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The U.S. General Services Administration on Thursday announced a plan to cut by fiscal year 2020 its greenhouse emissions by 30 percent, including a 25 percent reduction in "emissions from employee commuting and business travel," and a 30 percent cut in fleet petroleum consumption. With a relatively smaller travel budget, GSA's reduction goals are more aggressive than those set of late by some of the larger federal spenders, including 10 percent cuts in employee business travel emissions at the departments of Transportation and Treasury, 7 percent at the Department of Defense, 5 percent at the Department of Agriculture and 1.3 percent at the Department of Justice.
As the travel purchasing agent for many federal agencies, meanwhile, GSA also said it would "use its governmentwide influence to reduce the environmental impact of the federal government."
These efforts stem from an executive order signed last October by President Barack Obama "to establish an integrated strategy towards sustainability in the federal government and to make reduction of greenhouse gas emissions a priority for federal agencies." In July, Obama announced plans for a 13 percent reduction by 2020 in the White Houses's greenhouse gas pollution, to be achieved partly by cuts in employee travel.
GSA's reduction target for employee business travel and commuting will be measured against a fiscal year 2008 baseline of 49,259 tons of carbon. Specifically, GSA intends to reduce by 25 percent "in each category of employee travel: air business-related travel, ground business-related travel, and employee commuting." That translates to about 11,500 fewer air segments, more than 3 million fewer ground transportation miles and a total of 12,000 fewer tons of carbon.
To reach those goals, GSA indicated it would "modify its policies and technology to change the business travel practices and behaviors of its employees." Measures would include "alternate forms of transportation, such as trains and hybrid government automobiles for travel under 500 miles, and use of bicycles for short distance inner-city meetings." GSA also will "investigate and implement additional technology enablers such as videoconferencing, webinars, collaboration tools and conference calls to conduct meetings without the need for travel."
Moreover, GSA plans to make sustainable its conferences and training events by using "LEED-certified facilities and lodging, shuttles for local transportation, paperless conference material, and recycled or recyclable signage, badging, and exhibition materials." It also is "exploring" opportunities to combine multiple conferences in one location and use remote conferencing options.
GSA noted that "culture is a strong inhibitor to changes in transit behaviors and reducing business travel."
It already has "deployed an online greenhouse gas inventory tool" that is "automatically populated" by various data feeds, including those for business air travel. Furnished in partnership with nonprofit science and technology organization Noblis, the tool will be offered to other federal agencies.
Other GSA efforts to help federal agencies achieve sustainability goals include assistance in reducing the environmental impact of conferences. "GSA, in partnership with the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, is currently developing guidelines for environmentally preferable lodging, travel and conference planning," according to GSA. "In FY 2011, GSA will incorporate these guidelines into governmentwide policies to improve travel cost management and reduce GHG emissions."
In terms of the federal government's overall supply chain, GSA also is seeking "ways to incentivize--not require--companies to measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions and initiate a process by which contracting advantages could be given to companies that conduct greenhouse gas inventories."
GSA also is addressing environmental requirements in its solicitation for the next generation of its E-Gov Travel System, ETS2. The system "should offer solutions ... as the functionality becomes commercially available" for tracking and reporting carbon emissions; offering "telepresence alternatives to travel" within the booking system; and comparing the costs and emissions of travel to those telepresence alternatives.
Several other federal agencies also published sustainability plans, including the Department of Defense, which has targeted a 7 percent reduction in employee air travel by FY2020 relative to FY2011. "As employee travel is responsible for more than 75 percent of all emissions, it is key to driving the overall goal," according to DOD. It noted that its target would be achieved through "planned improvements in aircraft engine technology, flight routing and a reduction in employee trips through an increased reliance on telecommunications such as video teleconferencing, and improved conference locations. For example, the Department will encourage the use of webinars and videoconferencing for training and meetings in lieu of travel."
DOD also will "include evaluation criteria in the City Pair contracts negotiated by the General Services Administrationto provide vendors with a higher evaluation result when they provide more efficient routes and equipment"; "alter its automated travel tools, such as the Defense Travel System, to flag the most 'green' travel options"; and issue a "policy memo" on avoiding unnecessary travel.
At the Department of Justice, employee business travel accounts for about "74 percent" of Scope 3 (indirect) greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore "represents a significant opportunity for DOJ to reduce its environmental impact." To reach a reduction goal of 1.3 percent by 2020, DOJ plans to improve reporting and use remote conferencing. "Once DOJ's travel data are incorporated into GSA's [travel information system], DOJ will use these data to identify the top 10 to 20 city pairs, ensure that they have the necessary webinar capabilities and videoconferencing hardware, and increase education and outreach to employees on DOJ's webinar and videoconferencing opportunities," according to the department's report.
At the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 5 percent cut in employee business travel emissions would be achieved by "replacing a percentage of business travel with conference calls, net conferencing and video conferencing"; encouraging rail over air transport; and promoting "the use of fuel efficient rental cars."
The State Department has not specified a business travel emissions reduction target but noted that a "Travel Greening Council Working Group will be charged with initially developing a metrics system to account for the department's domestic federal employee travel emissions." Noting that its workforce is growing and that "effective diplomacy is inherently about people-to-people relationships and contacts," State predicted that its "travel will likely need to increase in the future. The department is under no illusions; travel is an essential tool for diplomacy. Reducing travel emissions requires scrutiny of one of the department's fundamental business models. This task will not be easy; the department's business culture will be challenged and ultimately, this exercise may only produce limited successes."
The Department of Homeland Security also has not disclosed a business travel emission reduction target, but intends to adopt "technology to eliminate the need for travel" and "review travel approval processes to ensure that only essential travel is requested and approved." It also would attempt to combine trips when possible and encourage travelers to use mass transit and airport shuttles.
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