General Sustainability Administration?

Posted by Mary Davie
on April 22, 2011

A recent blog post questioned GSA’s recent focus on sustainability as well as our ability to deliver innovative information technology (IT) solutions.

I think that GSA’s pursuit of sustainability is the best way to improve how we deliver innovative IT solutions.

The Business of Sustainability

The real issue here seems to be how we define sustainability—is it a separate environmental bonus or is it woven into the fabric of how we do business?

GSA is obviously motivated by environmental concerns—as demonstrated by Administrator Johnson’s Zero Environmental Footprint (ZEF) “moonshot” goal—but the real impact of our sustainability effort is more nuanced.

Sustainability is a platform through which GSA and all government agencies can tackle their most critical business challenges:

  1. Organizational Change: Sustainability acts as a North Star for government and industry, inspiring change and creating a ripple effect.
  2. Operational Effectiveness: Sustainability allows us to reframe the national conversation on budget cuts as an opportunity to create less waste and use our resources more intelligently.
  3. Innovation: Sustainability is what motivates us to develop and agencies to adopt cutting-edge IT solutions, such as cloud computing.

Driving an organization towards a sustainable future is not just about creating a greener, cleaner environment for future generations—it’s also about being smart about our limited resources, and inspiring lasting change and innovation for future efficiencies.

Do More with Less

Sustainability is not a problem; it’s the answer. Here’s why:

Sustainability is a major differentiator for GSA offerings because it’s something our customers want and need. For example, the federal government is the single largest consumer of energy in the United States. That means that when GSA provides an IT solution that requires less energy to achieve the same results, we’re not only going “green” for the environment, we’re also saving “green” for our customers by cutting costs and waste.

Including sustainability into our comprehensive IT solutions improves the acquisition process. For example, we’re incorporating sustainable acquisition into the IT Schedule 70 program as well as our large IT governmentwide contracts (GWACs), such as Alliant and 8(a) STARS, which have already broken records and outpaced many previous contracts.

Our GWACs save our customers time and money precisely because they are designed to meet every agency need:

  • achieving socioeconomic credit
  • improving cybersecurity
  • fulfilling mission goals
  • attaining sustainability

As I see it, delivering integrated services is a major driver to improving GSA’s ability to meet our agency customers’ needs. In fact, GSA can only be a leading IT solution provider by factoring sustainability into everything we do.

From the start, GSA’s sustainability initiative has been about delivering a more efficient, cost-effective, and innovative government for the American people.

Let’s continue this conversation. Leave me a comment. Tweet me. Post a link to your own blog. Open communication will only make us better.

8 Replies to “General Sustainability Administration?”

  1. Waste is cost. Sustainability is about driving out cost whilst enhancing economic, environmental, and societal well-being.

    As the manager of myriad government assets, GSA is leveraging sustainability to improve stewardship. As a major purchaser, GSA is also leveraging its power as a market mover to drive sustainability into the supply chain.

    Business leaders increasingly see sustainability as a tool for competitive advantage. The government sees sustainability as a way to keep good jobs in America, spur more innovation, and improve our energy security.

    Sustainability is a way of creating a government that works better and costs less. GSA should be in the business of sustainability.

  2. Mary, after reading the Meritalk blogpost you linked to I determined the writer’s point was not so much about sustainability as it was about the age old argument about GWACS and who should do them. Does anyone really still think the motive behind agencies doing their own contracts has to do with “not getting what they want” from GSA? Apparently one writer does. Round and round we go on that I guess. Oh well, enough about that…regarding sustainability (an excellent topic even if raised erroneously by a GSA critic)….

    Sustainability, as the previous comment stated is more about stewardship than just efficiency or effectiveness. It certainly can be about efficiency, cost cutting and innovation SOMETIMES….but not always. Does that mean we shouldn’t do it? Perish the thought. I’m a free market advocate. But we can’t always depend on the free market to do the right thing. We can depend on it to do the profitable thing, but we need to depend on our government to do the right thing (as defined by the electorate) even when it may not be profitable.

    So for example, right now solar and wind are more expensive ways to produce electricity than coal or gas. That’s why it so difficult in the free market to see those technologies accelerate. But without government influence via various means (like GSA’s sustainability strategy) stewardship of those resources would be left unattended until they were “used up” by the free market and their scarcity and associated cost increases caused wind and solar to be more affordable. But that’s not stewardship.

