Sustainable Design

Sustainable design seeks to reduce negative impacts on the environment, and the health and comfort of building occupants, thereby improving building performance. The basic objectives of sustainability are to reduce consumption of non-renewable resources, minimize waste, and create healthy, productive environments.

Sustainable design principles include the ability to:

  • optimize site potential;
  • minimize non-renewable energy consumption;
  • use environmentally preferable products;
  • protect and conserve water;
  • enhance indoor environmental quality; and
  • optimize operational and maintenance practices.

Utilizing a sustainable design philosophy encourages decisions at each phase of the design process that will reduce negative impacts on the environment and the health of the occupants, without compromising the bottom line. It is an integrated, holistic approach that encourages compromise and tradeoffs. Such an integrated approach positively impacts all phases of a building's life-cycle, including design, construction, operation and decommissioning.

GSA and Sustainable Design

In January 2006, 19 federal agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding for Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings committing to "federal leadership in the design, construction, and operation of High-Performance Sustainable Buildings. Termed the "Guiding Principles," it charged agencies with implementing building design and operation strategies that provide optimal performance and maximize life-cycle asset value. In December 2008, the Interagency Sustainability Working Group developed High Performance and Sustainable Buildings Guidance to assist agencies in meeting the high-performance and sustainable buildings goals of Executive Order 13423.

In January 2007, Executive Order 13423 - "Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management" set numerous federal energy and environmental management requirements, including requirements for the entire GSA portfolio to:

  • Reduce metered energy use by 3 percent per year
  • Reduce metered energy use by 30 percent by 2015
  • Reduce metered water use by 16 percent by 2015 

In December of 2007, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007) established additional energy management goals and requirements. New GSA buildings and major renovations must reduce fossil-fuel-generated energy consumption by 55 percent by 2010 and by 100 percent by 2030.

In October 2009, Executive Order 13514 established a government-wide focus on sustainability, energy efficiency, and the environment.

GSA is committed to incorporating principles of sustainable design and energy efficiency into all of its building projects. The result is an optimal balance of cost, environmental, societal and human benefits while meeting the mission and function of the intended facility. It is GSA's intent that sustainable design will be integrated as seamlessly as possible into the existing design and construction process.


GSA uses the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) green building certification system as a tool for evaluating and measuring achievements in sustainable design. LEED® consists of a set of prerequisites and credits with specific requirements for obtaining points in order for a building to become LEED® certified.  GSA uses LEED® to ensure that sustainable strategies are considered in the development of all GSA building projects.  GSA requires, at a minimum, new construction and substantial renovation of Federally-owned facilities to be LEED® Gold.

Sustainability Matters

Sustainability Matters [PDF - 115.11 KB] is a publication of case studies and best-practices that address GSA’s sustainability initiatives and strategies at all stages of a building’s lifecycle. Sustainability Matters is the first comprehensive overview by a federal agency related to the issues of building, operating and maintaining facilities sustainably.

Sustainable Facilities Tool

The Sustainable Facilities Tool is a one-stop online resource to support decision-making regarding sustainable building principles, materials and systems. Targeted to help project personnel identify and prioritize cost-effective, sustainable strategies for small projects, the Sustainable Facilities Tool helps users understand and select environmentally preferable solutions for renovations, alterations and leases.

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Last Reviewed 2016-08-24