GSA spearheads effort to green the supply chain

Tuesday - 7/20/2010, 6:55am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

By the end of this month, the General Services Administration hopes to be headed down the path of using its buying power to help firms who supply goods and services to the government reduce their greenhouse gas emission footprint.

"I'm reminded that in the 1970s, when the Federal government determined that it would first only purchase automobiles with seatbelts, it really provided the impetus for all automobiles to have seatbelts," according toSteve Leeds, Senior Sustainability Officer and Senior Counselor to the Administrator at the GSA.

He says that's the basic premise behind recommendations sent to the White House Council on Environmental Quality in response to Executive Order 13514.

Under that order, which was issued last October, the GSA was designated the lead agency in an effort to work with federal vendors and contractors to help track, and in some cases, reduce gas emissions related to the products and services purchased by the government. GSA submitted its recommendations to the Council last month, and just recently, was given the go-ahead to begin developing its greenhouse gas program for federal suppliers.

"One of the primary ways the agencies of the federal government will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is by the suppliers to the federal government reducing their greenhouse gas emissions," he told reporters at a teleconference on the recommendations yesterday.

Leeds says that, just as in other programs where private sector participants are offered incentives to do something the government's way, so too will federal contractors be offered a "carrot on a stick" in the fight against greenhouse gases.

Over the next two years, GSA will be surveying its suppliers and their greenhouse gas emissions, and then where practical, begin to give a preference in contract awards to companies that conduct greenhouse gas inventories. We're starting with a phased approach and an incentive-based program, by asking the vendors to voluntarily measure and report the emissions developing from their operation at a corporate level, with an eye toward eventually measuring emissions at an individual product level.

Leeds says GSA was the lead organization in an interagency working group including the Pentagon, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy and Interior Departments, the Small Business Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in developing the recommendations under Section 13 of the executive order. Leeds believes that once they develop standards for measuring the greenhouse gas emissions for products that everyone can live with, it won't be long before everyone will make it part of doing business with the government.

One man who supports the GSA's initial recommendations is Alan Chvotkin, Executive Vice President and Counsel to the Professional Services Council, an Arlington, Va. -based industry group representing companies that do business with the Federal Government.

"We were very pleased to see the recommendations take a modified and 'go-slow' approach to regulation," he told Federal News Radio, "and that they focus primarily on incentives rather than on compliance."

Chvotkin notes that GSA reached out to the PSC late last year for feedback on the executive order. PSC responded with a letter detailing that feedback on December 22nd, 2009. Chvotkin is comfortable with the fact that GSA's recommendation calls for a phased-in incentive program while officials in the working group develop the standards for reporting greenhouse gas emissions for companies.

In the meantime, the GSA's Steve Leeds says part of that phased in process will include what amounts to a test drive for the first phase of the greenhouse gas reporting standards.

"We will start conducting workshops in just a couple of months, and one of our high-priority performance goals by the end of fiscal year 2011, will be to sign up with some of our coordinating partners in our Section 13 workgroup, sign up no less than 60 small businesses to begin disclosing their greenhouse gas emissions."

The goal, says Leeds, is to begin learning the capacity for private businesses to comply with the evolving standards for federal vendors when it comes to disclosing greenhouse gas emissions.

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