Federal agencies seek to model green behavior

LAS VEGAS -- Agencies can have a significant effect on the environment by making sustainable purchasing decisions and emulating energy efficient programs, several agency leaders said during a federal conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

"The federal government is one of the largest purchasers in the U.S.," said Frances Schultz, deputy director of the Environmental Protection Agency's communities and ecosystems division in the Southwest Region. "It's a tremendous market mover. It has tremendous capability for changing things larger than the footprint of our own facilities and our own jobs."

Schultz said that Nancy Sutley, director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, was examining an executive order governing environmental standards in federal buildings and vehicle fleets, and considering more ambitious goals for efficient use of energy and water, as well as more stringent reporting requirements. Schultz said it was possible that the Federal Executive Boards, the groups that coordinate agency action on some human capital issues and continuity of operations outside of Washington, D.C., would be asked to help educate offices and employees about the new environmental standards.

Even as those standards are under review, some agency offices on the West Coast are experimenting with green programs they hope will serve as models nationwide.

Greg Porter, a principal deputy regional commissioner in the General Services Administration's Public Buildings Service, said the agency is starting a pilot composting program in the cafeteria of one of its San Francisco office buildings, and will expand the initiative if it is successful. Schultz said her office was working on improving the efficiency of its own composting program, and had implemented printing and recycling regulations that reduced by 80 percent the amount of waste it sent to landfills.

Schultz also said that by changing the type of products used to clean her office building, the number of harmful chemicals in janitorial supplies has dropped by 90 percent, and the agency offers training for employees on using environmentally-friendly products and practices at home.

It isn't simply what products are used inside a building that affects the environment, according to Porter. He said that GSA had discovered some of its most energy-efficient facilities were buildings constructed in the early 20th century. The agency is retrofitting those buildings to make them even more environmentally-friendly.

Staying in the office can help, too. Travel is an easy target for agencies trying to reduce their carbon footprint, EPA's Schultz said. She said her office is trying to help employees become more comfortable using available videoconferencing facilities, and is looking to replace some quarterly summits that require travel with webcasts.

When agency employees must travel, they can make conscious decisions to patronize facilities that try to be as environmentally-friendly as possible, said Rebecca Smyth, a program analyst at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Our agency is trying to do all our conferences at green hotels," Smyth said. "It's a small thing, but if we create a market for it, it will get bigger."

The conference in Las Vegas was sponsored by the Los Angeles and San Francisco Federal Executive Boards.

The Los Angeles Federal Executive Board paid Rosenberg's travel expenses to the conference in Las Vegas, where she delivered a speech.

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