One can look at Timor-Leste’s location on the map and guess that Timor-Leste has a beautiful coastline. In fact, Timor-Leste is highly regarded as one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world, a benefit enjoyed by U.S. Embassy Dili’s small community serving in one of the world’s most remote posts. However, because the embassy sits close to the shore, the air has extremely high salt content, requiring a great deal of maintenance and upkeep required for the property and vehicles. The Embassy staff must wash fleet vehicles at least every other day to prevent rapid corrosion and rusting. This high water consumption results in larger utility bills and a negative perception of the Embassy’s water usage as Timor-Leste experiences frequent water shortages. Despite the numerous steps taken to reduce water usage, the Embassy still uses over 350,000 liters of water a year to maintain its modest fleet
But this year, thanks to a grant for sustainability and resilience projects, Embassy Dili will receive funding to build a wastewater recovery system. This system will allow the Embassy to recapture and reuse the water from car washes, resulting in a 95 percent reduction in car wash water usage and estimated at $11,000 per year in energy savings.
“I am so proud of how our Embassy Dili team is thriving even while facing many unique day-to-day challenges operating an Embassy in an austere and remote country, further exacerbated during the pandemic. We are all grateful for the impressive creativity and resourcefulness of our local and American colleagues who developed this wastewater recovery system. This project saves water and energy, and it demonstrates the United States government’s commitment to sustainability and efficiency here in Timor-Leste and in the other countries where we work,” said U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Fitzpatrick.
For the second year in a row, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) has sponsored the Resilience Grant, as part of the Greening Diplomacy Initiative (GDI) Awards. The Grant funds up to $1 million in innovative projects at posts that advance the Department’s sustainability and resilience for its operations and facilities.
The 2019 recipients are already seeing benefits from their projects. In Johannesburg, the 2019 Resilience Grant helped pay for the installation of a new rainwater system for their gardens at the consulate general. Before the grant, the Consulate depended in part on dwindling city water to sustain the gardens. When looking for another way to supply water and to increase their operational independence, consulate staff found an extra 400,000-liter water tank that was used to collect stormwater—more than enough capacity to displace the city water. The Grant was used to install a treatment system that would clean the water for use in the garden. In just five months since installation, the system supplied more than one million liters of water, saving the Department almost $3,000. This is especially remarkable during the dry season—the Consulate expects the savings to increase as the wet season approaches.
The Resilience Grant also contributed to Embassy Bern’s effort to curtail air pollution and noise. Previously, the Embassy had used gasoline-powered landscaping equipment to maintain their grounds, which cost approximately $4,000 in fuel and emitted more than one ton of carbon dioxide per year. But with the Grant, the Embassy received funding to purchase electric landscaping equipment and to install a solar charging station, bringing their ongoing emissions and fuel costs for landscaping to zero. The new solar equipment demonstrates the U.S. commitment to being a model of environmental efficiency around the world and positions the embassy to comply with future Swiss emissions regulations.
Despite the hardships of putting proposals together during the pandemic, the GDI received 30 percent more applications for funding over the inaugural year of the grant. Projects also spanned several resilience categories, including water, energy, and waste. The requests totaled over $5 million, which indicate there is more to do next year.
The 2020 winning projects range in size from $10,000 to $312,750, incorporate a variety of technologies, and span every region in the world. These technologies include smart thermostats in Brasilia, Brazil; borewells in Lilongwe, Malawi, and Harare, Zimbabwe; and even a Moorish lawn in Nur-Sultan that will serve as a wildlife habitat for Kazakhstan’s natural flora. Over the next several months, the winning posts will receive guidance from OBO and GDI on implementation.
The 2020 winning projects are:
- Embassy Amman – Automatic Car Wash System. The automatic car wash system will properly and efficiently apply soap and water to cars, reducing freshwater consumption by more than 40 percent over conventional methods.
- Embassy Lilongwe – Borewells with Solar Pumps. The project will reduce the water supply shortages post faces during the dry season and reduce water costs by 64 percent. The solar-powered submersible pumps will reduce extra electrical costs for the project.
- Embassy Harare – Residential Borehole Project. Adding boreholes will increase post’s independence from the municipal water supply, which has recently seen an increase in water-borne diseases.
- Embassy Dili – Car Wash Waste Water Recovery. The project will result in a 95 percent reduction in water usage for car washes, which must be done at least every two days because of the post’s proximity to the ocean.
- Embassy Kathmandu – Improving Waste Management System. Improving the waste management system will reduce overall waste that ends up in landfills and will streamline disposal mechanisms. The post will expand its partnership with the recycling vendor to include their other sustainability services, like segregating different kinds of waste, providing post’s metrics for recycling efficacy, and the installation of a quick composter in the office compound.
- Embassy Valletta – LED Lights. Installing LED lights throughout the Embassy compound, which are 75 percent more efficient than fluorescent bulbs and last 25 times longer, will result in savings for post.
- Embassy Rangoon – Retrofitting LED Lights. Retrofitting LED lights throughout the Embassy compound will result in greater energy efficiency and cost savings for post, culminating in a return on investment within 6 years.
- Embassy Skopje – Rainwater Harvesting. Installing a 400 square meter rainwater harvesting system will reduce the risk of flooding at post as well as reduce reliance on the municipal water supply.
- Embassy Brasilia – Smart Thermostats for Residences. This pilot project will install smart thermostats to turn off equipment when it is not needed, both reducing energy consumption and increasing equipment life span.
- Embassy Nur-Sultan – Moorish Lawn. The Moorish lawn will turn the post into a wildlife habitat and reduce hours needed to maintain post grounds, while also paying homage to Kazakhstan’s natural flora. Moorish lawns are common in Kazakhstan and embody the idea of a lawn that resembles wild meadows found in the steppes while being part of the composition.
- Embassy Panama City – Rainwater Harvesting. The rainwater harvesting system will be used for car washing and result in a net decrease in daily water consumption by nearly four percent.
- Embassy Bamako – Expanding Recycling Program and Purchase of Water Nozzles. Post will use the funding to build on their existing efforts to minimize waste by expanding their recycling program to all residences. Post will also establish a compost station to recycle organic waste and to improve water usage management through the purchase of water nozzles for their gardeners.
Read more about this year’s winners here.
About the Author: Peter Brukx is an Eco-Pathways Intern with the Greening Diplomacy Initiative in the Office of Management Strategy and Solutions at the U.S. Department of State.