Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

On March 19, President Barack Obama issued an executive order to reduce the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 40 percent as compared to 2008 levels, and to increase the share of electricity that the government consumes from renewable sources to 30 percent, over the next decade. The Obama administration estimates that the reduction of greenhouse gases will save up to $18 billion in energy costs. The federal government is the largest consumer of energy in the U.S. economy, owning 360,000 buildings.

Last week’s mandate is one of several initiatives by the ​​​​Obama administration to address climate change. In 2009, Obama issued an executive order requiring all new federal buildings achieve zero-net-energy by 2030 and directing agencies to cut greenhouse gas emissions. In 2010, Obama created specific targets for federal agencies by 2020, ordering a 28-percent reduction in direct greenhouse gas emissions, such as those from fuels and building energy use, and a 13 percent drop in indirect emissions, like those from employee commutes and landfill wastes.  

Along with last week’s executive order, the Obama administration also released a new scorecard to publicly evaluate self-reported emissions and targets for all major large federal suppliers—some of which announced new emissions-cutting goals of their own. The White House reports that the combined efforts of the federal government and new supplier commitments will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 million metric tons by 2025 from 2008 levels, or the equivalent of removing approximately 5.5 million cars from the road for a year. 

On March 20, the General Service Administration (GSA) acting administrator Denise Turner Roth released a statement outlining specific measures the GSA—which manages 9,600 federally owned or leased buildings—will take to boost energy efficiency among its buildings. “Since buildings account for 98 percent of GSA’s operational greenhouse gas emissions, a large part of achieving this goal will require GSA to increase its use of Energy Savings Performance Contracts and other retrofitting strategies to make federal buildings more energy efficient,” Roth said in the statement.

Obama’s efforts for boosting energy efficiency in the federal government could be thwarted by the passage of the Shaheen-Portman energy-efficiency bill, reintroduced in the Senate on March 11. The legislation includes an amendment to repeal the federal government's goals of reducing its energy consumption per gross square foot in its new and renovated buildings incrementally each year until 2030, when it reaches a 100-percent reduction in fossil fuel use, based on a 2003 baseline. The amendment is controversial among industry stakeholders, including the AIA, which opposes it