Home Innovation Insights

Based on GSA actions to date, there's reason to be optimistic about their leadership in green homes.

Michelle Foster
January 30, 2014

Looking Forward to GSA Taking Leadership Role in Green Housing

This past fall, the U.S. General Service Administration (GSA) announced their formal recommendation that federal agencies use one of two green building certification standards – LEED or Green Globes – in future building projects. The recommendation concluded almost two years of federal study and analysis to satisfy the congressional directive in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA, Pub. L. 110-140). EISA directed GSA and the Department of Energy (DOE) to evaluate green building certification systems and identify a system for use by federal agencies that “will be most likely to encourage a comprehensive and environmentally sound approach to the certification of green federal buildings.” [Emphasis added.]

While there was much discussion industry-wide over GSA’s recommendation for LEED and Green Globes, what got lost in all of the discussion and reporting is that according to GSA, the agency intends its recommendation to apply only to commercial buildings. I am not quite sure how anyone would ever know that; that stipulation is not stated anywhere in the written materials. Further, GSA’s unduly cramped interpretation of the statute seems counterproductive to Congress’s stated objectives. EISA’s legislative mandate was not vague. In fact, it was quite clear. EISA specifically required GSA to “identify and develop Federal high-performance green building standards for all types of Federal facilities.” [Emphasis added.] While it is true the majority of GSA owned/leased buildings are commercial properties, the federal government owns, leases, builds, approves, and funds lots of homes. The Veteran’s Administration, the National Park Service, all branches of the military, the Department of State, the Department of Agriculture, and most obviously, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, all manage/construct/renovate/fund housing of various types. In fact, according to DOE’s 2010 Building Energy Data Book, the Federal Government owns or operates over 500,000 buildings, including 422,000 housing structures and 51,000 non-residential buildings. The federal government is indeed quite the residential landlord.

Recently I had the chance to speak directly with Kevin Kampschroer, the Director of the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings (OFHPGB) at the GSA. During our conversation, Kevin stated that GSA decided only to compare and recommend green building rating systems for commercial buildings (i.e., office space) because there wasn’t any demand from their federal partners for a residential green building rating system. That response was disappointing to me for two reasons. First, the congressional directive above seemed to be indifferent to what federal agencies might or might not want. Congress seemed to believe that there is value in a comprehensive evaluation of green building rating systems for all building types. I can’t see any reason why they would want to exclude housing. Green high-performance housing would yield widespread economic, social, and environmental benefits on par with those of green, high-performance office buildings. Green housing costs less to operate, uses less water and energy, has a healthier indoor environment, is more durable, can cost less to maintain, and reduces myriad impact on the natural and built environment. Also, the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings was intentionally moved from its previous position in GSA’s Public Building Service to the Office of Governmentwide Policy specifically to enhance the federal government’s role as a leader in sustainability. According to the EPA, residential buildings account for over half of all the energy used by all buildings in the United States and a significant percentage of all water use. GSA can seize the leadership position on sustainability and promote green, high-performance buildings of all types, including housing.

Under the leadership of Kevin Kampschroer, GSA has done good and important work in sustainbility to date. We encourage GSA to bring that leadership to the home.

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