Home Common Cents | Sustainability Already High on GSA Priority List

Common Cents | Sustainability Already High on GSA Priority List


President-elect Barack Obama recently announced an economic-recovery plan that includes a massive effort to make public buildings more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

This news was well received at the U.S. General Services Administration, known by many as the federal government’s landlord. In fact, GSA is one of the largest public real estate organizations in the world, with an inventory of nearly 9,000 assets with more than 354 million square feet of rentable space across all 50 states, six U.S. Territories, and the District of Columbia. We serve more than 1 million Federal employees more than 60 agencies. Our portfolio consists primarily of office buildings, courthouses, laboratories, border stations, and warehouses.

GSA has made sustainable design a priority because it helps preserve natural resources, spurs innovation, and saves taxpayer dollars over the long run. Further investment in our public buildings will do more of the same, plus, as the President-elect has rightly noted, help the troubled economy by potentially putting millions of Americans back to work.

By the way, the terms “sustainable design” or “green building” refer to facilities that are located, designed, built and operated to consider impacts to the natural environment, use natural resources efficiently, improve building performance, and address the health and comfort of building occupants.

GSA is excited to be at the center of this initiative. Many of the buildings under discussion are part of our portfolio. More valuably, we already have a strong track record in energy design. Our programs have cut energy use in GSA buildings by 30 percent since 1985. Between 2003 and 2007, GSA itself achieved a 5 percent reduction in energy consumption. GSA operates its buildings at costs that are 1.6 percent below comparable facilities in the private sector, and on behalf of our customer agencies, we have negotiated contracts that average 10.3 percent less for utilities than the private sector.

On a broader front, we are making great progress in the sustainability arena, the goal of course being to meet today’s needs while preserving resources for future generations. Many examples are highlighted in “Sustainability Matters,” a collection of case studies that address GSA’s sustainability initiatives and strategies at all stages of a building’s lifecycle. You can learn more and download “Sustainability Matters” at www.gsa.gov/sustainabledesign.

As a leading procurement agency, GSA also offers federal agency clients more than 10,000 green products and services that help promote eco-friendly polices. These include everything from alternative fuel vehicles to waterless urinals, which, incidentally, save 40,000 gallons of water per urinal, per year.

GSA achievements in energy efficiency include: installing more than 500,000 square feet of planted roofs, including one of the largest green roofs on the Eastern Seaboard that saved the government more than $1 million in costs related to stormwater runoff; diverting more than 106,000 tons of construction waste from landfills in 2006; procuring nearly 1 million megawatt hours of renewable energy, including 100 percent wind energy for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island during the past four years; and earning the designation of Energy Star for 105 of our buildings as of 2006, the most of any federal agency.

Within GSA, an investment in upgrading federal buildings means new funds to address the backlog of repair and alteration projects, especially in our 480 buildings that are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Interestingly, many of these were constructed when President Franklin D. Roosevelt put millions of Americans back to work in the 1930s.

Many years after FDR, the nation is again in economic trouble and also facing an enormous infrastructure challenge. Leadership, momentum and funding to address these dual concerns would help put America back to work and speed the move to practices, strategies and technologies that are more environmentally friendly, a wonderful way to usher in the new year. President-elect Obama’s plan will allow us to both invest for our future and preserve our precious past.


– Column by Jim Williams. Williams is the acting administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration.



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