Skip to main content

Energy Efficiency at VA


SEPTEMBER 30, 2009


Good afternoon, Chairman Filner, Ranking Member Buyer and members of this Committee.  My name is Kevin Kampschroer and I am the Acting Director of the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings at the United States General Services Administration (GSA).  Thank you for inviting me today to discuss the goals for Federal Agencies to become more energy efficient in a sustainable manner.

GSA, through the Public Buildings Service (PBS), is one of the largest and most diversified public real estate organizations in the world. Our real estate inventory consists of more than 8,600 owned and leased assets representing nearly 354 million square feet of rentable space across all 50 states, 6 territories and the District of Columbia. Our portfolio is composed primarily of office buildings, courthouses, land ports of entry, and warehouses.  GSA’s goal is to manage these assets efficiently, while delivering and maintaining superior workplaces at best value to our client agencies and the American taxpayer. 

We also collaborate with other Federal agencies as partners in developing, implementing and evaluating federal green building programs through programs such as ENERGY STAR, which is jointly run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy. We have worked with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on the Veterans Benefits Office in Reno, NV, which was the VA’s first building rated using a third-party, independent rating system: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).  We continue to work with the VA on every new project in support of the VA’s important mission to our country’s veterans.

Cost and Value

High-performing green buildings provide the best value for the taxpayer and for the public through both life cycle cost benefits and positive effects on human health and performance.  A recent study  of GSA’s 12 earliest green federal buildings shows energy consumption is down 26% and occupant satisfaction up 27%, compared to commercial office benchmark data in those regions.  More importantly, the top third of studied buildings, which use an integrated design approach, deliver significantly better results with 45% less energy consumption, 53% lower maintenance costs, and 39% less water use.
A recent report by CoStar, a major real estate transaction information collection company, shows that green buildings, in general, also have lower vacancy rates.  According to the 2008 McGraw-Hill Construction SmartMarket Report: Key Trends in the European and U.S. Construction Marketplace, operating costs for green buildings are on average 8 to 9% lower, building values are 7.5% higher, buildings have a 3.5% greater occupancy ratio, and green buildings provide a 6.6% total return on investment.

With the above mentioned long-term operating cost benefits, the life cycle cost of green buildings is lower than the life cycle costs of those that are not.  Even the initial capital costs are not necessarily higher, and when they are, only marginally so.  GSA’s study of the initial capital cost shows that the increase on average is about 3 percent, ranging from zero to ten percent, depending on the design.  Similarly, a private sector study by Davis Langdon  in 2007 shows that green building aspects tend to have a lesser impact on costs than other building decisions, such as which kind of finishes and amenities the building might provide. 

Environmental Benefits

Good sustainable design offers economic, environmental and societal benefits.  If a building decreases its energy consumption, the cost of operation is less, the asset value increases, and the production of greenhouse gasses also decreases.  Although there is a large focus on reducing energy consumption today, there are other benefits of sustainable buildings.  For example, a planted or “green” roof can have significant economic benefits by lowering the roof temperature and thus cooling, lowering costs for neighboring buildings, reducing the the city’s heat island effect, and reducing storm water runoff.  In cities like Washington DC, with a combined storm water and sewer system, this reduces water pollution both locally and downstream in the Chesapeake Bay.  Finally, societal benefits include physically and aesthetically pleasing effects for building occupants and neighbors, jobs for workers to install and maintain planted roofs, and reduction in greenhouse gasses caused by the building.

The careful selection and use of materials can reduce energy consumption during the manufacturing process and protect the health of occupants.  Careful construction techniques can reduce the amount of construction waste that reaches landfills by 95% or more.  Re-use of existing structures can reduce resource consumption while preserving our country’s heritage.  Careful siting can make buildings perform better from both environmental and human perspectives: proximity to public transportation reduces pollution, saves energy, reduces employee petroleum use, and improves occupants’ quality of life.  The key is holistic, integrated planning that considers all factors that influence a building, including the decision of whether to build at all.  In addition, every one of the choices is also a choice to reduce the production of greenhouse gasses. 

Design challenges for high performance green buildings may vary for different building types (e.g. hospitals).  Given the intensive use of the buildings, as with data centers and laboratories, the measures will be different, and the benchmarks need similarly to be adjusted to reflect the use of the building.  One can still address energy efficiency in hospitals, and in doing so, the energy efficiency decisions will be balanced differently against air quality standards and other health-related factors.

We need to have at least as much emphasis on actual building performance as on design.  The state of California is contemplating standard building performance labeling as a prerequisite for every real estate transaction, and beginning in 2010 GSA will require new building leases over 10,000 square feet  to have an Energy Star rating earned in the most recent year of operation.  The value of the Energy Star rating is that it is an on-going performance measure.

