Lead by Example: Obama Executive Order Pushes Federal Sustainability

White_HouseIn these parlous economic and perilous environmental times a firm focus on sustainable government practices sounds like a good exercise that could also serve as a valuable template for action outside of the government.

It’s also impossible to imagine something this sweeping coming from the previous administration, another reason why President Obama’s recent Executive Order could become a landmark in the world of sustainability.

The Executive Order signed by the president earlier this month sets sustainability goals for Federal agencies, focusing on improving their environmental, energy and economic performance.

It requires that agencies set a 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target within 90 days; increase energy efficiency; reduce fleet petroleum consumption; conserve water; reduce waste; support sustainable communities and “leverage Federal purchasing power to promote environmentally-responsible products and technologies.” It also requires agencies to measure, manage, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions toward agency-defined targets.

The Executive Order sets specific energy, water, and waste reduction targets for agencies, including:

  • 30 percent reduction in vehicle fleet petroleum use by 2020;
  • 26 percent improvement in water efficiency by 2020;
  • 50 percent recycling and waste diversion by 2015;
  • 95 percent of all applicable contracts will meet sustainability requirements;
  • Implementation of the 2030 net-zero-energy building requirement;
  • Implementation of the stormwater provisions of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, section 438; and
  • Development of guidance for sustainable Federal building locations in alignment with the Livability Principles put forward by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Each agency will develop and carry out an integrated “Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan” that prioritizes the agency’s actions toward the goals of the Executive Order based on lifecycle return on investments. The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive developed the order, with input from the Federal agencies that are represented on the Steering Committee established by Executive Order 13423.

“As the largest consumer of energy in the U.S. economy, the Federal government can and should lead by example when it comes to creating innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, conserve water, reduce waste, and use environmentally-responsible products and technologies,” said President Obama. “This Executive Order builds on the momentum of the Recovery Act to help create a clean energy economy and demonstrates the Federal government’s commitment, over and above what is already being done, to reducing emissions and saving money.”

According to the White House, the Federal government occupies nearly 500,000 buildings, operates more than 600,000 vehicles, employs more than 1.8 million civilians, and purchases more than $500 billion per year in goods and services.

This is a clear directive and process for agencies of the government to “prioritize actions based on a full accounting of both economic and social benefits and costs.” It also stipulates that agency efforts and outcomes in implementing the order “shall be transparent,” and that they must reveal the results of the actions they take on their websites.

Another illustration of how far we have come from the days when energy policy was formulated in secret White House meetings with the energy industry.

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