Mixed progress on varied goals in agency sustainability score cards

Monday - 10/31/2011, 12:33pm EDT

Nancy Sutley, chair, White House Council on Environmental Quality

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

Two dozen federal agencies and departments have released score cards tracking sustainability goals, showing mixed progress in a number of areas.

The release of the plans, which detail agency milestones and new sustainability strategies, was announced at the 2011 Green Gov Symposium in Washington, D.C.

Nancy Sutley, who chairs the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which co-sponsored the event, joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris live from the symposium to discuss what's new in this year's findings.

Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

"We see in those plans a great effort by agencies to look at every part of their operations to see where they can save energy, save money and save the planet at the same time," Sutley said.

For example, she cited greater use of telework at the Air Force and Marine Corps recruiters criss-crossing the country in ethanol-powered vehicles.

The Environmental Protection Agency has instituted rain-saving mechanisms at some of its buildings as part of an effort to green its facilities and, essentially, to "practice what they preach," Sutley said.

The results

The score cards grade progress at 24 departments and agencies using a color-coded system. Green indicates full completion, yellow marks some progress and red denotes little or no progress on specific sustainability goals.

For example, in order to receive a "green" rating for the goal of using renewable energy sources, an agency had to use at least 5 percent electricity from renewable sources with at least 2.5 percent of electricity use coming from new sources.

The Treasury Department, GSA and the Environmental Protection Agency were the only three agencies or departments to earn all green marks on their respective score cards.

However, not all the goals are created equal. Nearly all agencies have made progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions — no agency earned less than a "yellow."

The requirement for sustainable buildings, on the other hand, appears to be the trickiest, tripping up 13 agencies, who all earned red marks.

The Transportation Department had the most uncompleted goals of those surveyed. It earned red marks in renewable energy use, reducing potable water intensity, reducing petroleum use in agency vehicles and sustainable green buildings.

Click here to view the full results.

Measure and manage

Agencies submitted their sustainability plans to the CEQ, which worked with the Office of Management and Budget to create the score cards, marking agency progress. This is the first time the progress reports have been made available to the public.

"We thought it was very important to make sure that we're measuring and helping the agencies to manage," she said. She cited the old administrative proverb: "You can't manage what you don't measure."

The scorecards "are not just to say, you know, 'you're doing a great job,' or you're not," she added. It's really a way to benchmark and to say where things are working, where things can be improved."

The impetus for the progress reports can be traced to President Obama's 2009 executive order mandating agencies to submit annual sustainability plans. The order listed specific targets, such as reducing vehicle fleet petroleum use by 30 percent by 2020, recycling half of all waste by 2015 and having 95 percent of applicable contracts meet sustainability requirements.

Aligning with agency missions

But with agencies squeezed all around for cost-savings, how can they sustain interest in sustainability measures when they may look like just another penny-pinching effort?

Sutley said many of the green efforts already align with agency missions.

Also, many of the steps agency have taken would improve the federal workplace, which has its own advantages, she added.

"If we can do things that make sense economically but also create a better workspace for federal employees, that's actually a win-win all around," Sutley said.

Check out more interviews and coverage from the 2011 Green Gov Symposium.