The GSA’s Focus on Sustainability

The General Services Administration likes to push the envelope on sustainability, Stephen Monkewicz, senior realty specialist with its office of real estate acquisitions, noted in his presentation at BOMA International’s Every Building conference in Seattle.

The nation’s huge “full faith and credit” tenant will continue transitioning from owned to leased space for the foreseeable future, and landlords vying for the federal General Services Administration’s business will increasingly need to compete in the sustainability department as well as with pricing.

As it seeks new quarters around the country, the GSA will focus on properties achieving the benchmark score of 75 in the Energy Star rating program, while also seeking LEED or Green Globes certifications – or at least inclusion of to two dozen or more preferred lease clauses.

And new construction projects looking to attract federal agencies will need even more stringent sustainability practices – all the above, plus adherence to the green purchasing plan already covering U.S. government operations.

Yes, it’s a challenge to meet all the modern GSA sustainability requirements, but a greener portfolio helps achieve societal benefits. And it’s the law, stressed Stephen Monkewicz, senior realty specialist with GSA’s office of real estate acquisitions.

“We like to push the envelope – but we try to keep it on the leading edge rather than the bleeding edge,” Monkewicz noted in his presentation at BOMA International’s Every Building conference in Seattle.

About half the roughly 400 million square feet of space occupied under GSA’s auspices is now leased, and the ratio will continue growing over the coming decade, Monkewicz explained.

Particularly since 2010, when Energy Independence & Security Act provisions took effect within the GSA portfolio, preferred property profiles have tended to mirror LEED scoring with respect to sustainability-minded locations, integrated design, environmentally friendly materials and resources, water and energy efficiency, and air quality.

The GSA expects to achieve a minimum set of goals – dubbed “strategic sustainability performance plan targets” – at 10 percent of its leased portfolio by the end of the 2012 fiscal year. The target rises to 18 percent for 2015 and 28 percent by 2020. With spaces as small as 5,001 square feet, this entails LEED or Green Globes certification, or inclusion of all the applicable lease clauses among the 38 the GSA has developed to adhere to its guiding principles.

For new leases of 10,001 square feet or more at existing buildings (not including renewals), landlords will need to achieve a minimum Energy Star score of 75, absent certain exempt situations (see below). However, decision-makers at a given agency might still require a minimum LEED standard for a new space smaller than 10,000 feet.

Likewise, with renewals of leases covering 10,000 feet or more, agency officials at their discretion might require adherence to a majority of the preferred lease clauses – although LEED and Energy Star are not requirements.

To-be-built developments proposing to lease space to the GSE must achieve LEED Silver and Energy Star certification – and lease drafts need to include all the applicable preferred clauses. Developers and property managers must also adhere to the green purchasing plan that federal agencies are required to follow – much of which is woven into preferred lease language, Monkewicz explained.

In addition to the smallest spaces and lease renewals, some landlords can claim exemptions from certain requirements. These might include owners of structures boasting historical or cultural significance, or of sub-performing buildings when nothing meeting all the criteria is available in the target area.

But there’s little doubt requirements will evolve toward stricter standards rather than looser. Monkewicz suggested GSA requirements may soon include lighting system specifications and ASHRAE 189 green building standards.