GoGreen ’11 Portland Green Line Series: George Northcroft on What Happens When The Federal Government Goes Green

The U.S. Government is the largest landowner in the world—so when they decide to go green, it amounts to huge impact. In this week’s Green Line Series, U.S. General Services Administration’s Northwest/Arctic Regional Administrator, George Northcroft, tells us how greening the government’s supply chain is driving a more sustainable economy in Oregon and beyond.

GoGreen Conference: When the government decides to green its supply chain—what does that encompass? How far is GSA going in terms of implementing sustainable best practices?
George Northcroft: GSA is looking at the big picture of our carbon footprint, and that includes the supply chain. Right now, we are looking at how we can incorporate sustainability requirements into our supply chain contracts. While we’re still working out the details, this would likely mean asking our suppliers to provide a greenhouse gas inventory of their own emissions, for GSA to use in procurement decisions. We are currently doing a pilot program called the GreenGov Supply Chain Partnership to work with industry to learn the best way to do this.

GG: The U.S. Government is naturally a huge consumer of goods, services and raw resources. How do your choices impact the overall supply chain of sustainable goods in this country?
GN: In our region alone – Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska – GSA leases or owns more than 600 office buildings, and procures $10 billion in goods and services each year. We have enormous leverage on the supply chain, and are using our purchasing power to encourage businesses to make more sustainable goods and services available, since there is an tremendous Federal market seeking them.

GG: Do you believe that GSA and other large organizations have a greater weight to pull in shifting the paradigm towards a green economy because your potential for impact is so much greater than most? If so, what kind of role is GSA pursuing and how?
GN: As the world’s biggest landlord and purchaser of goods and services, we have a special obligation to lead the shift to a green economy. In green building, we have established a Green Proving Ground project where innovative green-building technologies are being tested at Federal buildings across the country and the agency is learning more about those technologies to apply them elsewhere. We also manage the Federal vehicle fleet, and have been making steady progress toward greening our vehicles. In the last two years, we’ve moved the Federal fleet to 50% alternative fuel vehicles and that number is still increasing. We are conducting a 100-vehicle pilot of electric vehicles (Chevy Volts and Nissan Leafs, and Thinks) across the country to learn how electric vehicles can work in the government setting. As stewards of taxpayers dollars, the governments needs to be on the cutting edge and I think we are doing a good job of leveraging our purchasing power while making sound financial choices in a lean budget environment.

GG: What key resources does GSA offer to American businesses that can help them green their own supply chains and/or be better stewards of shared resources, while still maintaining their vitality as a profitable enterprise? What opportunities should GoGreen attendees look into for their own businesses?
GN: We look at our relationship with the private sector as a partnership. Through the GreenGov Supply Chain Partnership, we are working hand-in-hand with industry to find a mutually-agreeable system for tracking the Federal government’s supply chain emissions. We are also leading, along with the Environmental Protection Agency, the government’s effort to make sure that all government electronics end their useful life at a certified e-waste recycler. We expect to soon require any agencies who aren’t doing so already to use certified recyclers for disposing of e-waste. We think this effort will not only prevent government e-waste from causing environmental problems overseas, but it will also create jobs in the e-waste recycling industry in the U.S.

GG: Could you give an example of a local/Oregon project that shows the depth of GSA’s commitment to sustainability and how you are supporting the development of the green economy in this state?
GN: You’ve probably heard about GSA’s major modernization of the Edith Green/Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in downtown Portland. We are investing $139 million in downtown Portland to modernize Edith Green into a LEED Platinum building that will be a cornerstone of GSA’s national green building portfolio. Benson Industries of Portland is one of the major subcontractors on that project, and they’re responsible for the entire curtainwall of the building. We are working with many small sustainably-minded companies, too. City of Roses Disposals, for example, does construction waste recycling and they are growing their business by working on this major project. This project is creating jobs and providing learning opportunities for those businesses and their employees, and supporting Portland’s green economy well into the future.

GG: What was the major push behind GSA taking on sustainability as a core tenant? From your perspective, why is this so important for the business and industry communities to get on board with?
GN: President Obama is leading the Federal government on this issue. He signed an Executive Order in October 2009 that required every single Federal government agency to baseline and make a plan to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, energy use and solid waste. The President sees the potential not only to improve our environment through sustainability, but the very real opportunity to transform America’s economy into a clean energy and green economy that is prepared to meet the needs of the global marketplace, as people and governments everywhere look for more sustainable solutions.

GG: What have you learned in the past five years about building a business case for sustainability What “been there, done that” advice do you have for businesses that want to be green AND profitable?
GN: Businesses already know that energy efficiency investments will save them money, and that’s why they are making investments in energy efficient buildings and sustainable products. That’s the “been there, done that” that we all already know.

By making investments in alternative energy – wind, geothermal, biomass, and others – the government is acting as a catalyst to make those technologies more widely available to citizens and the private sector. Like the modern air transport system or the Internet, large-scale investments by the Federal government now are creating opportunities in the future for businesses to adopt new technologies at a better, faster, cheaper rate.

George Northcroft is the Northwest/Arctic Regional Administrator for U.S. General Services Administration. Learn more from George at GoGreen ’11 Portland, where he is a featured speaker, October 4th. For more information on GoGreen ’11 Portland or to register, please visit: portland.gogreenconference.net. Get the latest GoGreen ’11 and sustainability news by joining our email list or via our Twitter feed (@GoGreenPDX) and Facebook Page (facebook.com/gogreenconference).

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