The U.S. General Services Administration took a major step forward in strengthening its sustainability programs in naming Eleni Reed as its first chief greening officer, a position that will oversee the aggressive pursuit of sustainable practices within the GSA, including its portfolio of 1,500 government-owned and 8,100 government-leased buildings.
Reed comes to the position from commercial real estate brokerage Cushman and Wakefield, where she was a director of sustainable strategies and worked closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on enhancing energy efficiency, reducing water use and waste, and reducing the carbon footprint of Cushman and Wakefield properties under management in the U.S.
Under Reed’s leadership, the GSA will focus on the greening and modernization of the nation’s infrastructure as part of an executive order issued last October by President Obama. Reed’s prior public service includes working with the City of New York’s Mayor’s Office of Operations, where she led the implementation of the city’s Green Building Standards Law, and served on the Mayor’s task force on sustainability. Reed holds a Bachelor of Science in Urban Planning from the Universite de Montreal and a Masters in Urban Planning from McGill University.
Green Building News spoke with Eleni Reed via telephone about her goals within the GSA and her thoughts on the need for sustainability in federal construction and existing buildings.
Q: What are your goals as the Chief Greening Officer?
A: The position is based within the Public Buildings Service division, which is the real estate arm of GSA. PBS acts as the landlord for federal civilian agencies and operates a portfolio of over 9,000 assets, representing approximately 362-million-square-feet. Essentially, the position is responsible for taking the sustainability track record of GSA to its next level.
GSA has always been very committed to sustainability as part of its core mission. It has been a leader in environmentally-friendly construction over the past 35 years now, including building its first green roof in 1975, and creating a significant square-footage of buildings with planted roofs since then. Over time, GSA has implemented numerous energy saving initiatives and promoted water-saving and recycling programs. The agency has also established a solid commitment to implementing green building standards in new construction and existing buildings, for environmental reasons and to create productive and healthy workplaces for federal employees and their customers.
As far as our priorities, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson set a zero-environmental footprint goal for our agency.
Q: What is the target date?
A: There’s no particular target. It’s serving more as a way for the agency to change its culture and habits and really focus on innovation. This zero-environmental footprint goal is really keeping everyone focused on the big picture, and it’s serving as a catalyst for us to achieve our targets under the new executive order that was issued by the administration last year – the Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance executive order. That particular EO is setting specific goals for each federal agency to track their environmental performance by looking at a variety of issues, including increasing energy efficiency, reducing water consumption and preventing waste, which are only a few of the goals.
Within that framework, the Chief Greening Officer will work on two key initiatives. Our first initiative is to establish the GSA as a green proving ground. What I mean by that is we are looking to beta test state-of-the-art and new and emerging technologies in GSA structures.
Q: Can you give an example of one of those new technologies?
A: We’re building up the program now, but some of the technologies that we’re looking at include photovoltaics and smart metering. Getting back to the proving ground concept, our goal is to evaluate the effectiveness of some of these new technologies and really inform other government agencies and industries about which technologies can be best deployed for broader applications.
The other key initiative that we’re focusing on is the implementation and embedding of sustainable practices across our business units so we can then drive the implementation across our real estate portfolio. We’ll be working, by extension, with our clients that occupy the buildings.
Q: How did your previous positions prepare you for this new role?
A: The background I have is in the commercial real estate sector. At Cushman and Wakefield I was responsible for driving the company’s sustainability program in facility and property management. My experience comes from working with a third-party property management provider across a large and diversified portfolio, and crafting a sustainability program for a client.
At Cushman and Wakefield, we were looking at portfolio-wide approaches to enhancing the environmental performance of existing buildings. We instituted concepts like embedding green operations and maintenance practices into standard operations and measuring performances at the individual and portfolio levels on key environmental metrics. We were very involved with helping our clients with LEED for Existing Building projects, as well as on a volume certification project where we took a number of properties under management through the LEED-EB process and achieved certification for those buildings as one group.
Working at Cushman and Wakefield was also an opportunity to work with agencies like the EPA and leverage some of their partnership programs. I think this was key in developing an understanding of some of the market-drivers for sustainability in the commercial real estate industry, specifically with regards to existing buildings and understanding some of the challenges there.
As far as my work with the City of New York, I worked in the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination. One of my responsibilities there was to implement the city’s Green Building Standards law. At the time, the law required that certain city funded construction and major renovations meet LEED building standards, so in that capacity I helped with agency guidance and protocols and developed and promulgated mayoral rules. We also started to design a recording tool to track the program’s progress.
In summary, I think that the bulk of those roles helped me in developing a solid understanding of the challenges and opportunities related to implementing sustainable practices in buildings and more broadly to consider environmental performance as part of an overall real estate strategy.
I think overall the commercial real estate sector and government as a real estate owner are both facing similar challenges. The big challenge is to shift the equation from buildings being part of the problem to buildings being part of the solution. We need to be smarter about how we are operating buildings, how we construct them and how we think about workplace strategies and space requirements.
Q: As the first Chief Greening Officer, what kind of internal and interagency support are you receiving?
A: We work in a matrix-type environment so I’m working very closely with our division units within PBS, as well as our Office of [Federal] High-Performance Green Buildings within GSA. Also, in the process of developing any of our strategies, we are going to be working with our clients, which are other federal agencies.
Q: You mentioned the zero-environmental footprint goal. What are some other goals?
A: Our goals are really tied to the statutes of the Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance EO. We have a number of targets, which are setting the framework for our approach to energy efficiency, water efficiency, wastewater reduction and high-performance sustainable buildings.
In terms of how we are going to accomplish those goals, one of the greatest opportunities we have had is the Recovery Act. Last year, under the ARRA, the GSA was given $5.5 billion to reinvest in our public infrastructure. Right now there are about 250 major projects and hundreds of smaller scale projects, so that is one way we are working towards our goal.
Another approach deals with existing buildings and improving their environmental performance. Currently, we are targeting the federal buildings that are producing most of the carbon emissions, for instance, by implementing energy and water conservation projects at those sites. We are also looking at installing advanced meters and increasing renewable energy purchases.
In terms of our accomplishments so far, renewable energy in fiscal year 2009 accounted for about 10 percent of our annual energy consumption. In that same fiscal year, 2009, we had reduced our energy intensity by 15 percent over our 2003 baseline.
For water, it’s the same approach in terms of targeting the buildings that have the highest water usage. We are continuing to implement water management practices in these buildings and we are looking at water conservation projects and advanced metering systems. Overall, we reduced water intensity by over 8 percent compared to fiscal year 2007, which is our baseline. We also installed advanced water meters in 209 facilities.
For waste, we have performed waste audits in selected federal buildings. We have pilot projects to promote waste prevention and reduction and we are very much focused on the use of environmentally friendly products.
For our sustainability goals, we are looking at net-zero energy demonstration projects and incorporating new principles into construction and major renovations at leases. Part of that is going to be our green proving ground, where we are going to test new technologies at GSA sites. For example, we have our first net-zero building, a land port of entry in Columbus, N.M., in design phase.