STEMatState: Eco-Friendly Embassies

April 9, 2014
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Global climate change is a challenge that requires innovations in science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) to solve. The Department of State’s Greening Diplomacy Initiative (GDI) is using STEM to make the Department a leading global organization in sustainability. At the USA Science and Engineering Festival, visitors will be able to see some of STEM innovations we use here in D.C. and at our missions abroad -- from smart energy meters and solar panels, to rainwater collectors and onsite wetlands. These innovations allow our embassies and consulates to serve as both laboratories and showcases for more sustainable cities, workplaces, and residences. Participants will see demonstrations of technologies and practices that U.S. missions around the world use to become more eco-friendly.

Innovators at the Department have worked on ways to reduce water use by storing rainwater and by recycling greywater for car washing and landscaping. Some, like Embassy Nairobi, even have an onsite wetland that treats wastewater, mimicking nature to reduce energy use and environmental impact. Others, like Consulate General Tijuana incorporated local and drought-resistant plants and features into its landscaping, drastically reducing its monthly water use, and providing friendly habitat for pollinators.

In Australia, a country where water is scarce but sunshine is plentiful, Embassy Canberra has been working to reduce both its water and grid energy use. The embassy harvests and stores rainwater for landscaping, reducing its use of potable water from the municipality. Creative engineers, facility managers and green team members took a look at how the embassy and its affiliated properties used water, and saw an opportunity to use technology to reduce its impact further; nearly all of its residential water is heated by the sun, instead of by grid electricity. 

Solar water heaters can work one of two ways, either by installing the water collector in a way that allows warm water to rise and be piped through the house, or by using pumps to circulate water. The Department of Energy calculates that the average household in the United States spends $400-600 on water heating each year. Thanks to the power of engineering and design, Embassy Canberra has both reduced both its annual costs and carbon footprint. Many embassies and consulates around the world have also installed solar hot water heaters, such as Embassy New Delhi, Consulate General Dubai, and Embassy Pretoria.

You can learn about more water and energy conservation measures at the festival in D.C. We are excited to meet students and their parents there. Unable to make it to the conference but want to learn more? We welcome your questions and ideas via social media; you can tweet us @StateGDI or like us on Facebook. Let us know what you think!

About the Author: Caroline D'Angelo serves as a Eco-Mangement Analyst at the Department of State.

Editor's Note: This post is one of a series showcasing the application of science, technology, engineering, and math fields to the Department mission. The Department will have an exhibit in the USA Science and Engineering Festival where K-12 students can talk to Department scientists and see first-hand some of the technologies referenced in the series. To learn more about the Department of State's efforts in STEM, visit


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