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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

EPA Staffer Wins Service to America Medal

saskia van gendt

Saskia Van Gendt is a scientist at EPA's Pacific Southwest regional office in San Francisco. She is one of eight winners of the prestigious Service to America Medals Exiting EPA (disclaimer) awarded to federal employees. Van Gendt was recognized for her innovative efforts to help foster green building construction, and promote the design and development of reusable packaging to significantly reduce waste. She received the organization’s Call to Service Medal Exiting EPA (disclaimer) which recognizes a federal employee whose professional achievements reflect the important contributions that a new generation brings to public service.

Van Gendt, 29, has focused her work on a new field that she calls “Climaterials,” encouraging the use of materials in construction that have as small a carbon footprint as possible in their creation and that will be able to be reused or have a minimal environmental impact when they eventually reach end-of-life. Over a third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to the production and transportation of goods and packaging.

video of saskia van gendt
Van Gendt and Michelle Obama at the White House reception for award winners.

Nearly one-third of America’s solid waste is construction-related, resulting in millions of tons of construction waste going to landfills or incinerators each year and causing significant greenhouse gas emissions. Van Gendt envisions a new approach to construction in which buildings are designed to minimize waste, energy consumption, and the use of new materials and allow for building components to be disassembled and reused instead of discarded.

Van Gendt was part of a team that created the annual Lifecycle Building Challenge, a online competition that recognizes cutting-edge building design and challenges students, architects and builders to reduce the environmental impact of buildings. The competition brings together a library of the best ideas from students, architects, and builders on reducing the environmental footprint of buildings.

The Challenge became an international competition in 2009 and is now in its fourth year. The annual competition has been widely successful in influencing green building standards and lifecycle principles into the way that buildings are designed.

The Challenge website has received more than two million hits, and entries have poured in from more than 250 participants around the world since it started. All of the entries involved buildings or innovative products that together conserved more than 35,000 tons of construction materials compared to conventional construction practices and saved an estimated 8,115 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Van Gendt, an environmental science graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, started her EPA career as an intern in 2006. In addition to her work with greening buildings, Van Gendt has also been a leader in the West Coast Climate Forum, a partnership of EPA with more than 50 state and local government agencies working to reduce climate change and waste.  She also serves as the EPA lead on the Communications Workgroup of EPA’s Climate/Materials government partnership.  Both work with local governments to inventory and reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions through procurement, composting, and recycling.

Van Gendt has also worked with a high-profile StopWaste grant program, a recycling and waste management effort in Alameda, Calif. The program helped Peerless Coffee purchase new equipment that cut packaging waste by 95 percent and allowed the company to set up a comprehensive program to recycle paper, cardboard and beverage containers, and compost food scraps and spent coffee grounds.

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