GSA's environmental 'moon shot'

Administrator brings ambitious environmental goals

The General Services Administration is laying the groundwork for an effort to reach a zero environmental footprint, a goal that Administrator Martha Johnson compared to the pinnacle of the nation's space program.

"I think about this as an opportunity for GSA to have its own moon shot," she said, speaking on a conference call from the GSA 2010 Expo under way in Orlando, Fla.

A major part of GSA's role in increasing the use of environmentally friendly products and services is in finding suppliers, or encouraging existing suppliers to improve their offerings, she said.

“How GSA steers the acquisition and procurement of goods and services is going to allow us to play a pretty significant leveraging role," she said.

Steve Kempf, acting commissioner of GSA's Federal Acquisition Service, said there are some changes in store for the schedules system, some coming soon and some later. The schedules contracts are among the most used methods for agencies to buy supplies.

“My goal is to look at getting the right companies on the schedules, if they’re not there, that can provide us the latest and greatest state of the art products and services," he said.

Johnson said she compares the effort to the 1969 moon landing because it seems impossibly ambitious. "NASA could have set for itself a goal to have rockets shoot off from Earth and get out of the Earth’s gravitational pull," she said. "Or we could have had a NASA that set a goal of putting people in some sort of craft that would orbit the Earth. But neither of those who have gotten us to the moon.”

However, she cautioned, there is no timetable or even specific steps in place.

“The notion of zero environmental footprint is a big strategic notion that at this point has not been turned into any programmatic details," she said. "It is clear that inexorably we’re moving in this direction.”

Johnson plans to spend some time soon with other GSA officials to begin to develop some plans. She cited the book "Cradle to Cradle," by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, as a source of inspiration.

"We usually think about cradle-to-grave," she said."What if disposal isn’t disposal, but pre-design? I know this is the kind of thing that will take us through a lot of learning and next steps to put meat on the bones.”

The era of small steps is passing, and the time for a giant leap is near, she suggested. "I want to start having those conversations," she said. "Not just the ones about how do we find efficiencies here and there?”

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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