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Setting a leadership path: Obama Executive Order on Federal Energy

October 5th, 2009 · 5 Comments

Somewhat hidden to most Americans (on purpose), the Bush Administration’s Executive Order 13423 was perhaps the best energy-related action taken by George W Bush. It set meaningful energy efficiency targets and created paths for more effective energy management across the federal government. Today, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order that builds on 13423 and builds on the funding from the stimulus package to accelerate the Federal government toward more aggressive sustainability goals across energy efficiency, reduced oil consumption, water conservation, waste reduction, and the use of Federal purchasing power to increase the speed of market adoption of environmentally-responsible products and technologies.

“As the largest consumer of energy in the U.S. economy, the Federal government can and should lead by example when it comes to creating innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, conserve water, reduce waste, and use environmentally-responsible products and technologies,” said President Obama. “This Executive Order builds on the momentum of the Recovery Act to help create a clean energy economy and demonstrates the Federal government’s commitment, over and above what is already being done, to reducing emissions and saving money.”

The Executive Order, Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, will require agencies to set, no later than 90 days from now, sustainability targets for 2020. It will require serious efforts to measure, manage, and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Here are some of the explicit targets laid out within the Executive Order:

  • 30% reduction in vehicle fleet petroleum use by 2020;
  • 26% improvement in water efficiency by 2020;
  • 50% recycling and waste diversion by 2015;
  • 95% of all applicable contracts will meet sustainability requirements;
  • Implementation of the 2030 net-zero-energy building requirement;
  • Development of guidance for sustainable Federal building locations in alignment with the Livability Principles put forward by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EO provides some specific steps within each of these target arenas, such “reducing potable water consumption intensity by2 percent annually through fiscal year 2020, or26 percent by the end of fiscal year 2020, relative to a baseline of the agency’s water consumption in fiscal year 2007, byimplementing water management strategiesincluding water-efficient and low-flow fixturesand efficient cooling towers.”

The Federal government occupies nearly 500,000 buildings, operates more than 600,000 vehicles, employs more than 1.8 million civilians, and purchases more than $500 billion per year in goods and services.  These buildings, these ‘vehicles’, these civilians, these purchases are being put on a path to be leaders in fostering a path toward a prosperous, climate-friendly future.

This Executive Order should help bring sustainability goals to the table for all agency strategic planning and investment/purchase decisions.  The EO tasks agencies to develop “an integrated Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan” providing prioritization the actions toward achieving the EO’s goals, with a particular emphasis on “lifecycle return on investments”.

Now, as to that last, there is a real question as to how that “life cycle return” will be analyzed.  Will, for example, evaluations of productivity improvement, reduced employee absentee rates, and lower health care bills due to green buildings be counted in that “life-cycle return”, or will the analysis be stove-piped solely within energy efficiency?  The government, of course, should be interested in larger impacts, such as reducing urban heat island impacts through (ever so) “cool roofs”, but will that larger societal benefit be “countable” within payback return analysis?  Now, the EO provides guidance that captures at least some of this as here is the EO’s second paragraph:

It is further the policy of the United States that to achieve these goals and support their respective missions, agencies shall prioritize actions based on a full accounting of both economic and social benefits and costs and shall drive continuous improvement by annually evaluating performance,extending or expanding projects that have net benefits, and reassessing or discontinuing under-performing projects.

To be honest, seeing that requirement for “continuous improvement” with continuing performance evaluation, providing the window for reinforcing successful programs and discontinuing “under-performing projects” is the sort of good governance approach that all thoughtful citizens should applaud.

Truth be told, there are already many great examples across the U.S. government of cost-effective sustainability projects from energy efficiency to clean energy to land management practices reducing office impacts.  This new order should reinforce those successes, making sustainability the basic standard for Federal practice and, we can hope, blazing a path for change throughout our society.

Tags: architecture2030 · barack obama · climate change · environmental · government energy policy

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