Fourteen years after Edward Feiner made the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) a driver of design excellence in civic architecture, a new office aims to make federal facilities greener as well. The GSA, the federal government's real estate agency, has established the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings (OFHPGB) to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Energy Independence and Security Act.

This measure, which became law in December 2007, initially drew attention chiefly for raising vehicular fuel-economy standards. The building sector's role in national energy consumption, however, implies that the act may accomplish more by promoting sustainable construction. Goals of the law's Title IV, which covers buildings and industry, include a 30 percent cut in total energy use in federal buildings by 2015 (relative to 2005 levels) and a 55 percent drop in fossil-fuel use in new and renovated federal buildings by 2010 (from 2003 levels), with complete elimination by 2030.

Housed within the GSA's Public Buildings Service and initially headed by director of expert services Kevin Kampschroer, the OFHPGB will coordinate with a parallel Office of Commercial High-Performance Green Buildings within the Department of Energy (DOE) to implement standards for federal and private-sector buildings, respectively. Kampschroer, who has been with GSA since 1975 and calls himself a “huge admirer” of Feiner's 1994 Design Excellence Program, notes that both offices' directors will be career civil servants, not political appointees, bringing relative immunity from partisan pressures.

Kira L. Gould, director of communications for William McDonough + Partners and 2007 chair of the AIA Committee on the Environment, describes the GSA as “a key player in the market transformation that has occurred in the past several years.” The agency has aided the U.S. Green Building Council, she notes, by funding “a thorough research study of rating systems, which offered really meaningful conclusions about the benefits [and] attributes of five specific programs.” However, the new office's stated goals strike Gould as “both lofty and not enough. … One of the big challenges very soon will be for us to realize how, while getting to 55 percent reductions of fuel consumption will be important, getting far past that—quickly—is imperative. Energy is the hot topic now, but as we aim for progress around that, we would do well to think much more holistically. I would hope that GSA could help lead that, demonstrating that energy issues coexist with others, such as water and mobility, and that all have a social dimension.”

This integrated approach aligns well with Kampschroer's priorities. The OFHPGB will address new, renovated, and leased buildings' life-cycle costs and operating procedures as well as design and construction. Despite the act's title, Kampschroer says, “there's an understanding that high-performance buildings go much more broadly than that, and that if you're really talking about the high performance of a building, you must consider how it affects the people who work in the building.” Like the LEED system (currently used by the GSA, the DOE, and other federal agencies), the OFHPGB will evaluate site selection, construction waste, and indoor air quality.

Kampschroer likens many federal buildings to commercial owner-occupied buildings, where the initial green premium is more an investment in long-range value than an obstacle. “When we build new buildings, we don't build very many of them, but we build them for the long term,” he says. “We don't build buildings to last 30 years and then be taken down.” He also notes that green costs are dropping, citing one Virginia developer's claim that it can provide LEED Gold quality at market rates and the 2004 Davis Langdon report (Costing Green: A Comprehensive Cost Database and Costing Methodology), which found that nongreen factors have more of an influence on building costs.

“Americans are an extraordinarily inventive people, and I think that there's going to be a lot of push to make these kinds of initiatives effective,” Kampschroer speculates. “There are certainly some groups that believe, as the book [Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy, 2007] lays out, that this is a real economic opportunity for the U.S. Certainly, what we've seen in the last 10 years is that the capability within the marketplace to deliver higher-performing buildings than in the past has grown exponentially. … I think we'll see both technological breakthroughs and process breakthroughs that make us wonder why we weren't more hopeful in 2008.”