Earth Day is April 22, just around the corner, bringing with it a stark reminder of the importance of protecting our environment and natural resources.
The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970. Nearly four decades later, and despite the difficulties in our economy, protecting our environment is still center stage. In fact, protecting the environment holds one of the keys to the nation’s economic recovery.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has provided the General Services Administration $5.5 billion to invest in federal buildings, which will lead to jobs for construction workers, electricians, plumbers, and many other trades. Significantly, $4.5 billion will be used to convert federal buildings to high-performance green buildings.
As the federal government’s landlord, GSA has been following the principles of sustainable design for years. Applied to buildings, these principles focus on reducing energy and water consumption, providing safe and healthy workplaces, and preserving natural resources, among others. In the long run, these activities improve building performance and save taxpayers millions of dollars.
Last year, GSA completed a comprehensive evaluation of 12 sustainable design buildings, which compared the energy performance, operating cost, and water use of these buildings against the average performance of U.S. commercial buildings.
The results were impressive: Taken together, the GSA buildings produced 33 percent lower carbon emissions, used 26 percent less energy and used 3 percent less domestic water than the national average.
Of course, GSA does much more than build green. As one of the largest single purchaser of cars and trucks in the world, GSA will use $300 million provided in the Recovery Act for hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles.
GSA is also playing a pivotal role in helping other federal agencies strategically spend their Recovery Act funds. GSA offers its federal customers a variety of environmentally friendly products and services, including Energy Star-qualified and other energy efficient products, and safer paints and cleaning products. And since reuse is a key environmental goal, GSA manages the transfer or sale of surplus government property … as it has for 60 years.
Finally, let’s not forget the benefits of teleworking as a way of reducing greenhouse gases and traffic congestion. The Environmental Protection Agency predicts that if half of the eligible federal work force were to telework two days a week, the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions would be like taking 42,000 cars off the road. Currently, about 43 percent of GSA employees telework at least once a week.
GSA is tremendously proud of its contributions to the federal government green movement. But each of us can help in both big and small ways. For some tips on how you can go green, visit www.gsa.gov/gogreen.
Our planet depends on all of us.
Paul Prouty is acting administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration.