Agencies back environmentally friendly building principles

Federal agencies agreed on Tuesday to take the lead in developing and maintaining buildings that show high environmental performance and demonstrate principles of sustainability.

Nineteen agencies said they will commit to a memorandum of understanding developed by the White House's Office of the Federal Environmental Executive. The agreement establishes common goals for high performance buildings.

The goals are designed to reduce maintenance and utility costs, improve energy efficiency and water conservation, provide safe, healthy and productive environments and promote environmental stewardship.

In signing onto the high performance buildings agreement, the agencies will enter a nonbinding commitment to adopt the goals and to develop implementation plans from a menu of guiding principles. For new buildings, that includes measures related to integrated planning and design, and benchmarks for environmental performance in areas such as energy and water use.

For existing buildings, indoor air quality is a major consideration, and will be addressed through specifications for characteristics like ventilation and moisture control, as well selection of indoor materials like paints, carpets and furnishings that minimize indoor chemical emissions.

"Even if an agency's not making a new building, they can still latch onto this," said Edwin Piñero, the White House's federal environmental executive.

In remarks at a signing event Tuesday, Surgeon General Richard Carmona described health problems such as asthma, allergies and respiratory infections that are linked to poor indoor air quality and said the environmental initiative will help improve employees' health and job performance.

Agencies will be able to tailor their adoption of the buildings agreement by selecting which guiding principles to implement, and by creating their own implementation plans, Piñero said. The environmental advantages gained will show through governmentwide reporting in specific areas such as energy efficiency, he said. But he stressed that "no notable additional reporting" will be required of participating agencies.

The new agreement builds on executive orders addressing energy efficiency and "greening the government" that date back to the Clinton administration, according to Piñero. He said the next step will be to develop more detailed guidelines for agency managers on each of the building characteristics described, and he expects such guidance to be released in about six months.

This agreement comes on the heels of new endorsements for energy efficiency in federal buildings included in the 2005 energy bill.

The federal government owns or leases more than 500,000 buildings encompassing more than 3.3 billion square feet of floor space, according to the memorandum, with the Defense Department, the quasi-governmental postal service and the Veterans Administration managing the greatest square footage. Piñero said signatories to the agreement represent 85 to 90 percent of federal square footage.

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