More electric cars part of GSA's sustainability plans

Wednesday - 3/16/2011, 1:23pm EDT

By John Buckner
Federal News Radio

The General Services Administration says despite a tight budget, government must focus on sustainability in all aspects of the workplace.

"It is so much easier to get an organization excited about no waste when you are talking about sustainability than when you are talking about, 'we have just been squeezed,'" said GSA Administrator Martha Johnson at the 2011 Interagency Resources Management Conference (IRMCO) held Tuesday.

GSA's plans for sustainability include buying 100 electric cars for next year, although Johnson says the logistics of that is an ongoing process.

"It's a matter of scale right now. Trying to figure out how many cars we have, where they are, and what we need to do to make sure they are running," said Johnson.

Nick Nigro of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change also talked about the cost benefits of an electric fleet and some of the barriers to it during an IRMCO session on sustainability.

"When it comes to alternative vehicles, they almost all face three main barriers: cost, recharging or refueling infrastructure and, arguably most important, consumer acceptance," said Nigro.

Nigro said that the government is the largest consumer of energy in the nation and has more than 600,000 vehicles on the road, giving them the ability to change the market for consumers and producers.

"You [the government] can leverage that purchasing power and help those car makers move down that cost curve just in purchasing these vehicles alone. Just having them driving around town increases consumer acceptance because they will see them on the road," said Nigro. "In addition, it will encourage auto makers to develop their next generation."

Nigro used the Postal Service as an example of the benefits of an electric fleet.

He said the Postal Service has over 200,000 vehicles on the road driving more than one-billion miles in 2009. "What if we electrified all those miles?" said Nigro. "In one year, that would save $90 million in just fuel costs."

GSA already has implemented hybrid vehicles into its fleet under the Recovery Act.

"I do want to be very careful in saying that this is not just about efficiency. Sustainability is about effectiveness too," said Johnson. "So if we can also be looking at what we are doing and making real choices about the higher value work we need to do, then we are entering the other side of the sustainability opportunity."

John Buckner is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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