Green Government--An Interview With GSA's Top Green Building Officials

 The General Services Administration is one of the largest owners of real estate in the country, composed primarily of office buildings and courthouses, land ports of entry, and warehouses.  The GSA owns and leases more than 354 million square feet of space in 8,600 buildings across the nation.

The GSA is also the owner of one of the greenest real estate porfolios.  As of the summer of 2010, the GSA had 48 LEED-certified owned and leased buildings with approximately 150 more working towards accreditation. Eighteen of those projects exceeded the minimum with LEED Gold certifications, and one GSA lease, the FBI Regional Office in Chicago, achieved a Platinum LEED rating for Existing Buildings.  The GSA has required LEED Silver certification for its projects for some time, and now requires that new Federal buildings achieve LEED Gold certification.

While I was at GreenBuild in Chicago, I had the chance to sit down with Kevin Kampschroer, GSA's Director of the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings and Eleni Reed, GSA's Chief Greening Officer.

We talked about GSA's experience greening the Federal government's real estate portfolio, implementing the GSA's LEED Gold requirement and the challenge--and benefits--of trying to do four times as many contracts as the GSA normally does because of the influx of $5 billion in Stimulus funding. 

Here is what they said:

GBLB: What has the GSA done with the Stimulus money? 

KK: The GSA has a bit of a different position than other agencies because the GSA actually enters into the contracts with builders and other receipients, as opposed to granting funds to states and other entities that ultimately contract with the recipients.  As of the end of September we had awarded $5 billion [for greening the Federal real estate and fleet].  After the award, it takes some time for the contractor to get the contract and hire the people and do the work, but we have made $1 billion in payments so far.

GBLB: What was impact of the Stimulus money on the GSA?

KK:  As a result of the Stimulus, we awarded four times as many contracts as the GSA usually does in the same period of time.  This forced us to find ways to be more efficient in what we were doing.  For example, we started "speed dating."  Where decisions had to be made, we put all the decision makers in a room togther to come to a decision quickly.  Executives and managers had to delegate some of the decision-making to ensure efficiency. 

Because the projects had to be "shovel ready," many of the designs were already done.  The designs met our specifications, but were not necessarily the best possible designs--the most you can do with the budget that you have.  Going forward, we are retooling our performance criteria and specifications to spur teams to be more innovative and creative with the budget they have.

For example, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is a net-zero building.  We gave the team specifications, and we incentivized the team by paying them mroe the closer they got to the goals.

For other projects, we had a relatively brief minimum performance criteria which was a goal statement for the project.  It has resulted in more rapid and more innovative designs. However, this requires accepting a shift in risk to the Government side.  But the less risk you take, the less you get [in terms of innovation and design.]

This also has implications for allocating capital.  The GSA has to allow for approximation up front and not require everything to be fixed from the beginning of the project.  

GBLB:  Now that you have all these green buildings, what are you going to do next?  

ER: We are looking to get good metrics about whether we are doing what we set out to do [in terms of building performance].  We have 250 buildings with baseline metrics across a wide variety of project types so we should be able to get some good data. 

GBLB: How will the experience with the Stimulus funds impact the agency going forward? 

KK: We will be more efficient and more effective.  We will have achieved significant improvement in our portfolio [of buildings].  The budget will be extremely lean in the future.  It will be important to apply the lessons we have learned [about how to do projects more efficiently] to operating and maintaining the buildings to prevent deterioration.  We have an opportunity in tracking the performance of the inventory over time and across the portfolio.

GBLB: What about your requirement that GSA projects achieve LEED Gold certification?

KK: We select contractors who know that this is the expectation.  We have been doing LEED Silver for a decade, this is raising the bar to LEED GOld, but the architect and engineering firms know how to do it. 

When we budget the project, we have adjusted the process to allow for LEED Gold certification.  We have done studies on standard versus green construction, you can do LEED Silver for less than conventional construction because of integrated design. 

GBLB: Have you ever had a project fail to get the mandated certification? 

KK: The way we started out was that our goal was LEED Silver.  We have had building that did not reach that level of certification, but never had one that failed to acheive minimum LEED certification.

