Greening the GSA

Greening the GSA

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has long been a sustainability pioneer, having planted its first green roof in 1975. But under President Obama’s push to boost the nation’s energy efficiency, the agency has rolled out an ambitious new agenda to slash the carbon footprint of federal buildings. “We at GSA are embracing a zero environmental footprint goal,” agency administrator Martha Johnson declared on May 18. “We are setting our sights on eliminating the impact of the federal government on our natural environment.”


Though not committed to a timeline for the effort, Johnson has moved to make good on her pledge, announcing on June 8 the appointment of Eleni Reed as the agency’s Chief Greening Officer. Reed’s immediate task will be helping the GSA heed an executive order signed by the president last fall that calls on federal agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent by 2020, among other goals. But perhaps the more far-reaching goal of the post is to leverage a portfolio of 1,500 owned and 8,100 leased buildings to advance new sustainable strategies.

“Part of the role is to establish GSA as a green proving ground,” Reed told AN. “What we mean by that is to beta-test emerging green technologies within GSA buildings.” To that end, the agency is currently taking a close look at photovoltaics, as well as lighting technologies and smart metering. Such efforts may seem modest, but the idea is that small improvements in efficiency, scaled up, can have ripple effects that incentivize green service providers, drive smart-grid modernization, and broaden cradle-to-cradle design.

Reed, 42, arrives with an intriguing mix of experience, having studied urban planning at the Université de Montréal and at McGill University, where she received her masters degree in the subject. A veteran of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s office of environmental coordination, she helped lead the implementation of New York City’s green building standards law in 2005, which requires that many city-funded construction projects meet LEED standards.

Most recently, Reed developed green strategies at real-estate giant Cushman & Wakefield, helping craft a 2009 pact with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the carbon footprint across leased space the firm managed in the U.S., including decreasing energy consumption in more than 3,000 buildings by 30 percent by 2012. Reed also participated in a USGBC pilot program allowing the company to LEED certify a batch of 18 buildings the firm managed across six states. “The benefits of scale are so much more apparent for any approach you can take that touches a portfolio rather than one individual building,” Reed said.

That experience should prove useful at the GSA, which has commissioned dozens of LEED projects but has had less success greening its sizable leased portfolio. Current strategies on that front include green-lease provisions that require a certain level of LEED or Energy Star rating, but efforts have been hampered by the lack of fine-grained data about energy use in most commercial office space. “We don’t necessarily have solid environmental metrics,” Reed noted. “So we’re currently looking at opportunitites to phase in submetering, to look at actual consumption and how that influences tenant behavior.”