How GSA Supports Administration Sustainability Priorities
Sustainable federal services, catalyzing clean energy innovations and environmental justice
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GSA is leading by example on the president’s call to action and helping to facilitate an all-of-government approach to address climate change in federal government operations. Through Executive Order 14057, Catalyzing Clean Energy Industries and Jobs Through Federal Sustainability, the Biden-Harris administration has set ambitious targets for decarbonizing the federal portfolio and prioritizing environmental justice. As the agency responsible for a real estate portfolio of more than 370 million rentable square feet, acquiring the federal, non-tactical vehicle fleet of more than 450,000 agency assets (excluding United States Postal Service delivery vehicles), providing vehicle leasing services for over 226,000 of the vehicles GSA acquires, overseeing approximately $75 billion in annual contracts; and a primary agency in governmentwide electricity procurement, GSA is uniquely positioned to be a part of the solution. GSA is finding new ways to leverage the power of procurement and to maximize the federal real estate footprint to catalyze American innovation and improve the lives of all Americans.
Select any item in the following list, or any number in the map above, to learn more about our sustainability priorities.
The Biden-Harris administration has set the ambitious goal of sourcing 100% carbon pollution-free electricity (CFE)1 on a net annual basis by 2030, including 50% 24/7 carbon pollution-free electricity2. As a primary agency that procures electricity for the federal government, GSA is working with partner agencies to identify energy procurement options and develop strategies for reaching 100% CFE. These actions will promote local, clean energy sources and help catalyze utility scale energy storage, that can help overcome peak energy demands and create a more resilient grid.
In addition to carbon pollution-free electricity use, GSA is pursuing building electrification strategies in conjunction with deep-energy retrofits, whole-building commissioning, energy and water conservation measures, and space reduction and consolidation. Examples of all-electric buildings in the GSA portfolio that will help achieve a net-zero emissions federal building portfolio by 2045, including a 50% emissions reduction by 2032, include the Metcalfe Federal Building in Chicago and the new U.S. Courthouse in Greenville, South Carolina, which was completed in July 2021. The new U.S. Courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa, is being constructed as an all-electric building, with occupancy scheduled for early 2023. GSA’s current new construction and major renovation projects are actively analyzing opportunities for fossil fuel-free operation.
- Carbon pollution-free electricity means electrical energy produced from resources that generate no carbon emissions, including marine energy, solar, wind, hydrokinetic (including tidal, wave, current, and thermal), geothermal, hydroelectric, nuclear, renewably sourced hydrogen, and electrical energy generation from fossil resources to the extent there is active capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions that meets EPA requirements
- 24/7 carbon pollution-free electricity means carbon pollution-free electricity procured to match actual electricity consumption on an hourly basis and produced within the same regional grid where the energy is consumed
GSA is maximizing opportunities for carbon pollution-free electricity with on-site clean energy generation. Installing, operating, and maintaining on-site energy generation helps to reduce building utility costs and offers opportunities for buildings to be more energy resilient. From an 8+ MW solar energy system at the Denver Federal Center, to the completely integrated system at the Columbus, New Mexico, land port of entry that meets approximately 35% of that building’s total energy needs, GSA looks to use its portfolio effectively for on-site generation. GSA conducts site evaluations and feasibility studies to identify the most productive and cost-effective on-site energy generation source for the specific climate and site needs. When constructing new buildings and modernizing existing ones, GSA requires buildings to be energy net-zero ready upon completion, and where technically feasible and cost effective, GSA is incorporating on-site energy generation into the projects.
On-site energy storage is an important part of maximizing GSA clean energy procurement investments. Energy storage refers to resources that can be charged and then strategically discharged to release electricity when needed. When coupled with our clean energy procurement goals, energy storage can provide benefits to the federal portfolio and the grid as a whole. For example, having ready-to-use, clean energy onsite increases grid reliability and reduces the impact of the building’s peak energy demand.
GSA’s John J. Moakley U.S. Courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts, uses an innovative ice-based thermal storage system that cools the building entirely using stored ice on some summer days. The sub-basement contains thermal “batteries” that can be frozen when the grid has more capacity, then melted to provide daytime cooling as is needed. A lithium battery system has been operating for several years at the Edward J. Schwartz U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building in San Diego, California. It is capable of several on-grid applications, such as tariff optimization, peak load shaving, energy shifting, and automated demand response. Lithium battery systems were also part of a solar procurement pilot project in the GSA Pacific Rim Region.
Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings (GEBs)3 present the opportunity to connect buildings dynamically to the power grid to coordinate energy loads to save costs, manage energy demands, and optimize energy use. GEBs build on the strategies and technologies of energy efficiency, renewables, energy storage, and load flexibility. GEBs are smart buildings that create communication and transmission to and from the electrical grid responding to demand flexibility. GEBs are able to adjust to the needs of the building occupants and the local utilities. In May 2021, GSA, with support from the Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory, published a blueprint [PDF] for integrating grid-interactive technologies into current and upcoming energy savings performance contracts.
