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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Mar/Apr 2003 : Special Section

Special Section

Smarter Solutions

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) aims for a better environment by buying green, building green, saving green, driving green and managing green.

GSA’s commitment to the environment begins with its mission statement; that commitment is further stressed in all six of its goals, but particularly in the last one:

* Provide best value for customer agencies and taxpayers.
* Achieve responsible asset management.
* Operate efficiently and effectively.
* Ensure financial accountability.
* Maintain a world class workforce and a world class workplace.
* Carry out social, environmental and other responsibilities as a federal agency.

Buying Green
All federal agencies are mandated by legislation and executive order to purchase and use products that are better for the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified a list of items—Comprehensive Procurement Guideline (CPG)—that should be purchased with specific levels of recovered materials. EPA’s CPG requirements include paper and paper products; non-paper office products; construction products, landscaping products, park and recreation products, etc.

GSA has taken the requirements a step further and implemented its own internal Green Affirmative Procurement Program (APP), which directs purchases not only to the CPG items, but also requires GSA employees to consider EPA’s environmentally preferable products and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s bio-based products. Every time GSA buys products or services for the government’s use, it must consider the environment as well as the cost. The only reason not to purchase the designated products is if the price is unreasonable, if it does not meet performance standards or if it cannot be obtained in a reasonable timeframe.

With all of GSA’s procurement staff and credit card holders trained in buying green, GSA is making a difference. It offers a variety of environmental products and services to all its federal customers to help them comply with federal environmental laws and regulations. GSA Advantage!—an on-line purchasing system—makes it easy to identify environmental products and services as they are highlighted with federally recognized environmental symbols.

GSA also promotes the purchase of green products in its newsletters, at Customer Service Seminars, and an entire track is dedicated to environmental issues at the annual GSA Products and Services EXPO (scheduled for May 6 to 10, 2003 in San Antonio, TX). This annual EXPO usually draws more than 5,000 federal employees. In 2003, seven workshops are devoted to agencies’ responsibilities to buy green.

The National Furniture Center’s (NFC) prestigious Evergreen Award program recognizes its schedule contract suppliers’ corporate-wide efforts in developing and implementing recycling, affirmative procurement and waste reduction initiatives that can set an example for other NFC business partners to follow. The NFC presents two Evergreen Awards annually. Recipients of the coveted award include both small and large businesses.

When the NFC’s assistance was requested from the United Soybean Board and its business partners in introducing and promoting carpet with bio-based (soy oil) content backings into the federal supply system, the NFC saw it as a way to help federal agency customers comply with Executive Order 13101 and, most currently, the new Farm Bill signed into law by President Bush in May 2002. In addition, the NFC saw it as an opportunity also to help decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil, help U.S. farmers and promote incorporation of a renewable resource into manufacturing processes.

Through the NFC’s efforts, a special item number category in the flooring schedule addresses not only recycled content, but also bio-based content products. Additionally, the Furniture and Furnishings section of the 2003/2004 GSA Environmental Products and Services Guide will alert customers to anticipated bio-based products to be added to contract. The NFC participated in a stakeholders forum in October 2002 on “Growing the Federal Use of Bio-based Products.”

Building Green

GSA’s Public Buildings Service (PBS) is a leader in building green not only because of its place in the U.S. real estate market—owning, leasing and managing over 334 million square feet—but because of its level of commitment to incorporating principles of sustainable design and energy efficiency into all of its building projects. The result is an optimal balance of cost, environmental, societal and human benefits that provide a superior workplace for the federal worker and superior value for the American taxpayer. It is GSA’s intent that sustainable design will be integrated as seamlessly as possible into the existing design and construction process including new construction, repairs and alterations, and lease construction.

Not only is a building’s overall design expected to be green, but also recycled content, sustainably harvested, rapidly renewable and bio-based materials must become a part of GSA’s standard selection considerations. EPA’s CPG have led GSA on this path, directing agencies to purchase certain recycled content products. The availability and selection of such products continues to grow to keep the industry viable.

GSA is incorporating sustainable design principles throughout its building processes and has revised standard guidance to reflect its environmental commitment. Its standard Solicitation for Offers (SFO) for leased space has been updated to include sustainable design provisions. New clauses were added addressing construction waste management, reuse of building materials, recycled content products and sustainable wood products. Others have been modified to include environmentally preferable products or at least allow for the possibility of their use.

Buildings must be durable, secure, cost-effective and productive, while at the same time have aesthetic qualities and be sustainable. GSA’s message to architects is that a building must also be efficient to operate, provide a healthy environment for its occupants, and be an integral part of the community in which it’s located. GSA utilizes the LEED™ Green Building Rating System as a goal in design criteria to help apply principles of sustainable design and development to facilities projects. Beginning in Fiscal Year 2003, all new GSA building projects must be certified through the LEED Green Building Rating System, and a Silver LEED rating is encouraged.

In preparation for this commitment, some regional offices have already begun the challenge of meeting LEED requirements. Currently, 20 GSA projects are registered with the U.S. Green Building Council working toward LEED ratings. Three projects have achieved LEED Certification—a Social Security Administration building renovation in Woodlawn, MD; the new Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Youngstown, OH; and a Child Care Center in Woodlawn, MD.

A facility says a lot about a business, and GSA’s new approach to the workplace facilitates high-performance environments that address productivity and reorganization issues, as well as environmental concerns. Workplace 20·20 is PBS’ innovative approach for designing and implementing superior workplaces for the federal worker that begins with a customer’s business and culture. Through this teaming effort, a workplace can become the tool to empower people to be happier, healthier and more productive, resulting in added value to real estate decisions and the American taxpayer.

