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Remarks as Prepared for Administrator Robin Carnahan at the U.S. Green Building Council Greenbuild Conference on September 26, 2023

Thank you Peter- great to be with you again. Thanks to the entire USGBC team for making this event happen and congratulations on your 30th anniversary.

I’m excited to help kick things off at Greenbuild with so many colleagues from across government. I know you'll be hearing from our White House colleagues Ali Zaidi and Andrew Mayock this week and lots of other folks who are helping the federal government lead by example when it comes to investing in America and our clean energy future.

Before we get started, I’m eager to know who’s in the room. So real quick let's see a show of hands.

  • Folks working in the federal government, raise your hands.
  • State or local governments?
  • Anyone from NGOs or academia?
  • Private sector partners?

It’s great to see such a diverse group and even better that we’re all so aligned and working closely together to meet the urgency of this moment…for our economy, for our national security, for the health of our planet, and for the future of our families. 

Because there’s no doubt that the challenges and opportunities of moving toward a clean energy economy will take all of us working together. The good news is, collaboration is happening…everywhere.

Last year at Greenbuild we gathered in San Francisco just a few months after President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, the biggest investment in sustainability and combating climate change in our nation’s history. There was a buzz of energy and excitement. Demos of new innovative products and services were on display everywhere.  

But there was one group I met in the exhibit hall that I’ll never forget. It was a group of young girls who wanted to tell me all about the importance of using low embodied carbon materials, especially concrete.

It turns out that two Girl Scout troops from Madison, Wisconsin decided to do their part to help combat climate change by teaching people how to reduce the embodied carbon in building materials. They made videos. They talked to everyone who passed by. They wore hats emblazoned with the words “Ask me about Low-Embodied Carbon.”

I was struck by both their knowledge and their passion. And by the fact that those little girls are living reminders of why this work matters and why we’re all here today. 

The good news is, President Biden gets it. He’s laid out ambitious goals to Invest in America, reduce emissions and rebuild our economy and our middle class. And thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we’ve got the money and momentum to make real progress. 

The federal government is the biggest buyer of goods and services in the world which means it can use that buying  power to spur demand for low-embodied carbon materials, carbon free electricity and energy efficiency and clean technologies. That’s exactly what we’re doing across the government and that’s what I want to talk about today. 

GSA has a big role to play in this because we manage one of the country’s largest commercial real estate portfolios (over 1,600 buildings) and our goal is to transition our entire portfolio to net-zero emissions by 2045.

We’re also, along with DOD, the largest buyer of power in the country and our goal is by 2030 – just 7 years from now – to buy 100% Carbon Pollution Free Electricity.

GSA also manages one of the largest vehicle fleets in the country, over 240k vehicles, and our goal is to transition all light-duty vehicles to ZEVs by 2027 and all government vehicles by 2035. 

Finally, GSA also buys over $80 billion of goods and services every year and our goal is to lead by example and leverage that buying power to create demand and new market opportunities for Buy American and Buy Clean initiatives.

For those of you who’ve worked in this space for a while, the fact that GSA is leading by example may sound familiar…because it was 24 years ago that GSA became the first government entity to adopt the LEED certification system. Since then, as you know, LEED has become a global standard for measuring a building’s sustainability and it continues to be a terrific example of the type of progress that’s possible when government and industry work together. 

So, let’s talk about specific ways GSA is Buying Clean. 

Our IRA funding falls into 3 buckets:

  • Over $2 billion to invest in low-embodied carbon materials to modernize federal facilities across the country.
  • Nearly $1 billion to support emerging and sustainable technologies like those in our Green Proving Ground; and,
  • $250 million to convert facilities into High-Performance Green Buildings.

We’ve got a great team of experts working to ensure that these investments are smart and strategic and drive the biggest possible impact. We’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t and we’re eager to share learnings with you and look for more ways to collaborate with both government and private sector partners to speed up progress. 

So, let’s talk about some of the things we’ve been doing over the past year that you might find useful. 

First, How many of your agencies are thinking about investing in electric vehicles or in EV charging infrastructure? 

