The Federal role in sustainability

August 11, 2010

With Greenbuild III just around the corner, it's a good time to take a look at a group of people who have dedicated themselves to furthering the sustainability movement — the staff members throughout the Federal government who, in many cases, have been pushing green building and sustainable design for more than a decade.

We don't usually find the terms "bureaucrat" and "dedicated" in the same sentence, but I can attest to the fact that there are many, many dedicated bureaucrats working in the bowels of government buildings, inside the Beltway and around the country, who have contributed enormously to the growth of the green-building movement. I don't think it's an exaggeration at all to say that, without their hard work and personal involvement, the sustainable development effort would be years behind in its progress.

We have devoted the "magazine" portion of this double issue to one of these agencies, the U.S. General Services Administration. But we could have written about the U.S. Energy Department, which has supported excellent research on energy and the built environment (through its Lawrence Berkeley and Oak Ridge National Labs and the National Renewable Energy Lab). Or the Environmental Protection Agency, with its Energy Star and Environmentally Preferable Purchasing programs.

The amazing thing is that it's not just the usual suspects like DOE and EPA that are leading the charge. Who would have expected the Defense Department to become a progressive force in sustainable design? Yet in the halls of the Pentagon and at military facilities throughout the country, civilian and military staff are bringing sustainable design and development to DoD projects.

None of this would have been possible without the Interagency Sustainability Working Group. The ISWG was formed in 2001 when 20 like-minded staffers got together under the aegis of the DOE's Federal Energy Management Program. The ISWG, which now numbers more than 200, has been instrumental in pushing through numerous sustainability initiatives and research efforts.

We're also happy to report that, as we recommended a year ago, the Federal Green Building Council has been established at the senior staff level, under the chairmanship of the Federal Environmental Executive. The FGBC should become a crucial intermediary between the troops at the agency and department level and the Cabinet-level decision makers who hold the purse strings.

Accompanying this issue of BD&C is a follow-up to our November 2003 report, the "White Paper on Sustainability" (available online at This year's "Progress Report on Sustainability" is yet another attempt to keep our 76,011 readers informed about the latest developments in the green-building movement. The Progress Report offers 10 specific recommendations that we believe to be practical and economically feasible, and we welcome your comments and suggestions about them.


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