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Greenbuild Keynote

Administrator Carnahan Prepared Speech at Greenbuild International Conference and Exposition in San Francisco, CA on 11/3/22

Thank you, George, and thanks to everyone at the U.S. Green Building Council. It’s great to be here on behalf of the Biden-Harris Administration along with my colleagues who you’ll hear from in a moment.

Let me start by explaining why for all you business folks in the room, if you’re not already familiar with GSA and not yet working with us, why you probably want to start.

As some of you may know, GSA manages the largest real estate portfolio in the country. That includes thousands of federal buildings as well as leased space totaling about 370 million square feet. That makes us the country’s largest landlord. We also manage one of the largest fleets in the country with more than 240,000 vehicles. We help other government agencies buy nearly $80 billion dollars worth of goods and services every year.

For those reasons alone, GSA plays an outsize role in moving our country toward the President’s goal of a net-zero emissions in federal operations by 2050. So bottomline, if you have anything to contribute toward that goal, you should be working with GSA (and we want to be working with you!).

I’ve got some good news to report…we’re already making great progress. In fact, GSA has already reduced federal building emissions by half since 2008…which is a full 10 years ahead of schedule. Which means a lot of the easiest upgrades have already been done.

In recent months, I’ve had the chance to visit dozens of our facilities around the country to understand just how that’s happened and to see first-hand where there are opportunities to do more:

  • To reimagine the federal footprint and create workspaces that are healthier for people and the planet;
  • To Invest in smarter buildings and grid integrations, and turn our fleet of vehicles into batteries; and
  • To align all our projects with the needs of the communities they serve.

One great example of the GSA team’s work is the upgrade we made to an IRS facility in Maryland that was built in the mid-1990s. Energy Secretary Granholm and I saw firsthand the impact of a deep energy retrofit. Working with industry partners, we installed 11,000 LED lights, 2,000 occupancy sensors, and a new HVAC system with high-efficiency chillers.

I want to do a little survey since this is such a well informed audience. I want you to guess how much those upgrades cut energy consumption?

Who thinks those upgrades cut energy use by 20%? Let me see a show of hands.

Okay, who thinks it was 40%?

How about 60%?

The result? Just those basic upgrades cut energy use by 60%; reduced carbon emissions of 20,000 metric tons; and saved taxpayers over $2 million a year.

Not long after that I visited one of the oldest buildings in our portfolio for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Portland Maine US Custom House. While some folks might assume that old buildings like that are energy hogs, I’m guessing y’all may know better. Several years ago we installed a geothermal heat pump in that 150 yr old building. Guess how much we lowered energy costs?

Let me see another show of hands 15% 30% 45%.

Just that one upgrade reduced energy costs by 30%. And today, that 150 year old building is one of our top energy performers in the region.

Another great example is happening at the Denver Federal Center where we’re turning an old World War II munitions plant into a state of the art, light-filled workspace for the Department of the Interior. The project is net-zero energy, net-zero carbon, and powered with 100% clean energy, including 8 megawatts of on-site solar. We’ve already saved more than $45 million dollars as a result of investments across that campus - and utility costs have gone down by nearly 40% since 2009.

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

First, it creates thousands of good paying jobs right here at home and drives American innovation and manufacturing making us more secure and competitive across the globe.

Second, it reduces 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 these successes…but the urgency of this moment demands more. More from government… to step up and lead by example and more from all of you.. to work with us to find ways to go deeper.

The good news is, President Biden has not only challenged everyone in the Administration to step up to meet this moment, but passage of the Inflation Reduction Act means we’ve got the money to do it…it’s the biggest investment our country has ever made–$369 billion dollars–to attack climate change and build a clean energy economy. That’s a BFD folks!

These days, I joke with my team that it feels like I spend more time in machine rooms and job sites than conference rooms. And I love it because that’s where you can hear first-hand the difference we’re making.

You can hear it from the plumbers, pipefitters, and electricians who are installing high performing, energy efficient systems.

You can hear it from the ironworkers in places like Toledo who take great pride in making lower-carbon iron feedstock to use in steel production.

We know this is an all-hands-on-deck moment. People across government, workers on the front lines, longtime activists, entrepreneurs and businesses like yours have never been more aligned and working together to build that clean energy economy. And because of the Inflation Reduction Act, this isn’t some pipe dream… It's an action plan, where we have the momentum and the money to make it happen.

