Sawislak Addresses New England Customer Conference


Remarks by
Josh Sawislak
Senior Advisor to the Administrator
U.S. General Services Administration
New England Customer Conference
Boxborough, Massachusetts
October 30, 2007

Thank you very much, Dennis Smith.  Good morning, everyone.  I’d like to begin by thanking Dennis for hosting this conference and for asking me to participate. 

On behalf of Administrator Lurita Doan and our Deputy Administrator David Bibb, I appreciate this chance to speak with you on a subject that is critically important to us at GSA and to all Americans - our environment. 

Now I know everyone in New England loves green.  You’ve got the nation’s first subway – the green line, which connects much of Boston’s Emerald Necklace of Parks, Viridis Montis – the Green Mountains of Vermont, and the most important and feared structure in the free world – the Green Monster. 

Two World Series champs in four years – when I lived in Boston in the 90s, no one would have believed it – wished and prayed for it – sure, but it was a future of only dreams. 

In fact, it’s our current dreams of the future that we are here to discuss today.  And as the Sox have proven, dreams can come true. 

I know GSA isn’t the first agency people think of when it comes to preserving our nation’s precious resources.  But as the procurement and real estate arm of the federal government –the agency that supplies workspace to federal workers throughout the nation as well as $66 billion dollars a year in acquisitions – GSA actually plays a significant role.

For instance:

  • We promote the use of environmental-friendly goods and services, from energy-efficient light bulbs to alternative fuel cars and trucks;
  • We’re a leader in promoting telework within the federal government.  Telework saves gas, cuts down on emissions and reduces traffic. And our New England region is one of the agency leaders in this area.  Last month, our Administrator, Lurita Doan, issued a challenge to the whole agency to have 50 percent of GSA’s eligible workforce to be teleworking at least one day a week by 2010.  After seeing what Dennis and his team have already done, I am confident we can make it.
  • And, as the government’s landlord, our Public Buildings Service has been recognized again and again for new and renovated buildings and courthouses that are not only awesome and inspiring, but which also incorporate the principles of sustainable design. 

My point is that GSA leaders like Lurita Doan, David Bibb, and Dennis Smith – have recognized in a very tangible and forward-looking way that the choices we make today will impact the resources that are left for our children, our grandchildren, and the generations that follow.

GSA’s efforts on all these fronts are intended to help other agencies comply with an Environmental Executive Order that President Bush signed last January.

The order requires that all new federal construction and major renovation projects:

  • Employ integrated design principles,
  • Optimize energy performance,
  • Protect and conserve water,
  • Enhance indoor environmental quality, and
  • Use materials that reduce environmental impact.

At GSA, we help the agencies meet their environmental obligations by providing responsible choices. This applies to:

  • The construction and leasing of energy-efficient and sustainably-designed buildings;
  • The procurement of renewable utility services;
  • Telework and other alternative workplace arrangements;
  • A selection of the latest alternative fuel vehicles;
  • And a wide range of environmentally-friendly office products.

Let’s talk a little more about sustainable design.

Energy efficiency and environmentally beneficial practices have been part of GSA’s best practices for years.  The new and exciting piece is the concept of sustainable design, which creates a more comprehensive approach to addressing these issues.

The terms “sustainable design” or “green building” refer to facilities that are located, designed, built and operated to consider impacts on the natural environment. They use natural resources efficiently, improve building performance, and address the health and comfort of building occupants.

The visionary landscape architect Ian McHarg called this – design with nature. 

Sustainability in building location, design, construction and operation is fundamental to GSA’s core mission of providing a world-class workplace for the federal worker and superior value for the American taxpayer.  Lurita is always telling me we need to lead by example, and what better way to demonstrate to the world what we can do as a nation in sustainable design than to have our public buildings say it for us. 

In 1999, GSA embarked on a comprehensive strategy to incorporate sustainable design requirements into our standard business process. We did so because of the obvious benefits: reduced operating costs, reduced waste, conservation of natural resources, positive community relationships, increased building value, increased occupant productivity, and increased occupant satisfaction.

