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. For more information, contact Lance Davis ( or

GSA and Sustainable Design

The Energy Policy Act (EPAct) of 2005 addressed U.S. energy production, and included building-related provisions to "design new federal buildings to achieve energy efficiency at least 30 percent better than ASHRAE 90.1 standards, where life-cycle cost effective." Designers and energy modelers are encouraged to use GSA's 2020 Energy Use Target Guidance [PDF - 642 KB] to establish energy usage intensity targets. That guidance includes flowcharts to help simplify compliance with the energy efficiency laws, executive orders, and P100 sections applicable to GSA construction and modernization projects.

In 2006, 19 federal agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding committing to "federal leadership in the design, construction, and operation of High-Performance Sustainable Buildings." This interagency memo yielded what is now called the Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings, and charged agencies to optimize buildings' performance while maximizing assets' life-cycle value. Federal agencies are required by Executive Order to make annual progress toward 100% portfolio compliance with the Guiding Principles.

The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 [PDF] established additional environmental management goals. New GSA buildings and major renovations must meet requirements including: reducing fossil-fuel-generated energy consumption by 80 percent by 2020 and by 100 percent by 2030, managing water from 95th percentile rain events onsite, and applying sustainable design principles to siting, design, and construction.

In 2021, Executive Order 14057 on Catalyzing Clean Energy Industries and Jobs Through Federal Sustainability, superseded prior sustainability Executive Orders 13423, 13514, 13693, and 13834.

Executive Order 14057 requires Federal government agencies to, among other things:

1. Reduce portfolio-wide Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (onsite combustion and purchased energy) 65% by 2030, compared to a 2008 baseline.

2. Use 100% carbon pollution-free electricity on a net annual basis by 2030.

3. Pursue building electrification strategies in conjunction with carbon pollution-free energy, efficiency, and space reduction/consolidation.

4. Design new construction and modernization projects greater than 25,000 GSF to be net zero ready (able to achieve net-zero operational emissions) by 2030; and

5. Move toward net-zero emissions from Federal procurement, including through a Buy Clean policy promoting use of construction materials with lower embodied GHG emissions.

Revised Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings were issued by the White House Council on Environmental Quality in 2020.

GSA created a Sustainable Design Checklist [PDF - 80 KB] to track new construction and major renovation projects' compliance with the Guiding Principles in categories of Integrated Design, Energy, Water, Indoor Environmental Quality, Materials, and Resilience. Regional project delivery teams report Guiding Principles compliance, among other sustainability details, via GSA's Kahua Sustainability App.

GSA carefully incorporates sustainable design and energy efficiency principles into its construction & modernization projects. The result is a solid balance of cost, environmental, societal, and human benefits that help meet tenant agencies' mission objectives and functional needs. GSA strives to seamlessly integrate sustainable design into project delivery.


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 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.

In 2018, GSA also published an Impact of High-Performance Buildings study, which found that sustainability designed buildings save money, save water, cost less to operate, produce less waste, and have more satisfied occupants compared with typical buildings.

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: 2023-02-09