: Magazine : Back
Issues : Jan/Feb
2000 : Greening Our Goverment
Not your ordinary governmental task force,
Planet GSA is pushing hard for one million government employees
to “think green,” and
enjoying huge successes along the way because of its creative approaches
to communication and partnerships.
How does the agency responsible for providing workspace products,
services and solutions for one million Federal employees successfully
drum up interest in and enthusiasm for environmental initiatives
within its own workforce of 14,200 employees? The answer is simple:
by encouraging actions already begun, by providing tools for increased
action and by packaging the program in a fun and motivational concept.
The program, Planet GSA, is now nearing the end of its second year. Officially
launched on Earth Day 1998 by General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator
Dave Barram, the program was developed to meet the White House’s interest
in furthering environmental efforts within the Federal government. But unlike
some other governmental initiatives, Barram and his Planet GSA special assistant,
Jackie Robinson, knew that they needed to do something unique—something
that went beyond the typical “task force” image. “We had a
to create a fun way to have the GSA community become excited about the program,” Robinson
One of the first steps Robinson took was to put a team together consisting of
four team leaders, one for each of the program’s pillars:
Buying Green: GSA promotes the purchase of recycled, energy-efficient and environmental
products and services.
Building Green: GSA builds, modernizes and alters Federal facilities using sustainable
Driving Green: GSA promotes and expands the fleet of alternative fueled vehicles
and promotes commuting strategies such as carpooling and teleWORK.
Saving Green: GSA promotes energy and water conservation in Federal facilities.
At first, Robinson admits, not everyone was enthusiastic about the new program.
So, he says, “we concentrated on those people who did get it.” After
the first four team leaders were named, eleven Regional Planet GSA coordinators
were appointed. Each region also was asked to select a coordinator for each of
the four areas. There are now more than 60 GSA employees involved in the Planet
GSA program nationwide.
Within the first six months following Barram’s announcement of the Planet
GSA program, each region planned a Planet GSA kickoff event. Vendors were invited
to display their environmental products, training sessions were held and celebrity
speakers such as Hal Linden, June Lockhart, Dennis Weaver and Jerry Brown were
invited to help attract employees to the events. During these kickoffs, special
awards were given recognizing those employees who had helped protect the environment.
The kickoffs were designed to energize employees, to heighten their awareness
of what GSA does for the environment and to challenge each employee to “think
green.” These events were so successful several regions, such as Atlanta,
GA, Denver, CO, and San Francisco, CA, have continued to host Planet GSA events
focusing on environmental training opportunities.
With GSA purchasing more than $50 billion in goods and services per year, it’s
easy to see how significant the impact that “greening” GSA can be.
The evidence that Planet GSA works and is pushing the envelope beyond normal
conservation standards speaks for itself. (See box on page 45.)
But how do you implement such a monumental program? Robinson acknowledges that
they knew a cookie-cutter approach wouldn’t work in getting the word out.
So they created an entire package of ideas—ideas that, in the end, reach
each and every GSA employee.
For example, much emphasis is put into education and improving communications.
This ranges from having national and regional Planet GSA Web sites to celebrating
annual events such as Earth Day, Energy Awareness Month and America Recycles
Day to producing a monthly report highlighting the environmental activities taking
place. These reports keep top-level management as well as employees apprised
of ongoing activities and their progress. To get and keep each employee “thinking
green,” a brochure, a bookmark, two videos, a pay stub message and e-mail
messages from Barram were created communicating the Planet GSA message and encouraging
employees to participate. Planet GSA team members deliver presentations about
what they are doing for the environment to groups both inside and outside GSA.
In addition to Planet GSA Awards and other environmental awards programs, an
Environmental Champions brochure was published for Earth Day 1999 to recognize
the environmental accomplishments of all employees. Environmental “champions” also
will be recognized in its Environmental Awards program at GSA’s Earth Day
Planet GSA also recognizes other environmental activities that its employees
are involved in such as recycling, environmental remediation, pollution prevention,
the reduction or elimination of lead, asbestos and radon, improved indoor air
quality, and participation in the Brownfields Redevelopment to help with cleanup
and redevelopment of contaminated inner city properties. These programs are referred
to as Managing Green.
