Insiders' Looks at the Green Gov Challenge, Plans for Urban Groves

In honor of Presidents' Day, it seems appropriate to discuss the fantastic efforts of the Obama Administration's Green Gov Challenge. At GreenBiz Group's State of Green Business Forum last week in Washington, DC, we heard from the head of the General Services Administration, Martha Johnson, one the key implementers of the initiative.

When I interviewed Johnson at Greenbuild, I was impressed with the integrated and nimble thinking that was being brought to bear on the question of how to make government facilities more sustainable. This week, GreenBiz Senior Writer Adam Aston provides highlights of Johnson's talk at the forum. Sounding much more like a private-sector CEO than a government bureaucrat, Johnson spoke about BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals) -- a term coined by Stanford business school professors -- such as the GSA being a zero-waste organization, and the power of BHAGs to inspire action and crack the foundation of old thinking. Johnson also emphasized the importance of reaching out to agency personnel as a prime source of ideas, as did Michelle Moore, the Obama Administration's environmental executive. Not surprisingly, both Johnson and Moore got an earful during the outreach process.

Moore's role is to spearhead implementation of the Green Gov Challenge executive order across the entire government. Given her role, it is no surprise that Moore, who spoke later in the day at the forum, echoed and emphasized many of the same themes as Johnson. As Moore noted, the vast bulk of the federal government, at least from a real estate perspective, is located outside of Washington, DC. Moore emphasized the importance of data driven decisions and the fact that analysis is not an end to itself, rather a precursor for implementation.

Although a string of executive orders dating back from Richard Nixon has supported improved energy efficiency in government operations, the diverse and far-flung nature of the government's real estate portfolio means that in spite of all the progress, a tremendous amount of work needs to be done -- and indeed there remains low-hanging fruit. One area of low-hanging fruit is the federal government's proliferation of data centers which, because of their energy intensity, are being singled out for special emphasis.

I called data centers "low-hanging fruit" because in the last three years the field of green data centers has improved almost with the speed of Moore's law. A case in point is the new FedEx data center in Colorado Springs, which will have a PUE (power usage effectiveness) of 1.28, which means that almost 80 percent of the power going into the facility is being used for computation and data purposes. By contrast, typical facilities built as recently as five years ago were seeing PUE's above 2, which means that only half of the power going into the data center was actually used for, well, data. The Uptime Institute generally categorizes a PUE of 1.6 as standard best practice, which means the FedEx achievement is quite significant. Now, what we need to make this metric even more relevant is somehow to understand how efficiently the data processing energy is being used, not merely that energy coming into a data facility is being used for data purposes.