We in the building industry and in the Federal government also need to expand our measures. While today we typically concentrate on energy use in the building, we need to remember that buildings are also tools for businesses and organizations.  The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 states that a high-performance green building must not just perform well mechanically, but must perform to improve the health and enhance the performance of the occupants.   This is particularly important in health care facilities, where the importance of the work within the buildings cannot be overstated.  If we only look at the energy consumption of the building, we miss the importance of how building performance can increase the ability of people to care for the ill, to reduce the transmission of disease, or to create the conditions of healing.  Similarly, modernizing office buildings into high performance facilities can increase the productivity of the workers inside.  Carnegie Mellon University has documented over 100 solid, scientifically valid studies that demonstrate the link between high-performance features and some aspect of productivity.  John Hopkins University has measured reduction in airborne illness by adding ultraviolet light in mechanical systems.  The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has measured an increase in productivity through better lighting.  Hewlett Packard has also measured increases in employee engagement linked to their facility greening activities.

A key broad measure of environmental impact is greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Once you measure the collective effects of greenhouse gas production by an organization--with buildings as components--you can make more informed decisions and trade-offs.  We need to look at the way we buy materials for the building, travel to and from the building, the way we use the building, and how the building is operating.  In both office buildings and computer centers, integrating the occupants’ operations with the facility operations can increase energy savings by as much as 50%, and also lower the tenants’ cost of operations. 

Health care facilities present particular difficulties and opportunities.  We care for the sick, and try to prevent the transmission of disease in these facilities.  We need to create conditions in which health care professionals can perform at their best.  They operate around the clock.  A health care facility is an amalgam of office, laboratory, hotel, data center and industrial facilities—all in one complex building.  The daunting complexity may obscure opportunities for improvement.  The key will be to make sure that the facility operations integrate hospital health care operations.  As part of the training held at GovEnergy just last month, several case studies presented examples of dramatic energy and water reduction with no reduction in health care effectiveness. 

The research that the National Institutes of Health has been conducting on the way that buildings and their mechanical systems can either increase or mitigate the transmission of airborne pathogens is also beginning to change the way that health care facilities are constructed and operated.  More research on the unintended consequences of current building management practices is need.

Creation of Green Jobs

The jobs created across the design, engineering, manufacturing, construction and operations industries will bolster the “green economy.”  These jobs will provide practical experience in high-performance technologies, green construction and building operations. 

GSA has identified over 50 different trades and professions that will participate in the accomplishment of GSA building projects.  While it may seem that some aspects of construction are unaffected by new technologies, we find that virtually all are changed in some way by the application of the principles of sustainable buildings and delivery.  For example, in demolition work, GSA takes particular care to ensure that materials are reused, and recycled, and we have avoided 95% of the traditional construction waste on several of our projects. 

Installation of PV requires special skills that are a part of the green economy.  Lighting systems and controls have improved dramatically over the past 10 years.  Implementing emerging technologies leads to the creation of green jobs in building operations.  GSA has discovered that most building operators in the government and private sector state that they are unable to find enough well-trained people to run high-performance buildings and keep them running in a high-performance mode.  Buildings that are tuned up, commissioned and operating well can easily slip into poorer performance without proper maintenance.  The aggregate result is a significant degradation of performance and an unnecessary increase in energy consumption.  GSA is already in conversations with the Building Owners and Managers Association, the International Facility Managers Association and others about the apparent shortage of sufficiently-trained building operators.  GSA will work with the Department of Labor to encourage connections between GSA-sponsored building projects and the public workforce system to provide individuals access to training and employment opportunities in green jobs created with Recovery Act funding.  We believe that GSA’s Recovery Act projects can potentially provide jobs along this emerging career pathway.


The funds Congress provided Federal agencies through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are a sound investment in several respects.  First, the timely obligation of these recovery funds will stimulate job growth in the green construction and real estate sectors.  Second, the money will help reduce energy consumption and improve the environmental performance of our inventory.  Third, the funds, in large part, will be invested in the existing infrastructure, which will help reduce our backlog of repair and alteration needs, thus increasing the assets’ value, prolonging their useful life, and ultimately further conserving our country’s resources.  Finally, these funds will be invested in government-owned assets for the long-term requirements of our federal customers.

Thank you again for this opportunity.  All of us at GSA are excited by the contribution Congress has allowed us to make, both with the Recovery Act and in our continuing service to other Federal agencies.  I am available to address any questions you may have. We look forward to continuing to support the VA in its mission and to help the VA reduce its environmental impact while simultaneously improving the conditions for people working in its facilities and the veterans staying in those facilities.



Congressional Testimony on Energy Efficiency VA