“Through Planet GSA, we now have a way to talk about all the things that
GSA employees are doing to save money, protect the environment and improve the
quality of life in communities across our nation,” says Robinson. “We
have worked hard to energize and inform GSA employees, and the entire federal
community, about the things they can do to protect the environment. It has encouraged
those who have been working on environmental issues for a long time to see that
the importance of their work is recognized. Finally, Planet GSA has given us
the tools to show the American public that their government is working hard,
and is working together, to protect our planet for the generations to come in
the 21st century.”
Beyond the GSA
Early on, Robinson says, the Planet GSA team recognized that in order to fully
integrate the program’s objectives throughout the Federal government, relationships
needed to be formed with federal partner agencies. It was important, he says,
to have these organizations on board and working toward the Planet GSA. The team
has currently met with 25 agencies and are in the process of signing Memorandums
of Agreement (MOAs) with all whereby these agencies agree to support Plant GSA
“We can’t protect the environment alone. Customer agencies have to
want to do the right thing for the environment, and we want to be right there
to help them do just that,” Robinson says.
And Planet GSA is not stopping with the public sector. Robinson is excited about
plans that call for signing an MOA with the United Nations in New York in February
2000 during the Joint Energy Conference. (GSA provides electricity and
supplies to the U.N.) This will, Robinson says, “turn Planet GSA into a
In addition, Planet GSA officials have toured Disney’s facility in Orlando
and are discussing entering into an MOA with them. To reward companies that show
concern for the environment, GSA’s National Furniture Center has established
the Evergreen Awards Program. It is given to vendors who can apply in several
categories: waste prevention, recycling, affirmative procurement, environmental
preferability and model facility. Milliken Carpet won in July 1998, Herman Miller
won in October 1998 and Collins & Aikman Floorcoverings won in July 1999.
Next up on the Planet GSA agenda is to focus on the next generation of government
officials. Robinson says that a program is being created that will focus on getting
children of all ages involved in planning future green initiatives. Although
still in the infancy stages, the Planet GSA team is investigating the idea of
an essay contest that encourages kids to become more sensitive and concerned
about the environment.
“On a personal note, I care about the world my children and grandchildren
have to grow up in,” Robinson says. “But it’s also the right
thing to do for the right reason.”
Among the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of green strides being
taken by GSA employees nationwide, here’s a sample of
some of the success stories the program has realized to date.Buy
The team of Bobby Givens, Dean Zaffree, Michael Gartland, Patricia
Honley, Juan Trujillo, Crystal Thill, Carter Lee and Francine
Mortensen of GSA’s Surplus Sales Office in Denver, CO,
received Vice President Gore’s Hammer Award for reinventing
the personal property sales marketing process. The new plan formed
a coalition of federal agencies in southern Utah sharing space
and personnel for re-marketing used federal property resulting
in more competitive bids and greater income to the agencies.
Marcelles Barr, Wanda Bowman, Sherrill Marlow and Sharon Booker
with the National Furniture Center in Philadelphia combined three
multiple award floor covering contract schedules into one. They
invited industry to address carpet, mat and tile recycling, waste
management and reuse of old carpet in order to assist customers
in waste disposal and recycling. They exceeded NFC’s $1
million goal with $2.5 million in purchases of recycled content
In designing the Federal office building at 290 Broadway in New
York, EPA representatives and GSA’s Alan Greenberg, John
Rossi, Walter Babich and Robert Collegio partnered to ensure
that the buildings used energy-efficient equipment and other
environmental products. The energy systems qualified for more
than $2.3 million in rebates, and the annual energy savings of
3,300 kW results in yearly savings of $1.3 million.
The new $25.4 million EPA Regional Headquarters in Kansas City,
KS, was a collaborative effort among GSA, EPA, the architect,
the developer, and the builder. The result was a green building
that is not only functional but beautiful, using “off the
shelf” products without significantly impacting the cost
or schedule of the project. For those interested in Building
Green, the “Green Team” documented their efforts
toward creating an environmentally sensitive “green” project.