We are too… This fiscal year we’ll purchase over 5,300 zero emission vehicles - that’s nearly 20% of all light-duty orders. Our goal is to transition all of our light-duty vehicles to ZEVs by 2027… and 100% of ALL vehicles by 2035.

But transitioning the fleet also means helping buy and install more EV charging infrastructure.  In fact, the federal government recently hit a milestone of having 10,000 EV charging stations.

What’s great is that your agencies can buy this hardware and software through GSA which means we’ll do the vetting and testing to ensure they meet security standards and can be easily integrated into the grid.  

So, if you’re a government entity looking to buy either EVs or charging infrastructure, let us know because we have contracts in place to help streamline and speed up the buying process for you. 

And for our industry partners who are helping with this, thank you! We intend to keep spotlighting your offerings and connecting you with agency customers, including at our annual FedFleet meeting happening this January in conjunction with the DC AutoShow. It’s another great chance to connect with partners and I hope you’ll be there. 

Second, for those of you looking to minimize your carbon footprint in construction projects, we’ve got lots of interesting learnings to share. 

A few months ago GSA launched a low-embodied carbon materials pilot program. We partnered with EPA and the Department of Transportation to draft new requirements for buying LEC materials for projects using IRA funds and reached out for feedback from manufacturers, suppliers, small businesses, and environmental and labor groups. Our plan is to use what we learn from these pilot projects to help inform how we invest over $2 billion in LEC materials for other construction and renovation efforts across the country. 

Just like those Girl Scouts I met last year, we all know that reducing the emissions in the supply chain…from raw materials, to production, to transportation makes an enormous impact. So stay tuned for more insights about what we learn about regional market availability of LEC materials. 

For all the government partners in the audience, I certainly hope that you’ll take advantage of all the work our team has done and adapt those learnings where it makes sense.

Third, for those of you looking to deploy emerging sustainable technology in your projects, we’ve got lots of good news. 

As I mentioned we have nearly $1 billion in IRA funding to help catalyze innovation in emerging and sustainable technologies. We’re doing some of that through a program called the Green Proving Ground where we partner with the DOE to test new technologies in federal facilities and when we identify ones that work well, we can scale wider adoption in federal buildings across the country. 

This program is great for helping businesses commercialize innovative products and it’s also great for the government by providing access to products and services that reduce energy use and cut costs and emissions.  

With IRA funding we’re investing $30 million dollars and expanding from 4-5 projects and companies to 20 projects. 

So if you know of any companies looking to test out innovative American-made products and services in federal facilities, please have them apply for the next round of GPG investments that will be opening in October.

Now, the things I’ve just ticked off - EVs, sustainable materials, and emerging technologies are all important… But on a broader scale, for folks looking to stretch your money to have an even greater impact, GSA is going long on Public-Private Partnerships - and I want to focus on this today for a bit.  

We’ve found that leveraging private sector financing through energy service performance contracts is a great way to stretch our money even further.  

In June, we announced a $1 Billion investment of IRA funds to electrify our buildings and expand our use of ESPCs. We expect that investment to catalyze nearly $1.9 billion dollars for 28 new, net-zero buildings and 100 new, all-electric buildings.  That means GSA’s sustainable buildings portfolio will: 

  • grow by over 130 million square feet;
  • support 5,000 jobs per year;
  • add $2.4 billion to the U.S. GDP; and, 
  • avoid $467 million in energy costs for American taxpayers over the next two decades. 

And listen to this: as a part of President Biden’s Climate Smart Buildings Initiative, we’re making one of the biggest federal buildings in the country - The Ronald Reagan Building here in DC which is over 3 million square feet - all electric.

We’re partnering with Johnson Controls to combine $13.5 million IRA dollars with over $90 million in private sector financing – that’s nearly 8 dollars of private investment for every 1 dollar of taxpayer funds – to do a deep-energy retrofit that will have a huge payoff:

  • Reducing energy use by 40% – enough to power over 300,000 American homes;
  • Saving over $6.3 million in energy costs annually; and,
  • Avoiding 2.3 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

There are lots of opportunities to create more of these wins. And I’d encourage you to take a minute and learn more about GSA’s National deep-energy retrofit program and the White House’s Climate Smart Building Initiative. 