GSA is in the process of identifying its facilities with the highest potential for cost-effective GEB projects to gain the many benefits offered by GEB. A GEB microgrid project at the Oklahoma City Federal Building incorporates seven GEB-ready strategies, including lighting and efficiency upgrades to reduce demand, a new solar electricity generation system, battery storage, and advanced controls. This GEB solution is expected to save GSA over $400,000 a year.
Smart building technologies are central to delivering our net-zero facilities of the future, supporting strategies such as GEB, monitoring and control systems, smart sensors, advanced metering, fault detection and diagnostics, and automated system optimization.
GSA is working to validate, identify and deploy innovative clean energy solutions through our Green Proving Ground program, including state-of-the-art GEB control solutions. GSA and DOE recently issued a request for information for the next-generation of emerging technologies that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from commercial buildings. To date, 23 GPG-vetted technologies have been broadly deployed in over 500 GSA facilities with annual cost savings of $16M and annual carbon reduction of 58K tons.
- A GEB [PDF] is “an energy efficient building with smart technologies characterized by the active use of distributed energy resources (DERs) to optimize energy use for grid services, occupant needs and preferences, and cost reductions in a continuous and integrated way.”
Ground source heat pumps are a high-performance building technology that use Earth’s thermal energy to help heat or cool buildings with far fewer carbon emissions than a conventional system. A ground source heat pump uses deep temperate earth as a heat source in winter and a heat sink in summer. Ground source heat pump technology can yield substantial reductions in life cycle costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
The GSA Land Port of Entry in Warroad, Minnesota, greatly reduced energy usage in a cold northern climate with a ground source heat pump system, and the Federal Center South in Seattle, Washington, incorporated a ground source heat pump system within the building’s structural piles instead of drilling separate wells. To enhance both occupant comfort and building efficiency, the IRS Building in New Carrollton, Maryland [PDF], has a geothermal heat-rejection loop and exhaust-heat recovery system that serve as essential components of the building’s new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system for achieving aggressive energy reduction targets. GSA has approximately 12 operating ground source heat pump installations.
Establishing workplace charging for employees encourages the use of personal electric vehicles (EV) for commuting and reduces GSA greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. Where employee parking facilities are available, federal employees are able to charge their personal electric vehicles at their workplace’s existing EV charging stations for a fee. Providing electric vehicle charging stations at workplaces also allows employees to diversify their commuting options.
The Biden-Harris administration is working to transition the entire federal fleet to zero-emission vehicles, with targets of 100% zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) acquisitions by 2035 and 100% zero-emission light-duty vehicle acquisitions by the end of fiscal year 2027. GSA Fleet serves as the mandatory source for non-tactical vehicles purchased in the United States and the preferred source for leasing motor vehicle solutions in the federal government. GSA prioritizes offering the latest commercially available zero-emission and clean technology vehicles to its agency customers, mirroring availability in the commercial market. GSA guides agencies to develop and annually update a zero-emission fleet strategy including optimizing fleet size and composition; deploying zero-emission vehicle refueling infrastructure; and maximizing acquisition and deployment of zero-emission light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles.
Advances in batteries and charging technology come with the opportunity to rethink energy storage in ZEVs and provide stability to both the grid and buildings, especially when combined with distributed generation and demand response. The GSA Green Proving Ground program is exploring smart charging technologies to find ways to optimize the timing of charging vehicles during low electricity consumption hours, reducing peak usage and energy costs. As the government leads by example, transitioning the federal fleet to zero-emission vehicles will spur the private sector to purchase electric vehicles.
GSA is working to enhance the workplace and empower a more distributed workforce to create a productive and sustainable work environment. The future of work will use optimized technology and building management strategies to improve the real estate and other work support services that GSA provides while increasing productivity. This will allow federal employees to accomplish their mission with a reduced physical footprint and less individual commuting. Our Center for Workplace Strategy is leading the way on this effort.
Climate adaptation refers to actions taken at the individual, local, regional, and national levels to reduce risks from today’s changed climate conditions, and prepare for impacts from additional changes projected for the future. To reduce these climate risks, GSA has reviewed 100 capital investment projects to assess climate change impacts during an asset’s service life and integrated climate risk management requirements into a $50 billion governmentwide telecommunications contract. Building on this work, GSA released its Climate Change Risk Management Plan [PDF], describing steps the agency will take to make its mission, operations, and assets climate-ready. The plan outlines actions that will help GSA adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as sea-level rise and increasing extreme weather events, and minimize the risks of a changing climate, like increasing costs due to damaged buildings and disrupted supply chains. Some strategies and actions GSA will take include partnering with customers on climate-ready facilities, products, and services to help them achieve their missions in a changing climate, compiling building elevation data across the GSA portfolio to assess flooding risks, assessing our climate-related financial risk, and building climate literacy in key offices and programs.
