The environmental executive

Edwin Pinero, the federal environmental executive, has a small office with a staff of three in the Executive Office of the President. Before coming to Washington in 2003 as a political appointee, Pinero had an environmental consulting business in Pennsylvania.

Previously, he was director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Environmental Sustainability and state energy director in Gov. Tom Ridge’s administration. Federal Computer Week Managing Editor Florence Olsen interviewed Pinero about Executive Order 13423 on federal environmental practices, which President Bush issued in January, and about Pinero’s role in implementing policies and strategies for what he calls “the greening of the government.” This is an edited excerpt from that interview.

FCW: What is a typical week like for you as you go about trying to achieve the greening of the federal government?
PINERO: Executive Order 13423, which is the driver right now, touches a lot of people. So I’ll get calls from environmental folks, but I’ll also get calls from facility operational folks. I’ll talk to procurement and information officers. Because we’re a White House office, I tend to deal more frequently with senior management.

But I have a technical background, so I can’t help sometimes getting into an interesting discussion with a team of facility folks about some very specific technical issue.

Part of what I do is serve as a liaison between agencies and the administration on environmental issues, so information is coming from the agencies — what they’re doing, what kinds of barriers they’re running into. If it’s something I can’t handle, I’ll go to the appropriate element here within the White House complex. That may include the Office of Management and Budget. It may include the National Security Council. It depends on the issue.

I also serve as a conduit of information — that is, communicating to the agencies what we’re looking for at the administration level. If somebody calls me and says I just can’t get this thing figured out, I’ll say, “Department so-and-so has done a good job with that. Talk to this person or that person.”

The last piece of what I do in a typical week is interacting with the nonfederal community — suppliers, industry groups, communities or states.

It’s communicating what we’re doing, sharing best practices. For example, recently I was in San Jose talking to schoolteachers and parents about how the federal government helps schools go green.

When I go out and talk, I represent the government as if it were a large corporation and I have to manage its environmental, energy, economic and community footprint. And on occasion — this doesn’t happen every week — I also serve as our voice in some international activities. I’ll go out and carry the flag, so to speak.

FCW: What was the thinking behind the president issuing a new executive order when there already were a number of environmental programs, policies and laws in place?
PINERO: A lot of old executive orders had lapsed. Legislation had been replaced by newer legislation. The landscape had changed. There was new technology, new best practices. The new executive order pulls all those activities together into one and integrates them into a common set of goals. It talks about energy efficiency and electronic stewardship and how they relate to one another. It wasn’t so clear in the past because we had separate documents for each one. We tried to relate them to a vision of good environmental and energy stewardship. The reason for being a good environmental steward is so the government can perform its mission more effectively.

FCW: The federal government spends about $60 billion a year on information technology. Is there a way to describe the effect of that amount of IT on energy consumption and the environment?
PINERO: From an energy standpoint, we’re the biggest purchaser of energy worldwide. In the world of electronics, our purchasing power is pretty significant. We spend $60 billion on IT. We know that $60 billion is enough to catalyze and leverage markets.

We can go to a manufacturer or a retailer and say this is the kind of electronics we would like, not that we’re trying to strong-arm the market. If Hewlett-Packard is going to make computers a certain way to feed our appetite, it’s just as easy for them to put that on the market rather than have separate product lines.

FCW: What significant milestone has the government achieved under your tenure as environmental executive?
PINERO: Let me answer that question in two parts. One milestone was the development of a memorandum of understanding on electronics stewardship. The 22 agencies that signed the MOU represented about 90 percent of the government’s electronics purchases.

That was in 2004. Then in 2007, the MOU became part of the executive order. The electronics goal in the executive order was in the MOU. The creation of the MOU in the first place and then the elevation of that to an executive order demonstrate the government’s commitment to electronics stewardship.

Another big milestone was a partnership effort, and that was the development of the EPEAT standard, the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool. It is a success story, not only because of the environmental, energy and performance attributes that it calls for in products but also for the way it came about, with all the stakeholders getting together and developing a market-based standard. We — the Environmental Protection Agency and the federal government — participated, but we didn’t drive the effort. We provided some seed funding to the organization [the Green Electronics Council] that is currently managing product registration.

The condition was it would become self-sufficient after a certain amount of time. Manufacturers pay a fee for the registration.

The first round of EPEAT standard development was for computer products. The process is now under way to develop additional EPEAT standards for other electronics. They’re looking at combined printer/copiers. I think we’re going to participate in that process as well. If we had tried to do EPEAT through a regulatory process, we’d still be working on it. We now have 688 EPEAT-registered products. The standard was finished in the summer of 2006. The federal government requires agencies to buy products that have at least a silver EPEAT rating for environmental performance.