And while you're at it, also check out GSA’s sustainable facilities website at S F Tool dot gov. It’s a terrific resource to learn about everything from green building strategies to procurement tips. I know that folks from GSA will be offering demonstrations on how to use that tool at our exhibit booth #1522 in the Exhibit Hall at Greenbuild, so I hope you’ll stop by for a visit.

For folks out there looking for ways to make both your buildings and your grid more resilient, we’ve got interesting examples to share. 

In Oklahoma City, we teamed up with Ameresco, the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Department of Energy, and Oklahoma Gas and Electric and with a relatively small federal investment of $11 million, we transformed an entire federal building into a grid-interactive efficient building.  

As a first step, we did a deep energy retrofit, then added a huge rooftop solar array, coupled with on-site battery storage, and then connected the building to the local grid to allow Oklahoma Gas & Electric to tap into the building’s battery power when they need it for load balancing. As a result, that community now has a stronger and more resilient grid. 

This Oklahoma City Federal Building is a national model for clean energy innovation and efficiency. We expect 41% less energy use, 3,100 metric tons less emissions, and $400,000 annual saving for taxpayers in lower energy and water costs. 

This really is the future of sustainable buildings…So, come by the federal government booth and check out the Grid Interactive Efficient Building Case Study, because we’d love for you to do the same in your communities. 

Okay, one last example I have to mention – anyone interested in buying more carbon-pollution free electricity? 

As I mentioned at the outset, President Biden set the ambitious goal of having all our federal facilities powered by Carbon Free Electricity by 2030…that’s just 7 years from now!

Since last year, we’ve entered into MOUs with three utility companies covering seven states and the District of Columbia. The first was with Entergy Arkansas, where we collaborated to create one of the world’s first 24/7 electricity utility tariffs. 

Let me tell you why that’s a big deal: not only does it provide federal agencies with regionally-sourced CFE (including nuclear, solar, hydro, and wind) that is cost-competitive, reliable and matches our electricity consumption, it also allows other businesses to buy off that same green tariff, which is great for promoting economic development and job creation and combating climate change.

If you want to learn about CFE availability around the country, take a look at the Department of Energy’s searchable database that can help you identify CFE options near you.

Environmental Justice and job creation are also high priorities for the Biden Administration and every community. That’s why we teamed up with the WH Council on Environmental Quality to develop the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool and with the Department of Labor on the Good Jobs Initiative to help create pathways to high-quality, good-paying jobs in construction, maintenance, manufacturing, and operations. So we’re also eager to talk more about those important initiatives.

Now, I know I’ve covered a lot of ground today. That was intentional, because I want you to understand the scope and scale and speed at which GSA and our partners all across the federal government are working.  

I’ve been around for a while both inside and outside of government and I’ve never seen the level of collaboration and urgency that we’re seeing right now. 

We know that talking about plans and celebrating successes in rooms here in Washington isn’t the end goal.

Success, when it comes to creating a clean energy economy, looks like shovels in the ground, homegrown technology in our buildings, and jobs in our communities. 

Meeting this moment is going to take all of us working together to find ways to catalyze markets in every state, every region, every city, in collaboration with business and community leaders and everyday Americans.  

There’s no doubt that we’re stronger when we partner together and share ideas, skills and expertises. And there really is no reason, and no time, to reinvent the wheel. So I ask that you look to your left, look to your right. There’s a good chance that a new potential partner is sitting right next to you…so say hello and see what you can learn. 

And, whatever else you do this week, don’t forget to stop by the Federal Government booth 1522 in the Exhibit Hall… you can learn more about how to partner with us, whether you're another government agency or a private sector partner.  

And for anyone looking to have a big impact, I’m always recruiting…and I can assure you that there’s never been a better time to join the government and do a tour of duty in public service. 

Since last year, I’ve had the picture of those Girl Scouts from Wisconsin on the home screen of my phone. It’s a daily reminder of why it's so important and so urgent to focus on the triple win of this sustainability work:

  • Creating good jobs that boost our economy, drive innovation, and strengthen our national security;
  • Saving taxpayer dollars through reduced energy costs; and,
  • ensuring a healthier planet for our kids.

There’s no time to waste…so let’s get to work.