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Johnson Says GSA Accepts the Challenge of Championing Sustainability

As Prepared for Delivery

Remarks by
Martha N. Johnson
Administrator
U.S. General Services Administration
White House Clean Energy Economy Forum on Federal Leadership and High Performance Sustainable Buildings
Washington, DC
July 20, 2010

Thank you all for coming today. It is terrific to be here, and I take great pleasure in helping to host this series of panels and workshops on a topic of such significance for our country and our economy. This is one more step in increasing interagency and public/private synergies around high-performing green buildings. Allow me to note that along with the Department of Energy and the National Institute for Standards and Technology, we will also be hosting a workshop this afternoon and tomorrow morning on high-performing green buildings that I am sure will be productive for everyone. 

As Labor Secretary Hilda Solis just mentioned, sustainable design and building will indeed spur job growth and upskilling, which will help get our country on its feet again. 

Yes, the economy of the 21st century will be renewed and built on pillars of sustainability. To that end, the president is keen on building a green federal government that innovates and works with the best of the private sector. 

And, I am pleased that he has moved GSA to the forefront of this agenda by naming us a member -- along with the Department of Energy and the Council on Environmental Quality -- of his green team tasked with being champions of sustainability. This was shrewd: GSA's reach is broad as well as deep. We touch both the river of government acquisitions as well as a significant portion of the buildings portfolio in which the government works. We are positioned to steer and leverage the immense purchasing power of the government to test, prove, and then bring to scale new ideas and new technologies. 

We at GSA have taken this mission seriously, and I am proud to say that we have declared the goal of a zero environmental footprint. President Kennedy challenged the nation to reach the moon. It was a bold and audacious goal, and galvanized us as a nation. A zero environmental footprint goal can galvanize GSA and our customers, the government, by requiring us to think, design, innovate, operate, measure, procure, build, and manage in new ways. 

As Public Buildings Commissioner Bob Peck says, GSA should think of itself as the green proving ground, where new technologies and systems can be tested and best practices can be brought to the market. We own and operate buildings in every climate and most altitudes in the country. GSA has a unique position as a test bed for learning what works -- and what doesn't -- in green and sustainable building.

This is something with which we have experience: In 1975, GSA installed the first green -- and leak-free -- roof on the Edith-Green Wendell-Wyatt federal parking building in Portland, Oregon, and we have been incorporating sustainability throughout our federal building design process ever since. Our new project in south Seattle takes high-performance green design to a new level, incorporating smart siting, recycled building materials, chilled beams, light-drenched work space, and sustainable elements throughout the project.

The Recovery Act has helped with this agenda, giving us $5.5 billion to spend on modernization and investments largely in boosting sustainable performance in our federal buildings inventory, and we have already put $4 billion of that money -- nearly four times as much as ever before -- to work pursuing smart and sustainable development.

But we're not just a test bed for infrastructure like green roofs and solar panels. We are also able to test out new methods for flexible work and work space design. We are particularly excited by the upcoming move of our own headquarters staff to an open floor plan swing space. We anticipate increased productivity, decreased environmental costs, higher employee satisfaction, and a number of innovative lessons that we can use as we renovate and return to our historic central office building and service other customers.

Sustainability is a significant innovative challenge for the government. It is also the right thing to do from the point of view of the private sector and the American economy. Private developers and financial institutions are getting on board with the new opportunities sustainability holds for anticipating new markets, decreasing utility bills, and much more. 

And today, we are here to explore the possibilities of synergies between the public and private sectors. This is a time for smart risk-taking. We need our partners in the private sector to help us, to share mistakes and successes, and we'll do the same with you. 

I like to think about this era as analogous to Detroit in the early 1900s, where ideas proliferated about the best camshafts, windshields, and engines. The industry hadn't yet coalesced around any one design or set of manufacturers. It was an exciting time, as people were realizing the great potential of the automotive industry in the American economy. Similarly, sustainability is in an early and fruitful stage, poised to take advantage of new technology and new systems, and help us rebuild our economy. Let us set about today to unearth our best thinking about how to promote exactly that.

I am now delighted to moderate a panel discussion with four distinguished guests.


Sustainability Johnson Says GSA Accepts the Challenge of Championing Sustainability