Robert A. Peck, Commissioner of Public Buildings at the U.S. General Services Association (GSA), presented a keynote presentation at Ecobuild America this week entitled GSA: Green Pioneer – Green Proving Ground. Peck presented his vision for the GSA as a leader in green building technology and discussed how the 5.5 billion dollar appropriation from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will impact the GSA’s work.

by Jessalyn Dingwell, Green Economy Post

Robert A. Peck, Commissioner of Public Buildings at the U.S. General Services Association (GSA), delivered a keynote address at Ecobuild America on December 10th, entitled GSA: Green Pioneer – Green Proving Ground. In an inspiring speech, Peck shared his vision for the GSA, his extensive knowledge of historical federal building management, and his passion for green building.

Peck likened the GSA to a government landlord as it manages over 345 million square feet of federal office space, including 7,100 separate leased properties. The GSA is a well-funded landlord, recently receiving a $5.5 billion dollar appropriation from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to green the federal building inventory. The GSA has already awarded over $1.4 billion and will award the remaining approximate $4.1 billion in ARRA construction funds by September 30, 2011.

GSA’s Green Track Record

Robert Peck
Robert Peck

While acknowledging that there was a time when federal buildings were not exactly a source of pride for federal employees, Peck was quick to point out that the GSA has long been a proving ground for green technologies. The GSA began installing energy sensors in the 1970s, long before the private sector. The GSA installed its first green, planted roof in 1975. The Arab Oil Embargo prompted Congress to issue a mandate requiring the GSA to find ways to reduce energy and electric gas consumption in federal buildings. In response, the GSA implemented an overall energy conservation program that effectively drove down energy use. The program included early photovoltaic (PV) panels – although Peck admits these first panels were far less efficient than the PV units on the market today.

The federal government from the time of the founding of the Republic until World War II built buildings that were worthy of the American people – that mattered. And then we kind of lost our way. Between World War II and about 15 years ago, at least in the GSA, the buildings that we built were not worthy of the taxpayer dollars that we spent on them. Did not instill a sense of pride in our communities or indeed in many of the federal employees that worked in them. They may have had pride in their work, but it wasn’t because of their work place. In the last several years … we’ve gotten back to that. There are lessons we can learn from our past; just as we learn to reclaim our architectural legacy in the federal government.”

GSA Innovation Today – “We expect to take some heat”

Peck envisions the GSA as a platform for testing new green technology. He sees the GSA leading the private sector with next generation PV, lamping, windows, daylighting, and green operating practices. And he’s not afraid of encountering a few failures on the way to success.

“There is a reason why governments often don’t innovate. And that is because every time we make the slightest mistake, there are people standing by just ready to jump on us.”

“It takes a little bit of gumption on the part of the workers GSA to say, you know what, we’ll try a technology and we’ll see if it works.  And if it doesn’t work up to expectations we’ll retrofit and we’ll find something that does work. We expect to take some… heat for doing that but we are going to do that anyway.”

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One huge area of innovation is the National 3D-4D Building Information Modeling Program (BIM). BIM refers to three-dimensional, real-time, dynamic building modeling software used to increase productivity in building design and construction. The goal of the National 3D-4D-BIM Program is to promote value-added digital visualization, simulation and optimization technologies to increase quality and efficiency throughout GSA building project lifecycles. The long-term objective is to use innovative 3D, 4D, and BIM technologies to complement, leverage, and improve existing technologies to achieve major quality and productivity improvements. The GSA created a useful introductory video describing the project.

Another source of innovations stems from the GSA’s Sustainable Design Program created in 1999. One of the first outcomes of this program was the San Francisco Federal Building, designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize-winner, Thom Mayne.  It was the first major commercial office building in built in temperate San Francisco without air conditioning since the 1950s. Another green feature is the elevator that stops only every three floors, encouraging employees to walk (accommodations are available for those unable to navigate the stairs). The stairs have landings that create open spaces for holding informal meetings, increasing workplace productivity.

Other Notable Projects include:

The border station in Calais, Maine incorporates a swale technique to mitigate stormwater runoff and feed graywater back into building systems.

The planned DHS Consolidated Headquarters project will boast green roofs, modular vegetation wall panel systems, a heating and cooling plant with thermal storage and a decentralized state-of-the-art highly efficient solution providing for enhanced occupant comfort and space operational flexibility.

Federal Buildings Versus Private Buildings

Last year, the GSA conducted a study to benchmark federal office buildings against similar buildings in the private sector. According to the study, when compared to the private sector buildings, federal buildings managed by the GSA have:

  • 3%    less water use
  • 26%  less energy use
  • 22%  better occupant satisfaction
  • 33%  fewer CO2 equivalent emissions

The Legislative Mandate:

Peck mentioned three major pieces of legislation that guide the GSA’s green building policy. He is confident the GSA will meet the high challenges imposed by these mandates. Peck outlined a few of the critical components in each.

2005 Energy Policy Act

  • By 2015 reduce btu/gross sq ft 2% year from 2003 base.

Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007

  • 30% portfolio-wide less energy consumed in 10 years (based on 2003 base).
  • 20% water reduction.
  • 55% reduction in use of fossil fuel generated energy in new buildings and renovations. Peck mentioned that the GSA makes large energy buys including wind and geothermal energy from outside sources.
  • Green Leasing Mandates. Energy requirements exist even for leased space.

Executive Order 13514

  • Achieve zero carbon footprint by 2020.
  • Appoint a Sustainability Officer.
  • Evaluate air travel, cars travel, building space utilization.
  • Locate in transit-oriented location to the extent possible to reduce car trips.

About Robert A. Peck

As Commissioner, Peck is responsible for the nationwide asset management, design, construction, leasing, building management and disposal of over 360 million square feet of government-owned and leased space, accommodating one million federal workers. Prior to his current position, Peck served as Managing Director of Jones Lang LaSalle, a global commercial real estate services firm. His experiences include positions at the Office of Management and Budget, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Federal Communications Commission. While on the U.S. Senate staff, he was associate counsel to the Committee on Environment and Public Works and Chief of Staff to the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He also has experience as a land use and real estate lawyer, served as President of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and Vice President for Public Affairs at the American Institute of Architects.

About Ecobuild America

Ecobuild America, is an annual three-day green building conference and exhibit. This year’s conference was held in Washington, DC, on December 8-10. It was sponsored by the National Institute of Building Sciences and endorsed by the Alliance to Save Energy. The conference educates design and construction professionals on how to improve our built environment using new strategies materials and technology.

© 2009 – 2010, Jessalyn Dingwell. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Jessalyn Dingwell (13 Articles)

Jessalyn Dingwell is an attorney and Green Building aficionado living in Washington, DC. A daring high school science fair project involving solar energy, an incredible amount of copper tubing, and a precarious rooftop fueled her lifelong curiosity and passion for renewable energy sources and building energy-efficiency. Jessalyn serves on several committees at the Women's Council on Energy and the Environment and frequently contributes to the Council's Water Committee programming. Prior to law school, she spent several years at the Corporate Executive Board providing marketing best practices to Fortune 500 companies in the US, then managing the European team based in London. Feel free to contact her at: jessalyn@greeneconomypost.com.