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Environment and Materials Stewardship

NREL's sustainability programs reduce greenhouse gases, reduce waste and prevent pollution, and encourage green purchasing. Sustainability, successfully integrated with environmental management, protects and enhances the vegetation, wildlife, and natural resources on NREL's campus.

A photo of a falcon flying low over tall, brown grasses

A Golden Eagle flies from a lift to his trainer during research at the National Wind Technology Center to help NREL develop radar and visual systems that prevent bird strikes with wind turbines. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction

A leader in federal greenhouse gas (GHG) management, NREL was the first federal facility to become a partner in the Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Leaders program. In addition, the laboratory has played a critical support role in the development of federal guidelines for GHG accounting and reporting through DOE's Federal Energy Management Program.

Carbon Neutrality

NREL is committed to reaching carbon neutrality in Scope 2 GHG emissions by using onsite renewables and energy efficiency. When it's not possible to reach carbon neutrality through these means, NREL purchases renewable energy credits to offset any remaining Scope 2 GHG emissions. This infographic shows NRELs FY 2016 GHG emission performance status. NREL has three types of GHG emissions: Scope 1, 2 and 3. Scope 1 accounts for 10% of the GHG emissions, including 3,257 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent of natural gas in heating facilities and experiments; 124 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in fleet and equipment; 23 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in fluorinated gases and refrigerants; and 10 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in dry ice use in laboratories. Scope 2 accounts for 67% and is associated with purchased electricity, comparable to 24,578 metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s equivalent to enough barrels of oil to stack Pikes Peak 12 times. Scope 3 accounts for 23% and is associated with transmission and distribution losses from the power grid, business air and ground travel, employee commuting, contracted wastewater, and solid waste disposal for the campuses. NREL had 35,209 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which would take a forest 5.8 times the size of Golden, Colorado, one year to sequester that amount of carbon dioxide. NRELs total FY 2016 GHG emissions, with the offset of NRELs purchase of renewable energy credits, are equivalent to 10,036 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Federal Leadership

NREL takes a lead role among federal agencies in reducing GHGs that contribute to climate change. We demonstrate leadership in GHG management by maximizing the use of energy efficiency practices and on-site renewable power. NREL continuously pursues new technologies and strategies to reduce GHG emissions associated with our operations.

For more information on NREL's GHG reduction goals, see NREL's Site Sustainability Plan FY 2016.

Waste Reduction, Pollution Prevention

NREL's waste reduction and pollution prevention programs support the goal of near-zero waste through a reduce/reuse/ recycle/re-buy philosophy, composting, the chemical management system and excess chemical inventory, and pollution prevention initiatives.

This infographic shows NREL's FY 2016 waste management performance. In FY 2016 NREL recycled 61% or 1,169,804 pounds including: wood, wood pallets, scrap metal, e-waste, batteries, toner cartridges, books, styrofoam, lightbulbs, paper, and cooking oil from the cafeteria. 10% or 196,251 pounds were composted, and 28% or 542,420 pounds went to a landfill. NREL has installed plastic bag banks around campus for staff to deposit a bag, reuse a bag, and then take bags to store to be recycled.

Green Purchasing

NREL promotes green purchasing, also referred to as sustainable acquisition, by:

  • Implementing new policies, programs, and training that increase staff awareness and accessibility to sustainable products
  • Providing resources that make it easy for purchasers to find information about green products and services
  • Engaging in contracts with providers of goods and services that are consistent with Executive Order 13693.

Our procurement practices are consistent with all federal green procurement preference programs, including the purchase of environmentally preferable products that are:

  • Manufactured from recovered (recyclable) materials
  • Energy efficient (such as electronics and computing equipment that are EPEAT registered, ENERGY STAR-rated, etc.)
  • Water efficient
  • Bio-based
  • Non-ozone depleting
  • Nontoxic.


NREL has earned numerous environmental and sustainability awards from the White House, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. Learn More