Now I know I’m preaching to the choir here. But I want y’all to know that the team at GSA is eager to deepen our partnership with folks in industry like never before. Because we know that the only way we’ll make it to the next level of impact and reach our ambitious goal of a net-zero federal buildings portfolio by 2045, is by all of us working together across government and the private sector to make it happen.

Fortunately, we’ve seen successful collaboration before, a great example happened over 20 years ago, in 1999, when an Executive Order jointly charged DOD and GSA to define the principles for sustainable design and development.

Any of y’all remember that?

Looking back, we can see that moment was a real catalyst for change. It marked one of the first times that both government and industry began to embrace rating systems like LEED which have since become a market norm and had a huge impact across the globe.

Working together we can do more of that. We can discover the best ways to leverage the government’s buying power to help create new markets, catalyze innovation, and fuel the next generation of clean energy technologies.

For GSA this means being smart about how we invest 3.4 billion dollars of IRA funds to have the biggest possible impact. Identifying the products and technologies to do that is where we need your help. So let me walk you through the 3 buckets of money we have to invest to spur your ideas.

First, we have about $2 billion dollars to invest in low-carbon building materials to modernize federal facilities across the country. We know that reducing emissions early in the supply chain can have a huge payoff, so Buying Green is a top priority for us.

But in order to identify where to focus those investments, we’re turning to the construction industry to better understand what’s possible and available in the market. We’ve issued a Request for Information so companies can tell us about the latest innovations.

We’re especially interested in buying lower-embodied carbon building materials like steel, glass, concrete and asphalt…but also, things like aluminum, insulation, roofing materials, drywall, and structural-engineered wood. We buy a lot of those materials at GSA, so investing money buying cleaner products is a great place for us to start reducing supply chain emissions. So please, I hope you’ll share any ideas you have about that.

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

Now we could use your suggestions about where to invest the next round of these Green Proving Grounds funds. That’s why we’ve got another RFI out right now asking about emerging technologies that can help improve grid resiliency and drive down building emissions. This is a joint RFI with the Department of Energy that’s open through December 9 - so please take a look at that and share your ideas.

Third, we’ll invest another $250 million in high-performance green buildings. Altogether, we know that these IRA investments will reduce carbon emissions by millions of metric tons per year, save millions of dollars in energy costs for taxpayers, and support thousands of good paying American jobs. Just as importantly, they’ll help our country move toward a clean energy economy that supports American global competitiveness and security.

And one more thing, I’m pleased to announce today that GSA will spend none…zero… of that $3 billion in IRA money installing new fossil fuel-based equipment.

I also want you to know, we’re not wasting any time getting this money out the door. Right now, we’re finalizing our first tranche of projects which will include everything from complete building modernizations… to low-carbon glass building enclosures… to new roofs with on-site solar.

We also intend to use these funds to supercharge existing projects - for example, a project that may have started as a simple boiler replacement can now become an all-electric building or net-zero facility. And, importantly, we intend to use some of this money to test and validate new technologies that help us further reduce emissions and improve performance through our Applied Innovation Learning Laboratories.

More smart sensors. More advanced meters. More electric vehicle chargers. More performance tracking systems. All of this will help us drive toward the Administration’s goal of a net zero emissions building portfolio by 2045.

So be on the lookout for more news from GSA…because we’ll be announcing hundreds of millions of dollars in projects before the end of this year.

Ali Zaidi, the new White House National Climate Advisor when asked about how the Biden Administration plans to reach these ambitious climate goals said - “we’re not going to get there on autopilot - it’s going to take real sweat and pushing.” I couldn’t agree more.

But I’m convinced as I look out across this room that we're up to the task. Because the ideas, the creativity, and the breakthroughs are being born at places like this with people like you. And if we deepen the government-industry partnership, we’ll get there even faster. Which is vital, because the need is urgent. The time is now. And the impact will be profound.

Thank you so much for all you’re doing. We’re eager to work with you to create more triple wins, for American jobs and competitiveness; for energy and cost saving for taxpayers; and for the health of our planet and our kids.

Last Reviewed: 2022-11-25