Agencies look at carbon footprint for contracts

Friday - 1/21/2011, 2:15pm EST

Stephen Leeds, senior sustainability officer, GSA

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By Meg Beasley
Federal News Radio

The green government initiative seems to have a new mantra: If you can't measure it, you can't manage it. It is referring to greenhouse gas emissions, the focus of the green government initiative and possibly the new metric for many contracts.

At a joint industry and government forum, several agency leaders spoke about the challenges their organizations are facing in implementing Executive Order 13514, commonly referred to as the green government initiative.

Michelle Moore, the administration's Federal Environmental Executive, said that while agencies have distinct needs and obstacles when it comes to adopting sustainable practices, the order provides them with the opportunity to lead by example. She added that it is a chance to "make green sexy" as well as catalyze the private industry.

"When I came to government from the private sector I was surprised that there wasn't some magic button that you could press somewhere and get a report out of all the energy," said Moore. "There have been some incredible strides being made in that arena such as statutory regulations to do metering and re-commissioning of buildings every four years."

And it's that inability to measure how much energy agencies use the Executive Order is trying to address. The Executive Order also mandated agencies track their greenhouse gas emissions through inventories. Agencies must examine the amount of energy used and pollution emitted by different parts of their organizations and submit those reports to the Council for Environmental Quality. The first report is due Jan. 31.

The panelists at Thursday's forum, organized by the Association for Federal Resources Management and the Alliance to Save Energy and hosted by George Washington University, agreed that the government needs to be more intentional about its decisions and executions around energy in order to lead the market in the right direction. In keeping with the theme of green government, the event featured sustainably grown local foods for lunch.

Stephen Leeds, senior sustainability officer at GSA said that without measurements or energy usage and emissions, agencies and companies have no way to know where or by what amount to reduce consumption.

Leeds said that many larger companies already are constructing the inventories, but GSA wants to give smaller businesses guidance on how to best meet the requirements. In October GSA launched a pilot program called the Federal Acquisition Service Greening Supply Chain to help smaller companies understand how to complete the inventories and how their companies will benefit from entering the sustainable marketplace. In the first few months 63 companies have already taken advantage of the three-year initiative and Leeds expects many more to join.

Other agencies have different approaches to reducing emissions. John Conger, assistant deputy under secretary for Installations and Environment at DoD, said his agency will focus on greenhouse gases indirectly.

"In order to reduce our greenhouse gas footprint, we're focusing on energy, not carbon atoms," Conger said. "If I focus on carbon atoms I'm not going to get there. If I focus on energy reductions I will. The thematic within the Department of Defense is energy, energy, energy."

Conger said DoD represents more than half of the government's energy use. He hopes to reduce the intensity of that use annually by 3 percent through 2015 and use 25 percent renewable energy by 2025. Conger said reducing demand while increasing supply on individual installations will not only comply with the Executive Order, it will improve energy security and save money.

Conger said that because of the agency's size and range, DoD has the potential to be a "green proving ground," testing solutions in a variety of situations across the country. The program pairs small businesses with installations, finds them a building to test the technology in order to get it validated.

"It's going to help us bridge the gap between the stuff that is low technical risk but not commercialized," Conger said. "It's going to help somebody get a track record on one of our installations, I get a residual capability because I get to be energy efficient, and then maybe it will get commercialized and I'll get to buy it for my installations at a low cost."

As the nation's single largest energy consumer, and pollution emitter, the government has the ability to change market and environmental trends. Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, said that the government represents 1.7 percent of the country's energy use, more than the entire energy expenditure of Portugal, Ireland, New Zealand and Nigeria.