Sustainable Operations

Prisons are essentially small cities, operating 24/7. From housing and food service to educational programs and correctional industries, they can be extremely costly and resource-intensive. But we can lessen their impact. We can make prisons more sustainable, not only saving money and the environment, but also setting an example for other residential institutions such as military bases, assisted living centers, and summer camps.

Two technicians pull commodities from a prison waste stream. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

In 2002, Washington Department of Corrections (Washington DOC) responded to Governor Locke’s directive to conserve energy and water, limit and recycle waste and construct green facilities. Today, the Sustainability in Prisons Project partnership builds on this commitment. We support, evaluate and refine sustainable operations and share best practices among prisons. We also help assess long-term operational trends, including carbon emissions, and set new goals and strategies for improvement.

We work together to develop cost-effective, environmentally sound practices for prison operations and engage offenders with direct responsibility for these activities where security is in place. Current practices range from recycling, composting and organic gardening to restoring bicycles and rehabilitating troubled dogs for adoption. We anticipate that offender participation in these activities – typically in the form of a prison job – will improve behavior and deepen individual and institutional investment in sustainability.

Every prison in Washington state has implemented sustainable operations programs in waste sorting, composting, recycling, gardening, water and energy conservation, green purchasing, and more. Sustainable operations in Washington’s prisons  range from very small scale, to industrial-size, state-of-the-art operations. These programs are coordinated by Washington DOC’s Sustainable Operations Manager, Julie Vanneste. For more on SPP’s sustainability programs, see our programs page.

The worm-composting program at Monroe Correctional Complex was founded by incarcerated individuals with a strong commitment to scientific practice and public outreach. They host hundreds of visitors every year. Photo by Ricky Osborne.