fossil fuels from volatile parts of the world. As Mabus says, "we'd never let these regions produce our ships, but we give them a say in whether our ships sail, planes fly, or ground vehicles operate." Moving away from fossil fuels also saves soldiers' lives. For every 50 convoys of fuel, one Marine is killed or injured (for more on the cost in lives and treasure, see this post). Guarding fuel also takes soldiers away from the real mission. Mabus puts it bluntly: "The big reason we're doing this is to make us better fighters."
- Set aggressive goals . Reaching for 50 percent renewables is driving innovation. Set a moderate goal, Mabus says, and you'll get moderate results.
- Help your employees do their jobs . The Marines of the 3rd battalion, 5th Marines are using portable solar collectors to power up their many electronic devices. Eliminating batteries saves the battalion 600 pounds of gear. How happy are these guys now?
- Ignore the naysayers . As Mabus points out, the Navy has switched fuel sources many times, from wind/sail to coal, from coal to oil, from oil to nuclear (partially). Each time, critics wondered why they'd embrace unknown fuels and in every case, he says, "the naysayers were proved wrong."
- Use pilot programs . The forward bases using solar energy are great demonstration projects. Another big profile initiative is the U.S.S. Makin Island, an amphibious assault ship launched in late 2009 with hybrid gas-electric power. For speeds under 12 knots, it uses batteries, saving $2 million on its maiden voyage and an expected $250 million in its lifetime.
- Use data to drive buy-in and execution . One Marine per 50 convoys, $1.5 billion fuel cost rise, 600 pounds lighter, $250 million saved. Numbers work to paint a real picture.
It's not just the Navy going green. The whole military is embracing this logic, as I've written about before. But the Navy seems to be in the lead, and has a clear vision as to why green matters.
The recent mythic raid on Osama bin Laden's compound gave us all a powerful demonstration of what the Navy SEALs can do. In talking about energy, Mabus makes a direct connection between the achievements of the military -- the Marines in particular -- and green: "Renewable energy will help us continue to be the most powerful expeditionary fighting force the world has ever known."
This post first appeared at Harvard Business Online.