So, what makes our buildings such a nice shade of green? Here are a couple of local and national examples:

  • The Murphy Federal Center in Waltham has a 140-thousand square foot solar roof.
  • The Hastings Keith Federal Building in New Bedford has a green roof.
  • The US Customs House in Portland Maine uses geothermal pumps for heating and cooling.
  • The federal office building in Oklahoma City has an underfloor air distribution system to provide flexibility and reduce future churn costs.  It also has light shelves and high ceilings that help direct daylight deep into the work environment.
  • The NOAA Satellite Operations Control Center in Suitland, Maryland has the largest green roof on the east coast.
  • And the new federal building in San Francisco is probably the only naturally ventilated class “A” office space in the U.S.  It features an 18-story tower that is only 65 feet wide to allow access to daylight, fresh air, and views for all building tenants. 

Some of you have probably heard of the LEED rating system for buildings.  LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. GSA has 19 buildings with LEED ratings.   Nine are government-owned buildings  Tenure build-to-suit leased buildings.  Five have achieved the “silver” rating and eight achieved the “gold” rating. 

One of the big issues being discussed right now in this area is how to encourage sustainable design not only in new buildings, but also in our existing structures.  This is a very important issue for GSA, because as the nation’s landlord, we are stewards of over 450 of America’s most historic buildings.  GSA wants to be a leader in both preserving our cultural heritage and in protecting the environment.  Two weeks ago I was in New Orleans meeting with GSA historic preservation officers from around the country and they told me that an unintended consequence of the visibility of the LEED ratings is that customers are being steered away from our historic buildings toward new construction.  This seems contrary to a basic tenet of sustainability, which is that reuse is a primary goal. 

The trouble it seems is that the LEED rating system was designed to address new construction and while it can be applied to renovation of older buildings, it’s harder to get a rating because the criteria were designed for a different purpose.  At GSA we love a challenge, so as Les Shepherd – GSA’s Chief Architect and I sat in New Orleans listening to this we decided we needed to do something about it.  So, we are going to take a leadership role in this issue and bring together all the stakeholders to see if we can fix the problem. 

Besides LEED certification, we’ve got a study in progress that will ensure our green buildings are operating at peak performance.  Twelve buildings are being evaluated. This is the first time the benefits are actually being measured.  Analyzing building performance will provide insight into design strategies and data to help us understand the value of the investment we’ve made.  We expect to complete the study before the new year.

That leads me to energy management.

  • GSA is a national leader in the purchase and use of renewable power from utility companies. We continue to explore opportunities for installing solar and other on-site generated renewable energy technologies as part of our building design and retrofit programs.
  • In 2006, 4.5 percent of our electricity was generated from renewable sources or bought through renewable energy certificates, compared with a national average of 2.3 percent. 
  • Over the last four years, GSA has purchased almost 1 million megawatt hours of energy from renewable sources through competitive power contracts and through the use of green power programs offered by local distribution companies.  That’s enough to power 77-thousand households for a year.  It’s also about the same as 202-thousand tons of waste being recycled instead of buried in a landfill.
  • GSA is incorporating solar and other on-site generated renewable energy technologies in our design and retrofit programs.  In fiscal year 2006, GSA used about 3.3 billion BTU’s in energy from self-generated renewable projects. Still admittedly a modest program, that’s enough to power 78 households for a year. 

All of us at the agency are proud that GSA not only helps other agencies meet their environmental goals, but that we also try to lead by example.  For instance, 

  • Between 1985 and 2005, GSA achieved the 30 percent reduction in energy consumption target set by the 1992 Energy Policy act; 
  • We operate our buildings at 5-percent below comparable building costs in the private sector;
  • Our utility costs are 12-percent lower than the private sector.  Between 2003 and 2006, GSA reduced the overall energy consumption of its buildings by 4.7 percent. 
  • Of the energy used in buildings today, nearly 30 percent is consumed for lighting and office equipment. In the early 1990’s, we retrofitted existing buildings with new energy efficient lighting systems.  We met our early goal of 20 percent energy reduction between 1985 and 2000 primarily through these retrofits.

