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Remarks by Acting Administrator Tangherlini at the National Academies' Sustainability Seminar

As prepared for delivery

Remarks by
Dan Tangherlini
U.S. General Services Administration
Release of the National Academies’ Report on their Workshop on Sustainability Considerations 
for Procurement Tools and Capabilities
Washington, DC
September 27, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be here with all of you this afternoon for the release of this summary of the National Academies’ Workshop on Sustainability Considerations for Procurement Tools and Capabilities. Before I go any further, I want to thank Marina Moses and everyone from the National Academies who put together this report. I also want to recognize the members of the GSA Sustainability and Procurement Fellowship who are with us today. They are an outstanding example of interagency collaboration and their expertise will be invaluable in making sustainable procurement more viable at GSA. Finally, I want to thank Bicky Corman from the EPA for joining us here today. I worked with her in the District and it is always a pleasure to see her.

Since its founding after World War II, GSA has been tasked with providing effective and efficient support to the agencies of the federal government while also finding savings for the American people. Today, GSA’s estimated business volume is $65.7 billion. With that level of procurement and management, failure to incorporate sustainability into our business model we would leave significant savings for the government and the taxpayer on the table at a time when neither can afford it. Almost a year ago, we commissioned this workshop with the National Academies to better understand both the challenges and opportunities of sustainable procurement. Advances in both sustainability and technology have revolutionized the procurement field. With our mission to deliver savings to the taxpayer, it is vital that we take advantage of this opportunity and make sustainability goals a clear priority for everyone at GSA.

President Obama recognized the importance of sustainability early in his administration and in 2009, he signed Executive Order 13514, “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance.” One of the objectives of that order was to establish specific goals and objectives for sustainable purchasing in place for the federal government. The President has made it clear that he considers efficiency and sustainable practices as more than good ideas; he considers them crucial to the success of modern government.

As the centralized procurement agency for the federal government, GSA is uniquely positioned to lead these initiatives because we are responsible for 15% of the federal government’s total procurement. To further expand these opportunities, GSA, along with the leadership of OMB and in partnership with other federal agencies, have engaged in a process called strategic sourcing. Strategic sourcing is a structured and collaborative process based on critically analyzing our spending patterns to better leverage our purchasing power so that we are better able to reduce cost and improve outcomes. This process gives us the ability to create leverage on price, but it also enables us to create pressure and expectations in other important areas, such as sustainability.

However, if we are to make sustainability a meaningful factor in the way we operate, we have to look carefully at the lifecycle costs of our purchases. This means we have to understand how a product is made, how we are going to use it, as well as what happens once we’re finished with it. A product that appears to be the lowest cost can quickly lose that value when you factor in the cost associated with inefficient energy use and disposal. For example, as part of our Green Proving Ground program, we recently found that while advanced power strips are initially more expensive, they reduce plug loads at workstations by 26 percent and nearly 50 percent in kitchens and printer rooms. Given that plug loads account for approximately 25 percent of electricity consumed within office buildings, we are confident that this technology will result in significant savings that will outstrip its higher initial cost in the long run.

Results like this demonstrate that sustainable practices provide not just environmental benefits for our customers, but fiscal benefits as well. Another example is our Printwise program, an awareness campaign designed to help federal employees print less and make cost-cutting print decisions across the U.S. government through simple behavior changes. It identifies simple steps, like printing on both sides of the paper, avoiding unnecessary color printing, and eliminating personal printers in the office.  By implementing the Printwise program throughout the GSA, not only do we waste significantly less paper and toner, but we project a significant savings of $2.7 million.

GSA’s mission is to help the federal government deliver effective service to the American people with the greatest possible value. Put simply, we want to buy once and buy well for our customers. As we move forward, we will develop a structure that moves our entire agency towards sustainable procurement and practices. And we will identify constraints and develop strategies and guidelines to ensure that we attain clear and measurable goals.

We must also remember that the scale of our purchases gives GSA enormous leverage both inside and outside the government. Strategic sourcing is a good start, but we need to ensure that those who do business with us are also in compliance with our expectations. And that is impossible unless we measure and enforce sustainability standards. I know that creating those standards is no simple process, but as we expand our commitment to sustainable procurement, I am confident that our work with individuals such as you our partners in the private sector will yield positive results. I know that together, we will collect useful data that we can analyze in order to properly understand how to assess total cost for sustainable procurement.

We are still in the process of figuring out sustainable procurement. It is a complex undertaking, and we want to make sure we get it right. At GSA, much of what we buy can’t fit in a box. We purchase services and contracts. We not only purchase goods, we also negotiate contracts for services. Our challenge is to ensure that we think broadly about this kind of procurement and how we can improve fiscally and environmentally sustainable practices throughout the entire government. I can assure you that GSA is committed to sustainable procurement. We are committed to working with our partners in the private and the public sector to find the best way forward for everyone on this incredibly promising issue.

In times such as these, with ever tightening federal budgets, it is our responsibility to make every single taxpayer dollar count and that is exactly what this kind of procurement helps us do. Your insights and your hard work will be invaluable in moving GSA forward. Once again, on behalf of the entire GSA, thanks to everyone who contributed to this workshop and this important report.