Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • Putting the Spotlight on Federal Collaboration

    Every day in my job I am inspired by the innovative solutions being brought forth by Federal employees. All over the country, Federal agencies are collaborating to help achieve the goals set by the President’s Executive Order on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance. We knew their work could be replicated across the Nation, but we needed a platform to highlight their results and spread the word.

    That’s why we launched the GreenGov Spotlight Communities initiative last year. CEQ asked agencies to tell us where they were working collectively to leverage regional resources toward a common goal, and we chose six projects to focus on. After a year of tracking progress and compiling results, I am excited to share with you the accomplishments of these projects. From cutting costs to reducing carbon emissions, these local efforts show how Federal agencies can lead by example in the areas of energy and sustainability:

    • The Federal Bike to Work Month Challenge increased bicycle commuting by Federal employees through a month long contest to see which agency could recruit the most riders and bike the most miles. The project included 2,100 riders making 20,000 trips and riding nearly 240,000 miles. This is equivalent to saving roughly 240,000 pounds of CO2 emissions.
    • Relevant Federal and local agencies collaborated on creating a National Capital Region Climate Risks Preparation and Adaptation Plan focused on past flooding events at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building to evaluate risks and vulnerabilities on agency operations. Participants held an all-day session to consider sea level rise and extreme weather impacts projected for the long-term, and are moving forward with establishing priorities for creating a climate preparation and adaptation plan for the IRS building and surrounding areas that is expected to be adaptable to many federal building in the National Capital Region.
    • The Comparison of Non-Traditional Water Treatment Cooling Towers project analyzed several non-chemical cooling tower treatment systems and found that the GSA Federal Center in Denver could reduce building operation costs through decreased water and chemical costs and improved chiller energy efficiency. In fiscal year 2012, the project helped save 318,135 gallons of water and more than $1,700 in costs.   
    • The Car Sharing pilot saw the Peace Corps researching potential opportunities with multiple agencies for vehicle sharing partnerships. The pilot study found that convenience, flexibility, time efficiency, cost, and reliability were key factors that influenced staff willingness to utilize car sharing services. GSA’s new car sharing pilot program will build on lessons learned and challenges identified for future research.
    • Seattle Federal Executive Board’s Business Case for Sustainability compiled sustainability business case stories from the Seattle Federal agency community to encourage shared sustainability practices across the Federal Government. The stories allowed the SFEB to monetize savings and efficiencies; develop processes, communication strategy, resources and tools for other FEBs to replicate; and publicize efforts contributing to a larger community impact.
    • The Federal Aggregated Solar Procurement Pilot involved multiple Federal agencies working together to demonstrate that combined procurement offers economies of scale, resulting in lower electricity bills for individual sites and increased renewable energy production. Solar site surveys were conducted at the potential properties and once the project is completed, it has the potential to serve as a model for how Federal entities nationwide can jointly procure renewable energy for their sites.

    Jon Powers is the Federal Environmental Executive at the Council on Environmental Quality.

  • Investing in Solutions: Leaders in Finance and Climate

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Alka Banerjee, Managing Director at S&P Dow Jones Indices.

    This week, I participated in an event at the White House on Women Leaders in Climate Finance and Investment that highlighted the pioneering role women leaders in the finance sector are playing to mainstream climate change into finance and investment decisions.  Women around the world are often the first to feel the effects of climate and at the same time can offer unique perspectives and solutions.

    I was privileged to be part of a conversation on “making climate finance work for growth,” where we discussed that a consistent global policy framework on climate change could make implementation of scalable solutions practical and possible. At S&P Dow Jones Indices, we are working to advance these solutions by creating equity indices -- tools for investment products like exchange traded funds -- which respond to consumer demand for products that help address climate change. We have created specialized indices, such as the global clean energy index, and variations of mainstream indices, such as the S&P U.S. Carbon Efficient index and the S&P/IFCI Emerging Markets Carbon Efficient index that weight companies by their carbon emissions, with higher weights going to lower emitting companies. These indices help investors choose whether to invest in companies with high carbon pollution. Over time, we have seen investor perceptions change from excluding large polluting companies from their portfolios for environmental reasons, to doing so to manage risk, to understanding that companies with progressive environmental standards are poised for more sustainable, long-term growth. We are also seeing some investors seek to completely avoid fossil fuel investment in their portfolios.

