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Going Green Requires National Commitment

by David L. Bibb
The GSA has helped federal agencies purchase 131,112 Alternative Fuel Vehicles as part of its effort to green the federal fleet.

No single individual, organization or government entity can clear the path to a pristine environment or American energy independence. But the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is taking advantage of its unique position as the federal government’s purchasing arm to clear some of the obstacles.

Let’s look at an average day through the eyes of a fictitious government employee we’ll call Bob. Bob’s first job each morning is to drop his kids off at a GSA-managed daycare center. GSA runs about 110 centers, nearly all accredited by the toughest daycare rating organization, and most equipped with environmentally friendly features. “Tundra Tykes” in Alaska, for instance, has motion sensor faucets, cabinetry made from recycled materials and a playground built from recycled plastics and recycled wood fibers.

Bob may head into the office, or he may telework. GSA is among the leading advocates for telework in the federal workforce. Telework saves gas, reduces harmful emissions, increases productivity and gets us better prepared for times of emergency. GSA’s goal was to get 20 percent of our 12,000 employees teleworking one day a week or more by the end of 2008. We hit the mark in May.

Should Bob go to the office instead, he may work in a green building like the new FEMA headquarters in Winchester, Va., which has a specially designed roof that bolsters insulation and improves utility costs, a smart under-floor air distribution system and an environmentally sensitive bio-swale to collect rainwater. None of this would surprise Bob, since GSA has been a leader in sustainable design for years.

If Bob is someone who does a lot of work in the field, he may be assigned a car. And that government vehicle may one of 131,112 Alternative Fuel Vehicles that GSA has helped purchase for other federal agencies as part of our effort to green the federal fleet.

Back at the office, Bob and his co-workers likely benefit from smart control lighting systems that use harvesting techniques to capture natural daylight. In 2007, GSA purchased more than 127 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy for other agencies.

I could go on, but the work day is over and Bob has to pick up his kids at the daycare center. By the way, the curriculum in our centers includes lessons that help youngsters begin to think about making responsible environmental choices.

None of what I’ve mentioned guarantees a future of blue skies, clean air or pollution-free lakes and streams. We have always known our nation was blessed with numerous resources. Now we know those resources are not unlimited.

As Acting Administrator and Chief Environmental Official, I’m delighted that GSA offers some 10,000 green goods and services, and that we’ve made eco-friendly procurement easier and easier for federal agencies. Therein lies a tremendous opportunity for private vendors who offer eco-friendly products and services. Those not moving in this direction should note that we will be phasing out non-compliant products and services over the next couple of years.

How do we become better stewards of the resources that remain? GSA believes the time for debate is over. Walt Disney was right when he said, “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

David L. Bibb is Acting Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration.

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This story was published on June 13, 2008.