Driving Green

When it comes to “driving” green, GSA recognizes that an important element to any plan for reducing the impact of gasoline-powered vehicles on the environment is not driving. Thus, it had to find a way to improve air quality, reduce traffic congestion and conserve energy. The three main components of “driving green” are the transit subsidy program, teleworking and providing alternative fuel vehicles to its customers.

In October 2000, a number of federal agencies began taking part in a Pilot Transit Subsidy Program in the Washington, DC area, which provided employees up to $65 for using mass transportation. In order to make a real difference in keeping cars off the roads, GSA chose to offer the transit subsidy program to their employees nationwide. Beginning in 2002, eligible employees can receive up to $100 a month to leave their cars at home. Even though in many locations the cost of mass transportation exceeds the maximum allowable benefit, it still remains an incentive for them to leave the driving to someone else.

GSA has a very productive telework program for those employees who can work outside the traditional office. The Office of Personnel Management and GSA serve as lead agencies for the federal teleworking initiative.

America is faced with many new challenges, with air quality and energy security being two major national issues. Our nation’s health and security are currently at risk due to our dependence on petroleum as the primary energy source for vehicles. Vehicles account for 75 percent of all pollution in urban areas and consume over 50 percent of all oil used in the U.S. The GSA Office of Vehicle Acquisition and Leasing Services has purchased over 34,000 alternative fuel vehicles for its federal customers, more than any other fleet in the U.S. Its Alternative Fuel Vehicle program is named DAVE to send the message: Drive Alternative Fuel Vehicles Easily.

Saving Green

The GSA is focused on not only saving energy resources, but also saving actual dollars. It has an Energy Center of Expertise that reduces federal utility costs by promoting optimal energy use. Every employee can make a difference. For example, turning off all the lights and electrical equipment in a work station every day saves taxpayers $120 a year per station.

GSA resources are offered to all federal agencies and non-profit organizations. It brings value to organizations by offering strategic energy management programs that result in increased net operating income and enhanced asset value of real properties.

GSA’s customers look to it to procure utilities that are both cost-effective and environmentally responsible. It also partners with investor-owned utility companies, national associations and non-profit environmental organizations to disseminate information on energy-related issues. To facilitate its mission, GSA has created a worldwide Web site that provides: area wide contracts for the procurement of utilities and for the acquisition of value-added services such as utility financing of energy conservation projects aggregate purchasing of natural gas and electricity in deregulated markets; and advocacy in the public policy arena to include renewable power sources as part of its energy portfolio.

Managing Green

GSA is involved in programs for recycling, waste prevention, pollution prevention and environmental management.

For example, recycling programs are now running effectively in more than 1,100 government-owned and -leased buildings serving over 650,000 clients. GSA also helps federal agencies set-up recycling programs in buildings they operate, addressing not only the traditional office waste stream, but may also include other related programs that direct employees on the proper disposal of newspaper, glass, beverage containers, phone books, carpet squares and even grass clippings.

The recycling program benefits both the public and the environment. In 2002, GSA’s federal recycling programs raised $440,144 in recovered materials sold to recycling and reprocessing firms in the private sector. These funds were returned to all agencies participating in GSA’s Federal Recycling Program. Another $3.8 million was saved in transportation and landfills costs. That represents 40,250 tons or 80,500,000 pounds of office material. (Yes, that’s 80 million, 500 thousand pounds!) In addition to the most commonly recycled items, hazardous waste may include items such as household cleaners, pesticides, paints, solvents, fluorescent light bulbs and their PCB ballasts, and copier toners.

Waste from the construction of new buildings and the renovation of existing space generates an estimated 24 percent of construction waste in landfills. GSA encourages the reuse and recycling of materials, including woody debris from site clearance, concrete, various metals, gypsum wallboard, ceiling tile, packaging, paper, glass, plastic, doors, ductwork, carpet and other miscellaneous waste. Finding outlets for the recycling of construction waste can sometimes be difficult. GSA partnered with the National Institute of Standards Technology to create a database of construction waste recyclers throughout the country. Managers simply click on the appropriate state to see the list of recyclers. (See Managing Waste for more information on GSA’s construction waste management program.)

Environmental Management System (EMS)

As a federal agency, GSA is charged with being a responsible steward toward the American public while upholding a multitude of environmental and safety laws and regulations. One of GSA’s strategic goals specifically states that the agency will “carry out social, environmental and other responsibilities as a federal agency.” GSA’s EMS provides information so that its client agencies, contractors and the public can more easily understand how the requirements of GSA environmental policies, initiatives, federal state/local statutes and regulations impact them.

The Public Buildings Service of GSA is implementing a nationwide EMS that requires GSA to look at how all of its activities impact the environment, how GSA manages these activities, and how it can continuously improve its environmental management. In the development of the GSA’s EMS, a number of environmental tools, programs and initiatives have been created or are presently being created that include a two-page technical guide that explains the responsibilities of GSA associates, the laws/regulations that GSA is required to follow, resources to find out more about these issues, and actions/processes that GSA should take to assess and manage these environmental and safety issues. In addition, an Environmental Hotline answers questions relating to environmental regulations and policies that affect GSA’s business. An environmental audit program of GSA properties was established, with over $10 million being invested in these audits during fiscal years 2002 and 2003.


Sandy Jones is a GSA environmental coordinator based in Atlanta, GA. She can be reached via e-mail: sandy.jones@gsa.gov. GSA’s Don Horn also contributed to this article.

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