    The event also included Administration officials such as Presidential advisor John Podesta, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley, Domestic Policy Council Director for Energy and Climate Change  Dan Utech, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell, and President and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation Elizabeth Littlefield,  who described  efforts under the President’s Climate Action Plan to make U.S. cities and states more resilient, support good clean energy and clean technology jobs, and help developing countries adapt to climate change and access renewable energy. U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH) discussed her energy efficiency legislation, which supports investment in clean energy technologies that help to reduce carbon pollution.

    The discussions revealed some key challenges and unique initiatives associated with mainstreaming climate change into finance. For example, Lindene Patton, Chief Climate Product Officer of Zurich Insurance Group, discussed the insurance industry’s role in managing climate risks and a commitment by Zurich to provide climate-smart insurance products and invest up to $1 billion in “green bonds,” which would help address climate change. Nancy Pfund, Founder and Managing Partner of DBL Investors, stated that while many private investments in green energy make good business sense and several have delivered good returns to their investors, the challenge is to attract positive attention from all sectors to the benefits of these options.

    The event brought to focus the real desire to make a positive social and environmental impact through investment decisions and showed that women are playing an increasingly crucial role to make this happen.

    Alka Banerjee is Managing Director at S&P Dow Jones Indices

  • Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience Hosts Inaugural Meeting

    State, Local and Tribal Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience

    Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie shares his climate resilience priorities in roundtable discussion with the with members of the President’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. (Photo by Office of Intergovernmental Affairs)

    Last week, members of the State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience participated in their inaugural meeting at the White House. President Obama created this Task Force in his Climate Action Plan to advise the Administration on how the Federal government can support communities across the country that are dealing with the impacts of climate change. In 2012 alone, the costs of weather disasters exceeded $110 billion in the United States – including the terrible destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy. Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of these kinds of events – as well as the costs and public health impacts associated with them.

    From Alabama to Guam, from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, state, local, and tribal leaders are on the front lines of dealing with extreme weather, sea level rise, and other impacts of climate change. This diverse group of elected officials brought their expertise and experience in building community resilience to our first meeting. Task Force members discussed ways to improve coordination to protect critical infrastructure, public resources, and emphasize pre-disaster preparedness. They also shared ideas about the types of information and tools that would be most useful in confronting the impacts of climate change.

  • Improving Energy Efficiency and Creating Jobs Through Weatherization

    Since 2009, the Energy Department’s Weatherization Assistance Program has helped improve the energy efficiency, comfort and health of hundreds of thousands of homes across the nation. With the support of Recovery Act funding as well as annual appropriations – matched by over $200 million each year from utilities, private investors and state and local government – this program has also helped train and employ thousands of weatherization professionals.

    As a result of this work, these low-income households are now saving $250-$500 a year on their energy bills. More broadly, since 2009, the Department’s Weatherization Assistance Program, its Building Technologies Office, and our partners at the Department of Housing and Urban Development have provided energy efficiency improvements to over 1.6 million homes. These cumulative upgrades will save nearly $16.4 billion in energy costs over the life of these measures and avoid more than 85 million tons of carbon emissions – equivalent to taking 17.7 million cars off the road – according to estimates from the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

    Today, I’m attending an event hosted by the White House, in collaboration with the National Association of State Community Services Programs (NASCSP), to highlight how the weatherization industry is creating skilled jobs and technology innovation and helping to reach the President’s goal of doubling U.S. energy productivity by 2030. State, local and business leaders from across the country will join me and my colleagues in the federal government to discuss how weatherization has made a positive impact in the lives of American families while supporting American businesses.