So where’s it all headed? Here’s a glimpse of the future:

  • Since energy use generally peaks in the late afternoon, we try to quickly reduce the major consumer of electricity in our buildings: lights.  We’re looking at sophisticated systems that reduce illumination levels significantly enough to reduce total building demand and still leave plenty of light for people to do their work.  I mentioned earlier our new San Francisco Federal Building.  In that building the lighting is automatically dimmed when there is sufficient ambient lighting from outside.  In fact, the dimmers in that building are smart enough to know if you are on the east side of the building you get more light in the morning and less in the afternoon , so even on a cloudy day, you get the natural effect of the sun rising in the morning and setting in the afternoon.  This is not only wicked cool, it actually helps improve the well-being of the building tenants. 
  • The Energy Policy Act directs us to install advanced metering.  We’ll be doing that over the next few years, conditional on funding.  We started installing advanced meters in D.C. and New York.  In the long run, advanced meters will save money by allowing us to manage power consumption more strategically.
  • GSA is also exploring ways to reduce our dependence on the existing energy grid.  Combined heat and power systems can be a source of both energy security and savings.  The Food and Drug Administration Office in White Oak, Maryland is a great case study.  Using an energy saving performance contract to install a heating plant facility as part of the first phase of the campus build-out, we saved more than $1.4 million annually in energy costs and $2.1 million in annual operation and maintenance costs.  The plant provides reliable, uninterrupted on-site electric generation capability for three facilities on campus—a laboratory, an office building and a multi-use facility.  Heat is recovered from the generating process to produce hot water and in the absorption process to produce chilled water for air conditioning. 

I’m hopeful that the near future will improve technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells that will actually enable a building to put more energy into the grid than it takes out.

I’ll close with a few more words about telework.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that GSA leads the development of alternative workplace arrangements for the federal community.  As a long-time innovator and leader in telework, GSA has promulgated government-wide regulations to implement a 2000 law that requires each agency to establish a policy under which eligible employees may telework. Our goal is broad participation without diminished employee performance.  The law requires that this policy be applied to 25 percent of the federal workforce each year until all employees are offered the opportunity to telework.

Federal employees can now work away from the traditional worksite thanks to modern advances in technology.  They can work anytime or anywhere, and conserve energy.  All they need is a computer, high speed data line, and a phone, provided there is proper security protection.  In the very near future, I expect that all three of these things will be one device.  Voice over internet, high speed Wi-Fi, and data encryption all exist, it’s just a question of the best and most cost-effective way of ensuring that each teleworker has the right equipment and training to do their job no matter where they are physically located. 

Administrator Doan has challenged us to get 50 percent of GSA’s eligible workforce teleworking by 2010. Work has already begun on how to meet that ambitious target.

In truth, we need to do more in this area. In 2005, there were a little over 140,000 teleworkers in the federal government -- 19 percent of the telework-eligible workforce and 7.7 percent of the total workforce.

In Washington DC, federal employees now have the option of working from home or from one of GSA’s Telework Centers.  The centers, in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, were established to provide a full range of workplace services so employees can do productive work away from the conventional office.  The centers are equipped with computers and telephone services, fax and copier machines, meeting rooms, and onsite technical assistance staff.

Based on 2005 data, GSA’s 14 telework centers saved commuters from traveling nearly 2.8 million miles, which, in turn, saved almost 115 thousand gallons of fuel.  In addition, 2.3 million pounds of emissions were kept from being released into our atmosphere. 

Home telework is even more important as GSA and other agencies include it in their routine planning and consultation with our client agencies to conserve energy by occupying less space and using less electricity and lighting in their buildings.

Some of the benefits of telework are obvious: it saves taxpayer dollars; reduces energy use; cuts down on greenhouse gases; eases traffic; reduces our dependence on oil and even increases worker productivity.  But teleworking also provides government agencies and private companies with an emergency plan to remotely continue business operations in the event of a national disaster or terrorist attack.

GSA will continue to work with its customers to promote telework and alternative workplace programs.

There’s a lot more you can learn about GSA’s environmental resources. Please take a minute and visit:
To sum it up, my message today is that “going green” is a top priority for Administrator Doan, myself and all of us at GSA.  Whether it’s green roofs, self-generated renewable projects, or alternative fueled vehicles, GSA is fully committed to the goals of the president’s executive order and to helping our client agencies meet their environmental goals.  Thank you very much.


Last Reviewed 2010-04-30