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Tackling Climate Change: A Triple Win for America

Administrator Carnahan Prepared Speech at Energy Exchange in Cincinnati, OH 10/27/2022

As many of you know, GSA manages one of the biggest real estate portfolios in the country which includes thousands of federal buildings and millions of square feet of leased property.  In recent months I’ve had the chance to visit dozens of them and meet not only with our GSA teams, but also with many of our agency partners, like those who are here today, that rely on those facilities to advance your mission.

In Maryland, I visited an IRS facility and saw firsthand the impact of a deep energy retrofit. Our teams installed 11,000 LED lights, 2,000 occupancy sensors, and a new HVAC system with high-efficiency chillers.  The result?  60% energy reductions, saving over $2 million a year and reducing emissions by 20,000 metric tons - all without having to relocate the federal workers using the space.

In Maine, we just celebrated the 150th anniversary of Portland’s US Custom House, which houses several agencies (NOAA, DHS, Commerce, Labor, and SBA)… and while it’s tempting to assume old buildings like that are energy hogs, we installed a geothermal heat pump several years ago.  The result? Dramatically lower  emissions and 30% reduction in energy costs, making it one of our top energy performers in the region.

And at the Denver Federal Center, right now, we’re turning an old World War II munitions plant into a light-filled workspace for the Department of the Interior, powering it with 100% renewable energy, installing high efficiency windows and turning it into a sustainable healthy workspace for hundreds of federal employees.  And that’s not all, we’re also testing bi-directional charging for electric vehicles in the federal fleet, which GSA manages.

These stories represent the triple win of tackling climate change and investing in a clean energy economy:

First, it creates thousands of good union jobs right here at home and drives American innovation and competitiveness.

Second, it reduces environmental impact by millions of metric tons of greenhouse gasses and helps restore a healthy planet for our kids.

And third, it saves money for taxpayers by reducing energy costs.

I’m proud of the fact that we’re already doing a lot of this work at GSA and we’re eager to do more.  As I travel around the country, sometimes it feels like I’ve been spending more time in machine rooms and job sites than just about anywhere else!  - But what sticks with me most are the people behind all of the stories: the plumbers, pipefitters, and electricians installing more efficient systems; the workers in places like Toledo proudly supplying iron and steel that’s lower-carbon; the entrepreneurs and small businesses that are testing new technologies like window films that help save energy…

Across the country, and in this room, we’re seeing people pull together to meet President Biden’s ambitious goal of net-zero for federal operations.  And the good news is - with historic funding from the Inflation Reduction Act we know this isn’t some pipe dream…it’s our plan and we have the momentum and the money to make it happen. 

I can feel the excitement in this room.  I know many of you have been working on these issues for years and this week you’ve had the chance to share lessons about what works and what doesn’t and explore new ways to collaborate across agencies and with our industry partners.

And collaboration is how we really move the needle and make an impact.  A great example of that happened over 20 years ago  when a 1999 Executive Order jointly charged DOD and GSA to define the principles for sustainable design and development.

Some of you may remember that as a real turning point…the moment when both government and industry began to embrace standards like LEED which have become a norm in the marketplace.  And that led to big results - including helping GSA reduce our federal buildings emissions by half since 2008, which I’m happy to report is more than a decade ahead of schedule!

More game-changing opportunities for government to lead by example are on the horizon because of historic investments we’ll see from the Inflation Reduction Act.  And GSA fully intends to help lead the way.

First off, we’ll be buying over $2 billion worth of low-carbon materials to modernize federal facilities from coast to coast. We’ll use our purchasing power to help drive markets for those materials and transition industry to cleaner products.

If you’re here from industry, you can help right now.  We want to know how you’re innovating to offer lower-embodied carbon in the products we buy most - like concrete, steel, glass, asphalt, aluminum, insulation, roofing materials, drywall, and structural-engineered wood.   The RFI is out now and closes next week.  We want to know where the biggest opportunities are to Buy Clean in those industries, and we’ll leave no stone unturned.

Secondly, we’re investing IRA dollars in emerging technologies to the tune of nearly $1 billion.  As you may know, we’ve been using federal buildings as a testbed for emerging clean energy technologies for years.  23 of those Green Proving Ground technologies have been installed in about 500 of our facilities, saving us millions of dollars in energy costs.

Again, we need the help of industry - in this case a joint RFI with the Department of Energy.  We want to know - by December 9 - what emerging technologies are going to improve grid resiliency and drive down emissions from buildings to net zero.

Altogether, GSA’s IRA investments - which include even more beyond that for high-performance green buildings - we estimate will reduce carbon emissions by millions of metric tons per year, save millions of dollars in energy costs for taxpayers, and support thousands of jobs each year.  Just as importantly, they’ll help strengthen America’s industrial base by supporting their ideas for next-generation materials, products, and equipment that will help us continue to lead globally.

Now, I want our agency friends here to know that our partnership with you is just as important.  With such a massive investment, it’s absolutely crucial that we lead by example together - and that means thinking strategically about how to invest that money to best serve our country.

One really important example I want to call out: GSA is home to the federal fleet - and we just had a record year in working with agencies to transition thousands of cars from gas to zero-emission EVs. At the same time, we’re setting up easier contracts and holding industry days so you can see and touch the charging stations that could be installed at your facilities.

So a big question for federal partners is this: When we’re building or upgrading one of the buildings where your folks work, how can we integrate more EV infrastructure into that?  We want to plan for that and work with you to make it happen.

I’ll close by echoing what the new White House National Climate Advisor said recently in regards to our climate goals - “we’re not going to get there on autopilot - it’s going to take real sweat and pushing.”  I couldn’t agree more.

We know our guiding principles for our teams within GSA.  We have a bias for action, and a willingness to try new things, get feedback and keep improving. Values like that are going to be crucial as we set our sights on achieving these big goals.

So I hope you all take what you have learned this week back to your companies and agencies and find places where we can collaborate to try something new.

Our teams are ready. 

The need is urgent. 

The time is now. 

And the impact will be profound for our planet, our country and our families.