Apr 21, 2022 - Energy & Environment

First Look: Federal buildings agency cuts emissions 51% since 2008

Illustration of a green round table with the Earth as the top of the table.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The General Services Administration (GSA), which helps federal agencies build, purchase and retrofit office space, has cut its building portfolio's annual operational greenhouse gas emissions by 51% compared to fiscal 2008 levels, the agency first told Axios.

Why it matters: The Biden administration has set a government-wide goal of cutting emissions by 50% by 2032, which means the GSA is about a decade ahead of that target.

  • The GSA has a target of hitting net zero emissions across its nearly 370 million rentable square feet by 2045.

How it works: The GSA has constructed new buildings that meet the highest standards for energy efficiency, reaching net zero emissions in some cases.

  • It has also modernized many of its more than 1,500 federal properties, adding smart building technologies and putting in place more efficient building operations practices.
  • Like some private companies, such as Google, are doing, the federal government is also using power purchasing agreements to lock in prices and purchase more carbon-free energy supplies.

Zoom in: Buildings like the Wayne Aspinall Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Grand Junction, Colo. have been modernized with both historic preservation in mind as well as sustainability. This was accomplished through funding from the American Recovery Act, which jump-started GSA's emissions reduction push.

  • The GSA cited an IRS facility in New Carrollton, Md. as an example of the new efficiency standards in its buildings.
  • It uses geothermal heating and on-site renewables to generate electricity.

Yes, but: At the same time that GSA is working to make its buildings more efficient, it is also having to adapt to today's hybrid workforce. That means making sure that federal IT infrastructure is as efficient as possible, and that offices do not waste energy when they are not fully occupied.

What's next: The GSA is working to integrate charging infrastructure into its buildings to support the increasingly electric-powered federal vehicle fleet. It is also working to help federal agencies secure carbon-free electricity, including by aggregating procurement across agencies.

  • Achieving its next 49% of emissions cuts may not be so straightforward, since many of the more obvious efficiency steps have already been accomplished, however.
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