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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Jan/Feb 2000 : Greening Our Goverment

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 says.

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 design principles.

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.)

Thinking Green

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 2000 celebration.

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 global initiative.”

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.

What’s Next?

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.”

Planet GSA’s Champions

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 Green

• 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 carpet.

Build Green

• 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.

Drive Green

• 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.

Save Green

• 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 also access speeches by Planet GSA officials, learn about awards programs and access Memorandums of Agreement (MOAs) with other governmental agencies.

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 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 professionals.

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.

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