Contractors asked to voluntarily submit emissions data

GSA will give preference to vendors that provide greenhouse gas information, official says.

The General Services Administration is encouraging federal contractors to report their greenhouse gas emissions using online tools in support of the government's sustainability initiative.

In a report released on Monday, GSA submitted recommendations to the White House Council on Environmental Quality for greening the federal supply chain. President Obama in October 2009 issued an executive order calling on agencies to establish plans for building sustainability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Steve Leeds, GSA's senior sustainability officer, said one of the primary ways agencies will reduce their emissions is by asking suppliers to do the same. The most important thing is that the data meets an acceptable standard and is available to the government, he added.

The report recommends suppliers voluntarily disclose their emissions inventories through fiscal 2012, which will help agencies set reduction targets and develop a plan to achieve those goals. Data initially will be measured at the corporate rather than the product level, though Leeds said the holy grail is to have emissions attributable to individual goods and services. To encourage vendors to report, GSA in fiscal 2011 will launch an incentives-based pilot that favors companies responding to requests for proposals that do disclose their emissions data.

"It is voluntary, but we're moving to the point where those that will disclose will be provided some preference," Leeds said. "We still have to work through issues to makes sure we have standards and verification, and to make sure we are not only rewarding large companies that may already be disclosing. It's the incentive that we believe will prompt companies to disclose."

One option for reporting is GSA's Carbon Footprint Tool, a system that incorporates company-entered data into agencies' emission inventories. According to Leeds, the tool will go live in October and will be available to agencies for free. Alternatively, suppliers could use the government's Online Representations and Certifications system or other Web tools as long as the data is accessible to agencies during the procurement process.

Online purchasing tools like GSA Advantage might require improvements to accept and track emissions data and allow customer agencies to use that information in their selection criteria, according to the report. The acquisition workforce also will need additional training and guidance to learn to interpret and use the data collected. Leeds said GSA will work with agencies and the private sector to provide workshops and aims to have 60 small businesses onboard by the end of fiscal 2011.

"The name of the game here is to get all of industry to disclose GHG emissions so everyone is better informed and can make judgments as to the GHG emissions that are produced by that particular company or product and can make a better judgment about acquiring a product or service that took less GHG emissions to produce," Leeds said.

Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at FedSources, said the government can set standards and define best practices for sustainability, though one of the key drivers is the cost savings associated with going green.

"Ultimately, it's about saving dollars," Bjorklund said. "That's why the agencies today are choosing various kinds of green products. In the world of IT, the cost of running data centers and building new ones can be reduced by virtualization and other kinds of tools."

According to the report, companies that lower their emissions have reduced energy costs by 6 percent and operational costs by 2 percent, and government can expect similar cost savings. In addition, companies that report their emissions take steps to improve efficiency, so the government will see lower emissions simply by tracking supplier data.