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June 10th, 2008
A smaller carbon footprint?
June 08, 2008
Agencies have been ordered to cut their energy consumption, buy green office equipment, and gas up their government vehicles on ethanol-blended fuels.
But these mandates have only hinted at the ultimate goal: cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s about to change.
The Environmental Protection Agency next year will order at least some agencies to start measuring and reducing their carbon footprint.

More significantly, all new and renovated federal buildings must cut fossil fuel consumption by more than half within two years and eliminate it altogether by 2030.
“The next frontier is putting [energy reduction efforts] all together under one umbrella, under a greenhouse gas management strategy,” said Bella Tonkonogy, who manages EPA’s Climate Leaders program, which helps public- and private-sector employers measure and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Federal agencies have been ordered to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the past. In 1999, President Clinton signed an executive order requiring agencies to cut facility-related emissions 30 percent by 2010 from 1990 levels. According to a September 2006 report by the Energy Department, agencies had reduced their emissions by 22 percent as of 2005.
The goal went away, however, when President Bush issued his own environmental executive order in January 2007. Bush’s order encourages agencies to cut greenhouse gas emissions but doesn’t set targets.
There are more than 150 employers participating in the Climate Leaders program, but only three federal agencies: the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Agriculture Department’s Forest Service and EPA. The Energy lab, one of the first employers to join the program in 2002, is already meeting goals and setting more stringent ones. The Forest Service and EPA are newer participants: they are only now taking an inventory of their emissions and haven’t set reduction goals yet.
The Energy lab in 2005 achieved its first goal, which was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent per square foot compared with 2000.
Its new goal, set in December, raises the stakes: reduce overall greenhouse emissions 75 percent by 2009, compared with its 2005 benchmark.
The Colorado-based lab is well on its way to achieving the target, said Bob Westby, manager of the lab’s Federal Energy Management Program. It is building green facilities, spearheading renewable energy projects through private-sector financing schemes, cutting employee travel through alternative work schedules and teleconferencing, and purchasing renewable energy credits to offset remaining carbon-based electricity that the lab consumes.
By evaluating all of these energy reduction options and working with EPA to measure existing emissions, Westby said all agencies can set aggressive but realistic goals to shrink their carbon footprint.
“Good planning means being smart enough to look ahead and know you’re going to achieve it,” he said.
One of the keys for the lab has been exploring alternative financing mechanisms such as energy savings performance contracts, in which private developers pay upfront to build renewable energy projects for the lab and get paid back through the resulting energy savings.
The lab also has been bullish on using so-called power purchase agreements, through which it offers up some of its land to a developer for building renewable energy projects such as photovoltaic (PV) arrays to generate energy from the sun. The developer gets federal tax incentives and financial benefits from the utility company for building the project, while the lab uses less electricity and gets its energy at the same or less cost than it would have spent otherwise.
“These power purchase agreements are the cutting-edge alternative financing mechanism that’s making large PV projects viable,” Westby said.
The lab has one photovoltaic system going online in August. Two others should be completed by June 2009. All told, the three projects will reduce the agency’s electricity consumption by at least 20 percent. Electricity represents about three-fourths of the lab’s total carbon footprint.
The lab is tackling its natural gas consumption by building a renewable-fuel heating plant, which will use timber being cleared from the front range of the Rocky Mountains through a wildfire management program, to heat the lab’s South Table Mountain facilities in Golden, Colo.
The $3.3 million project is being paid for upfront by an energy service company, which will recoup its costs in eight years through the resulting energy savings. The project will reduce the lab’s natural gas consumption by 75 percent, Westby said.
Electricity and natural gas consumption combined accounted for 87 percent of the lab’s total carbon footprint in fiscal 2007. The rest is generated primarily by employee vehicle and air travel.
To reduce travel-related emissions, the lab offers free bus passes to its 1,200 employees and uses alternative fuel vehicles to shuttle employees from one facility to another. Employees use alternative work schedules to take off every other Friday, which cuts fuel emissions by 10 percent alone. Most of the lab’s tiny vehicle fleet uses a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, which allowed the lab to cut its petroleum use by 28 percent last year — far outpacing the government’s goal to cut gas use by 20 percent by 2015.
The U.S. Postal Service isn’t a member of the EPA program, but it’s also been taking steps to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as part of a larger effort to make its postal routes more efficient. With help from IBM Global Business Services, the Postal Service in 2006 created a program to target inefficient highway routes driven by tractor trailers. In many cases, these trucks were operating at 60 percent capacity.
In two years, the Postal Service has saved 1.2 million gallons of gasoline, primarily diesel, and reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 28 million pounds. It’s also cut emissions of carbon monoxide by 60,000 pounds and nitrogen oxide by 400,000 pounds.
E.J. Matto, an associate partner at IBM, said the program targets just a small number of trips but illustrates how much savings could be achieved if the agency were to target additional routes. “The next step is for the Postal Service to expand this to a larger level,” he said.