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

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."

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. Executive Orders, including 2007's E.O. 13423 Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management, have required Federal agencies to make annual progress toward 100% portfolio compliance with the Guiding Principles.

The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 established additional environmental management goals. New GSA buildings and major renovations must meet requirements including: reducing fossil-fuel-generated energy consumption by 65 percent by 2015 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 2015, Executive Order 13693 Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade built upon and superseded Executive Orders 13423 and 13514. It established goals for federal agencies through fiscal year (FY) 2025, including:

  • Reduce building energy intensity (British thermal units per gross square foot) by 2.5 percent annually, relative to the agency's FY 2015 baseline building energy use;
  • Reduce potable water consumption intensity (gallons per gross square foot) by 2 percent annually, relative to the agency's FY 2007 baseline water consumption; and
  • Identify a percentage of at least 15 percent of the agency's existing buildings above 5,000 gross square feet that comply with the revised Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings. These revised Guiding Principles were issued by the Council on Environmental Quality in 2016.

GSA created a 21-item Guiding Principles Checklist (GPC) [PDF - 127 KB] to track new construction and major renovation projects' compliance with the Guiding Principles in categories of Integrated Design, Energy, Water, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Materials. The GPC references related statutory mandates and LEED credits to streamline compliance reporting for project team members. Regional project delivery teams report Guiding Principles compliance, among other sustainability details, via GSA's gBUILD (Green Building Upgrade Information Lifecycle Database) system.

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.

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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