Nearly four months into her role as GSA Administrator, Martha Johnson spoke today before Potomac Officers Club on what she's calls an “audacious goal“: eliminating the federal government's environmental footprint.
Not minimize. Eliminate.
Can we get there?
“Yes we can,“ said Johnson, in a hat tip to the Obama administration. Johnson's talk, delivered before an audience of government contractors, wasn't mere political spin, though. “I'm deadly serious about this,“ said Johnson, likening GSA’s greening efforts to this generation's version of the “moon shot.“
Last fall, President Obama talked of a “peaceful competition“ with other countries to develop alternative sources of energy. He also called for the federal government “” the single largest consumer of energy in the US economy “” to lead by example.
That's where GSA comes in. Obama has named the agency a key member of his green team along with the Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of Energy. GSA is a natural partner given the sheer breadth of its resources: A “big storefront,“ as Johnson puts it, the agency manages over 350 million feet of space and 200,000 vehicles. That scope extends throughout the executive, judiciary and legislative branches, plus, increasingly, state and local government.
Big hairy audacious goal
Greening “” not greenwashing “” GSA will be one “Big Hairy Audacious Goal,“ said Johnson. It's a goal she's been gearing up for. Recently, ExecutiveBiz noted that Johnson would convene offsite with senior GSA officials to assess the current agency environment and determine what new metrics would move the agency forward. In her Potomac Officers Club talk, Johnson shared the results of that meeting.
This past week, Johnson traveled to Georgia with GSA's top 200 leaders. Believing the best way to generate ideas is through case studies, GSA leaders met with leaders of Interface, the world's largest manufacturer of modular carpet. Back in 1994, the company's founder and chairman Ray Anderson set out to make his a zero-environmental footprint company by 2020.
Can the federal government do the same? GSA stands ready to lead the way. “We make markets “¦ because of our sheer size,“ said Johnson. The agency's sustainability agenda is reflected in the culture change already underway, she added.
Calling the level of internal engagement “heartwarming,“ Johnson noted that GSA staff are already employing new language. Among the new ways of thinking: “Fail fast. Fail forward. Fail fruitfully.“ GSA is also changing on the talent scene, said Johnson, citing a vision to become the “cool place to work.“ “I'm after the talent,“ she added.
Shared work ahead
The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) earmarked $5.5 billion to GSA to make existing buildings more environmentally effective. Johnson and GSA colleagues have since drawn up future sustainability plans “” they're outlined in a 100-page plan that Johnson was to submit to the White House later in the day (Johnson anticipates those plans will be made public over the coming weeks.)
During her talk before government contractors, Johnson offered this “plea“: Do more to collaborate. Both industry and government need to converge on solutions, said Johnson, who’s previously worked on the industry side as well, including at CSC and SRA. That level of collaboration, she added, is part of a larger mission, in Johnson's words: “To return the earth to ourselves “” and galvanize the next generation.“