Executive Order Firmly Commits Federal Agencies to Sustainability

Executive Order Firmly Commits Federal Agencies to Sustainability

Federal agencies must set 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals within 90 days and devise a string of plans to soften their environmental impacts, President Barack Obama ordered this week.

The Executive Order 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.  

"As the largest consumer of energy in the U.S. economy, the Federal government can and should lead by example when it comes to creating innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, conserve water, reduce waste, and use environmentally-responsible products and technologies," President Obama said in a statement. "This Executive Order builds on the momentum of the Recovery Act to help create a clean energy economy and demonstrates the Federal government's commitment, over and above what is already being done, to reducing emissions and saving money."

Other environmental targets in the order include a 30 percent reduction in fleet gasoline use and 26 percent boost in water efficiency, both by 2020, and a 50 percent waste recycling and diversion rate by 2015. The 2030 net-zero-energy building requirement must also be implemented under the order.

In a move that echoes Walmart's Sustainability Index initiative, which will seek environmental impact data from the retailer's 100,000 suppliers, the Executive Order charges the General Services Administration with exploring the feasibility of tracking vendor greenhouse gas emissions.

Recommendations could include requiring vendors to register with a voluntary greenhouse gas emissions registry and disclose their efforts to reduce emissions. Preference or other incentives could be given for "products manufactured using processes that minimize greenhouse gas emissions."

Each agency must appoint a senior sustainability officer from among senior management to be accountable for complying with the order. The Chair of the Council on Environment will report agency goals and results directly to the President.

Photo CC-licensed by Flickr user dcJohn.