For more on the GSA's efforts, Architecture Week had an article by Kevin, and Kevin's testimony before the House Subcommittee on the GSA's Stimulus efforts is available here.

The Secret Life Of GBLB: Greenbuild Legal Forum 11/18

This Thursday I will be speaking at the Greenbuild Legal Forum about upcoming trends in green building law and policy with my fellow bloggers Chris Cheatham of Green Building Law Update and Steve Del Percio of Green Real Estate Law Journal

The panel will be held:

Thursday, November 18, 2010 – 8:30am-11:30am
Room 193AB, McCormick Place West



I will be covering lots of great substantive topics, with a focus on upcoming regulatory issues, including:

  • Stimulus
  • Impact of the 2010 Mid-term elections
  • Leaked White House documents on the future of renewable energy/energy efficiency loan guarantees
  • Ballot initatives
  • Utility regulation
  • PACE/DOE Home Energy Pilot Loan Guarantees

I will also give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse into my life as a green law blogger. Join us for a discussion that promises to be both informative and controversial. 

Come See The Bad Boys (and Girl) Of Green Building Law At Greenbuild

Chris Cheatham of Green Building Law Update, Stephen Del Percio of Green Real Estate Law Journal and, of course, me are going to be speaking about the future of green law at Greenbuild. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010 – 8:30am-11:30am
Room 193AB, McCormick Place West


A full decription of the legal panel (and the other exciting guest stars!) is available here:

Green Building And Carbon Policy--The 800 lb. Gorilla Has Left The Building

In my Greenbuild post, I blogged:

Green building policy was well covered, but carbon policy got short shrift. The one session dealing with carbon policy at the state and federal level was cancelled, with no explanation.

Carbon policy, in my opinion, is the 800 lb. gorilla in any discussion about environmental law, especially green building. According to the USGBC, in the United States alone, buildings account for: • 72% of electricity consumption, • 39% of energy use, • 38% of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions In other words, a whole lot of carbon. If carbon is valued, either through cap-and-trade or carbon tax, the whole landscape shifts. First, electricity generated through fossil fuel fired plants will get much more expensive, making energy efficiency and conservation techniques more cost effective. Second, buildings may have to pay for their emissions of CO2, making managing the emissions a key component in building construction and management. Green buildings, using less energy and emitting fewer carbon emissions will become more desireable as assets. Finally, green building which generate renewable energy thorugh photovoltaics, for example, may be more economically viable because they generate carbon offsets. Despite these obvious linkages, no speaker that I heard at Greenbuild really made the connection between carbon policy and green building. Too bad.

NAHB v. LEED-H--The Battle For Homeowners

In my post about my experiences at Greenbuild, I blogged:

NAHB is going after LEED-H in a big way. A new, more robust NAHB green standard for residential should be out shortly which will give LEED-H a run for its money.

At Greenbuild I spent a long time talking to representatives of the National Association of Home Builders, NAHB, about their standard for green residential home building--NAHBGreen.  NAHBGreen competes directly with the USGBC's newly minted LEED product for residential buildings, LEED For Homes or LEED-H.

Both programs have a similar structure.  Both programs have a point based system which allocates points for site selection, resource conservation, energy efficiency, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality and homeowner education. 

As currently developed, residential buildings following LEED-H will probably be "greener."  LEED-H has a component for "Location and Linkages", which includes proximity to transit, infill development, adjacency to open space and access to community resources like shopping, etc. LEED-H has prerequisites which mandate minimum requirements for durability, material efficiency, erosion controls and other components. 

However, in talking with the NAHB representatives at Greenbuild, I found out that NAHB is doing several things to enhance the NAHBGreen product.  They are working with ANSI the standards body, to certify the NAHBGreen standard.  The ANSI-certified new NAHB standard is going to have stricter requirements for energy efficiency and other green components.  Finally, the registration and verification cost for becoming NAHBGreen certified will be much less than LEED-H.  In short, the new NAHBGreen is seeking to compete with LEED-H both on quality and on price. 

It remains to be seen what the new NAHBGreen will look like, but if it is equally robust and at a lower cost, it will likely give LEED-H a run for its money.