Manufacturers have gone further and are putting out gold EPEAT products. [There are three EPEAT standards: bronze, silver and gold.]

FCW: Is there another example in which the government has been a catalyst for expanding the market for green electronics goods and services?
PINERO: When green purchasing first started in the federal government 20 years ago, it was very specific. It was recycled paper and those kinds of things. The new executive order and the supplemental instructions that go along with it broaden the definition of what we mean by electronics stewardship goals. Agencies can use electronics stewardship practices to help make their green purchasing and energy efficiency goals. We’re hoping that because certain practices support a variety of goals, it will be more of an incentive for agencies to go down that road.

We’re also doing some other things that are helping on the back nd. We’re fo using on reuse, recycling and disposition of obsolete electronics — trying to facilitate that process so the electronics don’t pile up. Feeding the recycling market for electronics will help the manufacturing and the front-end process, so you can consider this kind of a loop.

FCW: Do you have a sense that any one of these goals is out of reach?
PINERO: The only comment I’ve gotten that you could perceive as being an area for improvement is people are asking what other products are going to be EPEAT-certified. Right now, it’s a subset of computer products. So agencies are actually looking for an even longer list of available products, and I think that’s going to happen shortly when the new EPEAT standards are finished. They’ll be new products that are going to meet the requirements.

FCW: Let’s talk about service-level agreements for energy use in data centers. Do you find that many agencies are not sure how to proceed in writing such agreements?
PINERO: I don’t get a sense of that, but I’m not as active personally in the data center discussion as I am with the tabletop products.

Juan Lopez from my staff is on a committee that is looking at that data center issue. Right now, it’s a very technical and operational discussion. How do you do this? Where do you get the products? The policy side of it is almost a no-brainer. Of course we want to deal with data centers. It’s an energy efficiency issue. It’s an electronics stewardship issue. Data centers are by definition part of our building footprint. So from a policy standpoint, the road is paved.

It’s a matter of making it happen. If you were to ask me what’s been the really hot area of discussion that’s queuing up for big movement, it would be the data center. What’s an energy-efficient data center? If you were to get numbers back on energy consumption at a data center, how would you know if it is efficient? Some of that discussion may already be well under way.

FCW: Why is government promoting energy savings performance contracts (ESPC) and utility energy savings contracts (UESC) programs, and how do they work?
PINERO: We are looking for innovative ways to meet our goals.

The executive order requires a 30 percent improvement in energy efficiency between 2005 and 2015. It took us from 1985 to 2005 to gain 30 percent. So we’re saying we want you to get the same amount of energy efficiency in half the time, with the understanding that you have probably already done a lot of the easy stuff. We’ve got to look at innovative applications. The typical pushback we get is, “We don’t have the money for that.” And that’s understood. You don’t get enough appropriations to do all the projects you need to do. So then we say we want you to use ESPCs more.

The feedback we’re getting from the industry sector is that we’re underutilizing the money capacity that is available. To put it a different way, energy companies have more money to invest in projects with the federal government than we’re asking them to invest.

FCW: Are those existing government contracting programs, or are they something new?
PINERO: The authorization for those programs already exists. We just don’t use them enough. What we’re telling the agencies is we want more contracts and bigger contracts using ESPCs and UESCs.

There was a time when those programs had lapsed a couple of years ago, but Congress reauthorized them, and they have a long clock — I think 15 to 20 years.

FCW: The idea is that the private sector provides money upfront?
PINERO: The way these things work is the company enters into a contract with a federal agency. The company fronts the money for whatever the project is, and usually it’s a collection of activities.

The energy savings from the project are split between the company and the federal agency up until the company gets back its investment plus some kind of a markup — the company has to profit from it — and after that, 100 percent of the savings are retained by the agency.

People say that sounds like such a no-brainer. Why don’t we do more of them? Obviously, if you had the choice, you would use your own money, because then you wouldn’t have to share the savings.

But the truth of the matter is we never get enough money to do these things. So that’s why we want to go to this option. In a typical contract, you’ll have a suite of activities that are part of the contract.

Some of them have an easy quick payback, and others have 10- to 15-year paybacks. And the reason we do it that way is an energy company, to stay solvent, has to be able to make some money quickly. So you may see an ESPC project that has a lighting retrofit and then maybe a renewable energy installation, such as a wind project or ground source heat pump, and then maybe something more long-term.

They seem to have 15- to 20-year life cycles on them. Historically, the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments have been the big guns in using these programs, but they’re open to any agency.

FCW: So chief information officers and federal contracting officers should know about those programs?
PINERO
: They do. I think it’s just a matter of reminding folks that this is an option, and we want to see more of them using them.  

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