GSA is participating in the six cities “AFV User Program.” In
partnership with the Department of Energy (DOE), GSA is making
up to $4 million in matching funds available to federal agencies
in six cities: San Francisco, CA, Denver, CO, Albuquerque, NM,
Minneapolis, MN, Salt Lake City, UT, and Melbourne-Titusville,
FL. The money helps cover the difference (about $4,500) between
buying an alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) versus a traditional
gas-powered vehicle. The cost is offset by the significant environmental
benefits of AFVs.
EPA’s Richmond, CA, laboratory has become the first Federal
building in the U.S. to be powered entirely by renewable energy.
A three-year agreement with the Sacramento Municipal Utility
District will supply the facility with 100 percent green power.
During the first year, geothermal energy will provide 60 percent
of the supply, with landfill gas for the balance. In the future,
all green energy will come from landfill gas. With the U.S. government
spending $3.5 billion a year on electricity purchases, GSA is
committed to negotiating contracts that will increase green power’s
portion of this spending.
Massachusetts and Rhode Island are currently participating in
the New England Property Management Utility Procurement Program,
with current annual electric generation load totals of approximately
237 million kilowatt-hours at an annual cost of $24 million.
As other New England states become active in the contract, the
base annual load will reach 454 million kilowatt-hours with an
annual cost of $42.5 million. Through the contract, GSA and other
participating agencies will receive an additional $1.5 million
in savings above the legislated Standard Offer pricing for the
life of the contract. This project was one of the nine winners
at this year’s Federal Energy and Water Conservation Awards.
The Metcalfe Federal Building in Chicago, IL, became the first
building in Illinois to receive EPA’s Energy Star Award
for energy efficiency. Over the last six years, electric consumption
at the building has been reduced by more than nine percent, which
translates into savings of about $223,000 a year.
New equipment installed at the Suitland Federal Center in Washington,
DC, saved almost $244,000 and 46.4 billion Btu’s in 1998.
This project is expected to save GSA and the American taxpayers
$10 million over the next 20 years.
Planet GSA On the Web
An introduction to the Planet GSA program, this site offers specific
information about the four pillars
of the program—Buy Green, Build Green, Drive Green and
Save Green—as well as its fiscal goals, upcoming training
programs, regional events and environmental exhibits. You can
speeches by Planet GSA officials, learn about awards programs
and access Memorandums of Agreement (MOAs) with other governmental
With the growing number of environmentally sensitive furniture
and furnishing products and services identified under schedule
contracts, the National Furniture Center (NFC) has its own new “Furniture
and Furnishings” section in the 1999 edition of GSA’s “Environmental
Products and Services Guide. Products and service offerings include
energy efficient lighting, energy conserving window shading systems,
recycled content floor coverings, remanufactured office systems
work stations, environmentally safe, on-site furniture upholstering
and refinishing, carpet recycling programs and more.
The NFC expects this section, as well as its “What’s
Green” Web page at www.nfc.fss.gsa.gov to grow considerably
as it canvasses its many schedule vendors for information on
environmental attributes of the thousands of commercial products
currently provided under contract for the Federal community.
NEPA Call-in is GSA’s National Environmental Policy Act
(NEPA) information clearinghouse and research service. It provides
technical assistance and information to GSA personnel and approved
GSA contractors in understanding and implementing the complex
requirements of NEPA and related environmental initiatives. Supported
by a research staff of environmental professionals and a network
of experts throughout the nation, NEPA Call-in is designed to
meet the needs of GSA’s realty
This site helps employees learn about ways to reduce costs by
promoting optimal energy use while simultaneously protecting
the environment and ensuring a quality workspace for clients.
Main sections of the site include: public utilities programs;
energy tracking; gas programs; green power; plus news and information
and related links.
This site highlights an array of publications produced by the
Federal government to inform consumers about ways they can “think” and “act” green.
Among the publication topics included are: green
advertising claims; collecting used oil for recycling/reuse;
endangered species; healthy lawns/healthy environments; and a
citizen’s guide to pesticides.