Where a federal facility is located plays an important role in determining whether the long-term impacts on the community will be sustainable and equitable. GSA is working to promote sustainable and equitable locations for federal facilities to strengthen the vitality and livability of the communities in which they are located.
Strategically locating federal workplaces can promote efficient use of local infrastructure, expand public transportation use and access, and align federal real estate investment with local or regional planning, sustainability, and equitable economic development goals. For example, are diverse groups of employees and visitors able to get there easily? Can they take multiple modes of transportation or will they need a car? Can they reach local amenities during the business day without driving? Does the location and design align with local development goals, community needs, and regional infrastructure investments? These are just some of the factors that GSA may consider to minimize negative impacts wherever possible and leverage federal locations into community benefits and long-term sustainability.
GSA continues to lead federal implementation of sustainable procurement using innovative models. GSA is leveraging its scale and procurement power to advance the federal government toward its goal of net-zero emissions from federal procurement, including a Buy Clean policy to promote use of construction materials with lower embodied emissions. GSA collaborates with industry and partner agencies to offer purchasing solutions that meet or exceed sustainable procurement requirements in a wide range of product and service categories, from vehicles, to facilities, to IT, and beyond. These industry leading solutions support an all-of-government approach toward reducing emissions, promoting environmental stewardship, supporting resilient supply chains, driving innovation, and incentivizing markets for sustainable products and services by prioritizing products that can be reused, refurbished, or recycled.
For example, GSA required vendors on the Alliant 2 governmentwide IT solutions contract to submit sustainable practices and impact disclosures outlining how they measured and reduced greenhouse gas emissions associated with the services provided. Alliant 2 sustainability requirements included progressive milestones as the period of performance progressed. This approach demonstrated the effectiveness of working directly with contractors awarded large governmentwide acquisition contract vehicles to reduce emissions. GSA continues to encourage its contractors to take steps to reduce GHG emissions in order to stay competitive in the federal marketplace.
GSA continues to be at the forefront of sustainable procurement by using innovative acquisition techniques and offering a variety of resources and solutions available to help Federal agencies meet sustainability and climate adaptation goals.
GSA is working to reduce the embodied carbon in its building design and construction projects. Embodied carbon refers to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with a product’s mining, manufacturing, transportation and construction. Unlike operational carbon emissions — which can be reduced over time by improving a building’s energy efficiency — embodied carbon emissions are locked in place as soon as a building is built. The entire life cycle of a building must be assessed to completely understand the immediate and total impact of embodied carbon. Understanding embodied carbon can help encourage the reuse of both existing materials and of existing buildings.
GSA has been collaborating with industry, practitioners and federal experts, through roundtable discussions and task groups, to explore high impact strategies to reduce embodied carbon. The GSA Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service (PBS-P100) [PDF - 10 MB] requires project teams to evaluate ways to decarbonize their projects. With direct input from industry and manufacturers, GSA recently launched new standards for low-embodied concrete and environmentally-preferable asphalt. The material-specific standards complement an active whole-building embodied carbon reduction measure that applies to new construction and major modernization projects. GSA projects have started to gather feasibility and baseline data on both the material and whole-building approaches.
When a building or product has reached the end of its useful life, it is important to recognize the embodied carbon value that still remains and determine how best to extend or renew the life of the resource. Waste management options for end of life include reuse, recycling, design for disassembly, design for product take-back programs, and closed-loop supply chains. The concept of a circular economy keeps resources in constant use through continuous product life cycles. It is an important waste management and sustainability strategy. Recycling avoids embodied emissions from virgin material extraction, transporting, and processing. Recycling also avoids the creation of potent greenhouse gas pollutants from landfills or combustion. The Biden-Harris administration has committed to minimizing waste and promoting a transition to a circular economy by annually diverting from landfills at least 50% of non-hazardous solid waste — including food and compostable material, and construction and demolition waste and debris by fiscal year 2025 — and 75% by fiscal year 2030.
GSA regulations have long encouraged electronic stewardship and efficient reuse of assets as opposed to moving straight to end-of-life disposal. In 2020, nearly 100% of GSA electronic equipment was disposed of through reuse, donation, recycling, transfer, sale, or demanufacturing. GSA has actively participated in the Computers For Learning program for 25 years running, donating its electronic equipment to eligible institutions. Last year GSA IT donated over 700 used computers to a school district in Northern Colorado, that otherwise would have been excessed, recycled, or destroyed.