White House Scorecards Benchmark Progress Toward Green Building

Sustainability and energy graphic with fade Among federal agencies, the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) score at the top of the class for green building. That’s according to the annual Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Sustainability and Energy Scorecards, released by OMB and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) on May 31. Since 2010, the sustainability scorecards have tracked how federal agencies are complying with Executive Order 13514, which directs agencies to improve energy and water performance and reduce waste and greenhouse gas pollution.

The scorecards benchmark various aspects of sustainability (e.g., fleet petroleum reduction and renewable energy use) and reveal significant progress toward green building in the federal sector. Agencies earning “green” (on a green, yellow red scale) include the GSA, EPA, State Department and USDA. In terms of volume, the GSA’s growing portfolio of green buildings is especially impressive, increasing from 8% to 10% in just one year. Proportionally, the State Department made even greater strides toward sustainable buildings, expanding from 6% to 19% of its portfolio. The EPA accounts for another 1 million square feet of LEED-registered or -certified building space. The USDA supports sustainable building goals not only in DC headquarters renovations but also in rural and remote locations, such as the solar paneled-supervisor office in New Mexico’s Lincoln National Forest. With 11.51% of its portfolio meeting federal green standards, the USDA is on well on track to meet the program goal of 15% by 2015. Said OMB Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell in a recent press release, “Smarter, cleaner, and more efficient energy use across the government is saving taxpayers billions of dollars while improving our environment and spurring innovation in clean energy technologies.”

But not every agency is making the grade for sustainability. Noticeably, the Department of Energy (DoE), though green on five out of seven scores, earned red on the green building metric. Only 2.66% of DoE’s portfolio meets sustainability standards. NASA fared somewhat better, with a yellow score and the third most federal LEED buildings (behind GSA and the Department of Defense). But the Smithsonian Institution also scored red, with a mere 0.87% of its facilities demonstrating implementation of the Guiding Principles for Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings as required by the overall program. The Smithsonian and others with older and historic buildings face particular challenges to achieve federal standards. Similarly, the Department of Defense’s red score can be partially attributed to the locational and site characteristics caused by its security standards. Fortunately, those standards have recently changed.

Red and yellow ratings spotlight crucial areas for improvement. These FY2012 results hold agencies accountable and will facilitate updating of their annual Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans, also required under Executive Order 13514. According to Nancy Sutley, Chair of the CEQ, “Agencies are showing great leadership through initiatives in their annual sustainability plans, and these scorecards show that their efforts are paying off.”