What Obama's New Order Means for Green Buildings, Green IT

What Obama's New Order Means for Green Buildings, Green IT

As we reported earlier this week, President Obama's Executive Order 13514 lays out significant green goals for the entire U.S. goverment. In the next 90 days, all federal agencies must set emissions reductions goals for 2020 -- although no specific reduction is laid out in the order, by January 5 we'll see if agencies are aiming at 5 percent or 50 percent.

From our coverage of the news:

The Executive Order (PDF) is intended to jumpstart a transition to a clean energy economy as climate change legislation moves through Congress, saving taxpayers a substantial amount of money in the process. The impact of the order promises to be huge, considering the Federal government's sheer size: It occupies nearly 500,000 buildings and operates more than 600,000 vehicles.

Another key component of the Executive Order -- a green procurement policy to cover 95 percent of new contracts and acquisitions -- will also carry a lot of weight due to the government's mammoth buying power, which exceeds more than a half trillion dollars spent on goods and services annually.

Digging into some of the more specific items in the order, there are two topics that are likely of especial importance to our readers: Details on green IT practices, and more details on greening those 500,000 buildings the government occupies.

Back in January 2007, the Bush administration signed a rule requiring all government agencies announced that 95 percent of all new electronics purchases should be EPEAT certified, and by April 2009, 13 of 22 total agencies had already achieved that goal. The new executive order continues this requirement, saying that 95 percent of "new contract actions" should be Energy Star or FEMP certified for energy efficiency, "water-efficient, biobased, ... EPEAT certified, non- ozone depleting, contain recycled content, or are non-toxic or less-toxic alternatives." That doesn't include weapons systems, by the way.

But Obama's order lays out a handful of additional requirements designed to save costs and cut waste in the government. From Section 2 (i) of the order:

(i) ensuring procurement preference for EPEAT- registered electronic products;
(ii) establishing and implementing policies to enable power management, duplex printing, and other energy-efficient or environmentally preferable features on all eligible agency electronic products;
(iii) employing environmentally sound practices with respect to the agency's disposition of all agency excess or surplus electronic products;
(iv) ensuring the procurement of Energy Star and FEMP designated electronic equipment;
(v) implementing best management practices for energy-efficient management of servers and Federal data centers.

In addition to that laundry list of the low-hanging fruit for green IT, Section 2 b. of the executive order also encourages agency staff to look to alternatives to traditional commuting and business travel; while far from explicit, the section does seem to support the idea of more telework and virtual meetings through telepresence technologies.

Obama's executive order lays out similar guidelines for the government's buildings, starting with the ambitious goal that, "beginning in 2020 and thereafter ... all new Federal buildings that enter the planning process are designed to achieve zero net-energy by 2030." Section 2 (g) of the order also includes the following details:

(iv) pursuing cost-effective, innovative strategies, such as highly reflective and vegetated roofs, to minimize consumption of energy, water, and materials;

(v) managing existing building systems to reduce the consumption of energy, water, and materials, and identifying alternatives to renovation that reduce existing assets' deferred maintenance costs;

(vi) when adding assets to the agency's real property inventory, identifying opportunities to consolidate and dispose of existing assets, optimize the performance of the agency's real- property portfolio, and reduce associated environmental impacts; and

(vii) ensuring that rehabilitation of federally owned historic buildings utilizes best practices and technologies in retrofitting to promote long- term viability of the buildings.

Together, these two elements of what is a wide-ranging and ambitious (but much-needed) commitment will in short order lead to a significant boom in innovation and market share for green technologies. And the downstream effects will be just as significant; by bringing sustainability thinking to 1.8 million government workers' daily lives, Obama's executive order will hopefully spread the green message far beyond Washington D.C. and into the heart of Americans' daily lives.