Can the GSA Really Achieve a 'Zero Environmental Footprint'?

Can the GSA Really Achieve a 'Zero Environmental Footprint'?

Executive Order (EO) 13514 continues to have enormous implications for the green building industry. As you'll recall, EO 13514 requires that federal agencies comply with a number of green building stipulations, including 95 percent of all applicable contracts meet sustainability requirements.  While the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) invested over $25 billion in green building projects, the executive order will have a more long-lasting impact on the industry.  

Why do I say this? General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Martha N. Johnson's recent statement regarding the GSA's zero environmental footprint goal suggest how far agencies may go to implement the executive order:

"Citing the president’s Executive Order 13514, Johnson highlighted the agency’s mission to assist other federal agencies to make greater strides in sustainability, excel at greening initiatives, and increase federal building performance. Johnson proposed that the federal government move to a zero environmental footprint, and she stressed that GSA is setting its sights on 'eliminating the impact of the federal government on our natural environment. ...'

Johnson outlined a number of areas in which GSA could take the lead toward greening the government. These include cultivating green-centered public/private partnerships, aiming for only green products on the federal supply schedules, and using the federal building portfolio as a green proving-ground for new sustainable building and design technologies. ..."

Johnson's statements are a signal of what is to come from GSA and other federal agencies. Under the executive order (pdf), the GSA has broad authority to make recommendations to "green" federal contracting:

"Within 180 days of the date of this order, the General Services Administration ... shall review and provide recommendations ... regarding the feasibility of working with the Federal vendor and contractor community to provide information that will assist Federal agencies in tracking and reducing scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions related to the supply of products and services to the Government." 

Additionally, under Section 13 of the order, the GSA has been asked to provide recommendations regarding "using Federal Government purchasing preferences or other incentives for products manufactured using processes that minimize greenhouse gas emissions. ..."

The GSA is preparing to overhaul the way the federal government purchases services and supplies. But what exactly is a zero environmental footprint? 

Chris Cheatham, J.D., LEED AP, is a construction attorney in the Washington, D.C., Metro Area. He writes the blog Green Building Law Update, where this post originally appeared.

Byron G. Rogers Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Denver, Colo., courtesy of the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress.