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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — When it comes to managing the environment, Okinawa’s Marine bases usually are a step ahead of other Defense Department facilities, said Joe Vogel, the base’s top civilian environmental officer.

Now, Vogel says, those bases are taking a giant step ahead by becoming a prototype for Marine bases worldwide.

“We’ve been selected by Headquarters, Marine Corps, to be the test site for implementing the new Environmental Management System,” Vogel said.

According to an executive order signed by President Bush, “every federal facility has to adopt an EMS by Dec. 31, 2005.”

Vogel said the Environmental Protection Agency sent Shana T. Harbour, an EMS expert, to Okinawa for three months to help devise a system for Marine bases in Japan.

Harbour will be in Okinawa until the end of September to work with Vogel and his crew, hammering together a system for camps Lester and Foster and Futenma Marine Corps Air Station.

“The EMS is a way of managing the environmental footprint of installations, and bringing environmental concerns into day-to-day decisions,” said Harbour.

“The Marine bases on Okinawa are a great place to start.

“There’s already an excellent program in place,” she said. “I think they’ve got 80 to 90 percent of the pieces already in place. There’s a high compliance rate; they just need to adopt an EMS that will manage environmental programs as a whole instead of willy-nilly.”

Before coming to Okinawa, Harbour helped develop an environmental system at NASA.

Among benefits of a solid system, she said, are reducing the costs of conducting business, improving safety, improving morale and retaining employees.

“Adopting an EMS is a good way of looking at the whole forest, not just the trees in front of you,” she said. “They’ve done a good job so far but there’s always room for improvement.”

She said the Marine’s environmental program in Japan is based on the internationally recognized International Organization for Standardization, or ISO.

“Japan pays attention to the ISO, it has more companies — about 30,000 — that have adhered to the strict ISO standards than any other country,” she said.

“So that gives the Marine EMS instant credibility with the Japanese community. It’s especially important that the outside community understands how we manage the environment.”

Vogel said his department has been working with the EPA for several years to establish base programs.

Tasks ahead include setting up working teams from the base units and conducting awareness training, Harbour said.

“Our goal,” Vogel said, “is to get people to be more aware of incorporating environmental concerns into their day-to-day business. For example, if you operated a printing plant on base, a good EMS would prod someone on the staff to think about what to do with biodegradable ink.”

Lt. Col. Dean Levi, Marine Corps Bases environmental officer, said his staff “volunteered to be the guinea pig.”

“We’ve had a form of EMS already,” he said.

“What this will do is give us a better way to manage it. It gives us the greater perspective, the whole picture. It’s a management tool — another way to manage our resources better by getting more people involved.

“It’s all part of how we keep improving,” he said. “We’re constantly looking at how to better conduct our business.”

The EMS will take environmental concerns beyond the 10 people in the base environmental office, Levi said.

“With the EMS we are looking at getting everyone, not just our Marines and sailors, but also our housing residents and the Japanese who have tacit farms on our bases, to be good caretakers of the environment.”

Tacit farms are small, unused areas of U.S. bases in Japan where the owners of the property are granted access in order to grow crops.

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