    I live in Montgomery County Maryland where we cleanly burn and recycle all our trash. Trash by the trainload get’s burned everyday in super-hot furnaces with “scrubbers” than minimize pollution. Would it be cheaper to just pile the trash up in a landfill or dump it in the ocean? I’m sure it would. But that’s not stewardship and I’m grateful to live in a county where that mission was taken seriously.

    Accessibility is a similar issue of stewardship. Only is is directed at the care of our society and the productivity of all it’s workers. Would a focus on efficiency alone have led to section 508 compliance? Would the free market and its profit motive have moved that into the mainstream where it is today? No, of course not.

    The following excerpt from GSA’s strategy statement put’s it well

    “ GSA’s broad reach over the acquisition, management, and disposal of Federal assets provides a unique opportunity to influence the environmental performance of the entire Government.  GSA has the expertise and a history of leadership in green government, and has demonstrated its capability to deliver significant improvements in its own environmental performance.  Most importantly, GSA recognizes that it has a responsibility to increase the sustainability of the Federal government by reducing the environmental impact of its buildings, products, and services, as well as its processes and activities.  GSA’s mission statement recognizes the convergence of opportunity, capability and responsibility in a new commitment to achieve a Zero Environmental Footprint:

    GSA’s mission is to use expertise to provide innovative solutions
    for our customers in support of their missions and by so doing foster an
    effective, sustainable, and transparent Government for the American people.”

    This writer agrees with your mission statement and I’m grateful for it!

  3. Sustainability initiatives do require up-front investment, but the government has the opportunity to lead the way in going green and demonstrating that these investments do pay off.

  4. In order to make sure GSA will be going en masse in the sustainable direction, we need to remember that including others and communicating is key. This is not the time to create new stovepipes and rice bowls. We need to make sure that the leaders are reaching the managers with a convincing, compelling message and the managers are leading in the right direction.

    To find the elegant solution means that we all need to become better observers of what is, so that solutions can present themselves.
    I recommend a quick read, Matthew May’s In Pursuit of Elegance, a discussion and exploration of the elusive factors behind innovation and winning solutions.

  5. I agree that sustainability is a solution for an entire organization and that its benefits should be communicated to everyone. I would expand on that and say that we all have a responsibility to be sustainability advocates, throughout GSA and to the rest of our federal colleagues.

    Thanks also for your book recommendation! I’m so happy that GSA’ers are reading and commenting on my blog — I want us all to participate in these kind of conversations about our solutions, so that we can continue to improve and stay at the leading front of IT acquisition.

  6. Mary,
    Has GSA look at GPON (Passive Optical LAN)? Mandated at St. Elizabeth, it seems logical that GSA would take the lead in pursuing this in-building/campus fiber and electronics technology. 45% reduction on cost, plus 55% electrical and power reduction seem worth the investigation.
    D. Scott

  7. David – Thanks for the comment! Actually, government agencies can easily access this – and just about any other technology — via our Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs) (gsa.gov/gwac) (i.e. Alliant) and Multiple Award Schedules (gsa.gov/schedule) programs. Our Customer Service Directors (gsa.gov/csd) can help anyone who needs more information.

    I also thought your question deserved a detailed response so I consulted our GWAC staff. Here is what they said:

    “First of all, the campus point-to-point solution is optical (PON). Taking that next step—out to the desktop as a Passive Optical Lan (POL)—brings with it a couple of challenges in today’s world.

    Only a few vendors and their channel partners handle the POL to desktop technology, so the cost remains high. When more vendors enter the market, costs should decrease.

    Also, while the underlying technology is tested and proven, the specific technology is still new to the market, with early adopters working through implementation issues.

    Despite these challenges, the benefits include improved performance and cost and energy efficiencies.

    GPON is especially effective in bringing gigabit throughput to multiple endpoints—way beyond the 300 foot mark—over the same encrypted pipe using larger, variable-length packets ensuring things like video, voice, and data will find an open path as required.

    GPON significantly reduces the cost of equipment when compared to standard copper.

    The architecture uses passive (unpowered) optical splitters that eliminate the need for distribution switching in a large enterprise environment.

    Each agency needs to look at technology right for them and their current environment including physical space and infrastructure.”

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