First Steps in Sustainability: Saving the Planet and Taxpayers’ Money

I recently attended a GSA conference hosted by Administrator Martha Johnson designed to bring together GSA executives to discuss GSA’s sustainability plans. To prepare, we read the book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.

Cradle to Cradle asks us to rethink commonly held beliefs, such as the idea that industrialism and nature can’t be reconciled.  Instead, we are asked to see the dichotomy as a design issue.  The authors ask us to view sustainability as a coping mechanism rather than a solution and urge us to redesign solutions to our more critical challenges.

To do so, let’s consider one of government’s bigger challenges.

The federal government is the nation’s largest consumer of energy, and information technology represents a huge part of that energy consumption.  At all levels of government, agencies are seeking  cost-effective, cutting-edge solutions to reduce their IT energy consumption, recycle IT equipment, optimize data centers, and reduce their carbon footprint.

Sustainability, in this context, is as much about saving taxpayer money as saving the planet.

In October 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order (EO) 13514: Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, urging agencies to lead by example in using environmentally responsible products and technologies.

Our Administrator recently—and boldly—accepted that challenge, stating that “we at GSA are embracing a zero environmental footprint (ZEF) goal. We are setting our sights on eliminating the impact of the federal government on our natural environment.”

“Zero environmental footprint is this generation’s moon shot. And so, it must be ours at GSA.” Putting someone on the moon took years of focused energy to achieve—but we did it.

Cradle to Cradle lists five guiding principles, which help us take the first steps toward meeting this challenge:

  1. Signal your intention—Administrator Johnson put the market on alert that GSA is committed to a completely new paradigm, not just incremental improvement.
  2. Restore—strive for “good growth,” not just economic growth. With GSA’s resources, we can give agencies access to cutting-edge technologies and solutions that enable the growth we need, save taxpayers money in the long run, and no longer deplete our resources.
  3. Be ready to innovate further—Innovation requires noticing signals outside of our comfort zone: from our customers, industry, the environment, and the world at large. Administrator Johnson wants us more acquainted with what our customers need, as well as more open to “feedforward” not just feedback.
  4. Understand and prepare for the learning curve—GSA continues to develop next-generation contracts like Alliant. That’s a good step, but we need to put in place practices that can evolve into the next next generation, so our contracts facilitate a cradle-to-cradle lifecycle and benefit our customers and industry partners.
  5. Exert intergenerational responsibility—Administrator Johnson is adamant that our acquisition solutions should not create problems that future generations must solve.

Implementing solutions like Green IT will enable government agencies to do more with less, while meeting government mandates.  We should aim to move beyond simply mitigating the negative consequences of our actions and to be good stewards of our fiscal and environmental resources from the start.

What kind of sustainable, green, or cradle-to-cradle initiatives are you working on?  What are you working on that involves governmental ZEF?

Please share your initiatives and ideas.  Post a comment below.  I want to learn what is happening across our government and in industry.