    You can watch the event live from 2 PM to 4 PM EST today at and read more on the Energy Department’s Weatherization Assistance Program on

    David Danielson is the Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy 

  • Leading By Example With Renewable Energy and Energy Management

    President Obama has challenged the Federal Government to lead by example to reduce energy use, pollution and waste in their operations, and save taxpayer dollars as a result. Here at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, we work with the Federal family to help them achieve these goals, and we have seen Federal agencies demonstrate enormous leadership and measurable success as they take this challenge head on. 

    Following the President’s direction, Federal agencies have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent since 2008, and are on track to reach existing renewable energy goals. To build on these efforts, President Obama today issued a Presidential Memorandum on Federal Leadership on Energy Management that directs agencies to go even further.    The Memorandum establishes a new target for Federal agencies to consume 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2020 – that’s more than double the current goal of 7.5 percent. The President first outlined this new goal in his June Climate Action Plan to curb carbon pollution and protect communities from extreme weather and other climate impacts. Meeting this renewable energy target will reduce pollution in our communities, promote American energy independence, and support homegrown energy produced by American workers. It also supports the President’s goal to double renewable energy in this nation by 2020.

    To improve agencies’ ability to manage energy consumption and reduce costs, the Memorandum directs them to use Green Button, a tool developed by industry in response to a White House call-to-action that provides utility customers with easy and secure access to their energy usage information in a consumer-friendly format. Agencies have already reduced energy use per square foot in Federal buildings by more than 9 percent since FY 2008. Green Button will help them identify areas where they can further update their building-performance and energy-management practices to save taxpayer dollars. Agencies will also use the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager to ensure Federal facilities are measuring their energy and water metering data and better managing energy use.

    I look forward to working with agencies as they continue to lead by example in their operations. Meeting the President’s goals will help us responsibly manage taxpayer resources, save energy, and promote healthy American communities.

    Jon Powers is the Federal Environmental Executive at the Council on Environmental Quality.

  • Outlining U.S. Climate Progress On the World Stage

    This week, I am in Warsaw, Poland at the United Nations climate negotiations (COP 19) spreading the word about the President’s Climate Action Plan to our international partners.

    Since the President launched his plan in June of this year, U.S. government agencies have been working to put the plan into action and make progress toward securing a healthy planet for future generations. The plan seeks to cut carbon pollution in the U.S., prepare American communities for potential climate change impacts and help lead international efforts to find a global solution to climate change.

    On Monday, I spoke on a panel about the progress we are achieving through the Climate Action Plan. I was joined by EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, Deputy Assistant Secretary Jonathan Pershing from the Department of Energy, and Global Climate Change Coordinator Kit Batten from USAID, as well as by Secretary of State John Kerry through a video message. Together, we outlined the important actions underway, including carbon pollution standards for power plants under the Clean Air Act, significant investments in clean energy technology and energy efficiency, and global partnerships to reduce deforestation and advance low emission development.

    Taken together, these actions will help us to achieve our international commitment to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and will position the U.S. as a leader in the new global low-carbon economy.

    Even in the context of ambitious actions to mitigate the causes of climate change, we know we must act to prepare communities for the unavoidable impacts of climate change, which we are already seeing in bigger and more frequent storms, droughts, floods, and other severe weather events. On November 1st, the President signed an Executive Order directing Federal agencies to take necessary steps to help communities to better prepare for the impacts of climate change. In particular, the Order directed Federal agencies to: remove barriers to and incentivize climate-resilient investments; improve natural resource sustainability by making common sense improvements to land- and water-related policies, programs, and regulations; and provide information, data, and tools for climate change preparedness through a climate data platform to inform decisions by state, local, and private-sector leaders.

    At the same time, the President created the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience – a team of state, local, and tribal leaders from across the United States who will use their first-hand experience in preparedness and resilience to advise federal action.

    Even with the President’s actions to reduce carbon pollution and prepare our communities for impacts we are currently experiencing, one thing is certain – we can’t do this alone.  Everyone – private companies, federal governments, non-profits, think tanks, developed and developing country citizens – must come together and take their part in a global solution to climate change.

    Nancy Sutley is Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality