House Touts Progress on Green Initiative

Posted April 21, 2010 at 6:26pm

In the three years since the Green the Capitol Initiative began, House officials have instituted dozens of chamberwide greening efforts on a body more accustomed to handling such issues as 441 individual dominions.

Members have begun encouraging staff to print double-sided, recycle lunch containers and send electronic faxes. Many have allowed Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard to replace their individual office servers — which hold all their documents and e-mails — with a virtual server that uses less energy. And some, like Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), have gone above and beyond, installing energy-efficient plumbing and high-efficiency light bulbs.

CAO officials are now setting their sights on the next Congress, when new Members will begin their Congressional careers following energy-efficient practices that have slowly been introduced to the chamber in the past few years.

“We’re really looking at the transition this year as a way to educate them right as they come into the door,” said CAO spokesman Jeff Ventura, adding that many of the changes over the last few years will become the “default” for offices. “Someone would literally have to come to us and say, ‘You know what? I don’t want environmentally friendly carpet.'”

Targeting new Members is just one of the ways that Beard plans to make progress on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) flagship greening program. In an annual status report released Wednesday, Beard’s office and the Architect of the Capitol outlined current and future greening efforts. Among them: upgrades to the Capitol and House office buildings that they hope will translate to millions of dollars in energy savings.

But in the short term, CAO officials are focused on an awareness campaign, called My Green Office, aimed at Member and committee offices. So far, officials have given consultations to about 250 D.C. offices and 180 district offices — and come next Congress, that number will rise with the influx of freshman Members. The CAO recommends dozens of energy-efficient steps, starting with 15 “core greening actions” that are as simple as buying ENERGY STAR equipment and green office supplies.

But so far, CAO officials do not have numbers on how many offices have adopted those actions and whether they are inching toward the goal of saving $1 million in energy and procurement costs. Offices are encouraged to update a personal My Green Office page with their actions, but many don’t, and on Wednesday, officials couldn’t give an estimate of who had implemented what.

Ventura argued that the program’s suggestions include proven actions that don’t need constant statistics to justify them — such as using recycled paper and installing compact fluorescent light bulbs.

“Even if there is a dearth of numbers right now, the fact of matter is these types of actions are not even disputable in terms of best practice behavior,” he said, though he added that an eventual analysis of the numbers would be “fruitful.”

The benefits of other Green the Capitol efforts are more clearly outlined in Wednesday’s report. By consolidating Members’ servers, for example, the House’s main data center now only has to use 125,000 watts to run the servers compared with 500,000 watts four years ago.

Officials also estimate that after the AOC renovates the Capitol, it will use 38 percent less energy. House buildings, they estimate, will use 23 percent less energy.

That step will bring the Green the Capitol program onto the “next plateau,” said Bob Lane, executive director of the CAO’s Green the Capitol division.

“It will take us completely on a different level,” he said, adding that the House is on track to meet Pelosi’s 10-year goal of reducing the chamber’s energy use by 50 percent. “These retrofits are going to thrust us into year seven. It keeps us on target.”