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Federal Government is Becoming Greener

Posted Oct 08 2010 5:54am

A year ago, President Obama signed an executive order that set out guidelines for reducing federal government greenhouse gas emissions, decreasing energy and water consumption, reducing waste and engaging in environmentally preferable procurement.

This year, the White House organized the first external Green Gov symposium , hosted at George Washington University. The conference highlighted changes that the Federal Government and government contractors have been making and could be making to meet Executive Order  13514 requirements. At the symposium, it was announced that the White House will install solar panels on its roof, along with solar water heating, to show its commitment to environmental sustainability and the Executive Order.

It is clear from attendance at the three-day conference, which was larger than expected, and totaled over 1,200 people, over 60% of which were from Federal government agencies, that there is wide-ranging interest.  I was fortunate enough to be on a panel at the symposium with some accomplished government and non-government individuals who are very passionate about the environment and making a change at their respective organizations.  Participating in the panel as well as attending some of the sessions made it clear that, although the Federal government has had a tougher time gaining momentum on green initiatives because of its size, it is well on its way.

While many companies were represented, some are better known outside Washington circles than others. One of these is Verizon. James Gowen, Verizon’s Chief Sustainability Officer, described some of the changes Verizon has made to its supply chain, including improving its fleet management practices, increasing the amount of recycled content in its packaging, and asking its vendors (Motorola was discussed in this particular example) to conduct a life cycle assessment of their products. These changes have resulted in significant cost savings that have enabled Mr. Gowen to add more staff to focus on the sustainability initiatives. The message is clear – environmental sustainability brings cost savings, which is one of the messages that we at Eco-Coach have for our clients as well.

I could talk about quite a few other great case studies, but I will highlight one more here, and you can review some others at Planet Forward . One example within the Federal government that shows that ‘green’ is a security and risk management issue and can be bipartisan, is the US Army’s initiatives. The Army was the first Federal agency to issue a GRI , in 2007. The Global Reporting Initiative reporting standards are used by many large and medium-sized companies to report on their corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. One of the benefits of the report that was stated at the session was that those who prepared it could then better engage senior leadership in the effort.  Reporting also enables the organization to benchmark and track progress on specific initiatives, which is very useful from a cost perspective as well as for tracking greenhouse gas emission reductions.

While various government agencies are at different points on the path to sustainability, most of them have started and are making strides. As was stated by many at the conference, this will inevitably trickle down to government contractors, who will be asked what actions they are taking to make their organizations more eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable, if they have not been asked already. This is significant since the Federal government is a large employer, and the changes could cause a positive ripple effect of sustainability throughout the local if not the national economy.


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