President Obama signed an executive order titled “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance” (I’m calling it LEEEP because I can’t take FLEEEP seriously) October 5, 2009 “… to establish an integrated strategy towards sustainability in the Federal Government and to make reduction of greenhouse gas emissions a priority for Federal agencies.”

The stated policy in the EO reads like a super condensed version of a green building rating system:

“It is therefore the policy of the United States that Federal agencies shall increase energy efficiency; measure, report, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from direct and indirect activities; conserve and protect water resources through efficiency, reuse, and storm water management; eliminate waste, recycle, and prevent pollution; leverage agency acquisitions to foster markets for sustainable technologies and environmentally preferable materials, products, and services; design, construct, maintain, and operate high performance sustainable buildings in sustainable locations; strengthen the vitality and livability of the communities in which Federal facilities are located.”

The impact of LEEEP in the building and construction industry could be significant. According to a “2006 Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings Memorandum of Understanding,” the Federal government owns approximately 445,000 buildings with total floor space of over 3.0 billion square feet, in addition to leasing an additional 57,000 buildings comprising 374 million square feet of floor space.

To put this in some perspective, it is estimated that the LEED green building rating system, from its beginning in 1998 until now, has “involved” more than 4 billion square feet of commercial construction. The word “involved” is used because only a small percentage of these buildings actually ever goes through the certification process, the majority are merely registered under LEED*. The EO was designed to show leadership by example, and if the goals of the EO can be met, many of them could eventually become the new standard for all buildings in the U.S.


Meeting the goals and requirements contained in LEEEP will be hugely challenging. To kick things off, LEEEP requires that within 90 days, the head of each Federal agency is required to establish a percentage reduction target of greenhouse gas emissions for 2020 associated with:

Reducing energy intensity in agency buildings;

Increasing agency use of renewable energy and implementing renewable energy generation projects;

Reducing the use of fossil fuels.

Specific requirements are established within the EO across many of the categories found in current green building rating systems. Many of the goals contain squishy requirements such as “participate in,” “identify and analyze,” and “coordinate with.” But some of the requirements are explicit and measureable, including:

Energy Efficiency:

All new Federal buildings that enter the planning process are designed to achieve zero-net-energy by 2030;

All new construction, major renovation, or repair and alteration of Federal buildings complies with the Guiding Principles for Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings (Guiding Principles); [];

At least 15 percent of the agency’s existing buildings (above 5,000 gross square feet) and building leases (above 5,000 gross square feet) meet the Guiding Principles by fiscal year 2015.

Water Use Efficiency:

Reduce potable water consumption intensity by2 percent annually through fiscal year 2020, or 26 percent by the end of fiscal year 2020;

Reduce agency industrial, landscaping, and agricultural water consumption by 2 percent annually or 20 percent by the end of fiscal year 2020.

Product Procurement:

Ensure that 95 percent of new contract actions for products and services are energy-efficient (Energy Star or Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) designated), water-efficient, biobased, environmentally preferable (e.g., Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) certified), non-ozone depleting, contain recycled content, and or are non-toxic or less-toxic alternatives.

Construction Waste:

Diverting at least 50 percent of construction and demolition materials and debris by the end of fiscal year 2015.


An Executive Order is a power conferred to the president by the U.S. Constitution. This power gives the president authority to unilaterally create new laws or determine how existing laws should be carried out. Thousands of EOs have been issued by every president since George Washington, who issued the first, instructing the heads of departments to make a “clear account” of matters in their departments. Some are simple, non-controversial like “Take your Child to Work Day” or declaring a National Holiday. Some are more serious and in conflict with the Congress. President Eisenhower issued an EO to enforce desegregation of schools.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt used EOs to create agencies without going through Congress. In 1944 Congress prohibited funding such agencies. Congress has the authority to overturn EOs, but this rarely happens since it requires a two-thirds vote of both houses. Presidents can also overturn previously issued EOs.

If Congress does not object to an executive order, funding for implementing EOs is acquired in the same way as every other government expenditure. Some EOs establish explicit requirements for procurement of funding, as President Clinton’s EO 13148 Greening the Government Through Leadership in Environmental Management did in April 21, 2000 (sort of):

“Federal agencies shall place high priority on obtaining funding and resources needed for implementation of the Greening the Government Executive Orders, including funding to address findings and recommendations from environmental management system audits or facility compliance audits conducted under sections 401 and 402 of this order. Federal agencies shall make such requests as required in Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-11.”

LEEEP does not include specific funding provisions or instructions that I could find. It does include several administrative, implementation, and operational requirements that will require time and money. How much time and money is anyone’s guess.


The LEEEP EO requires that progress made toward the stated goals and requirements be reported annually and that these reports be made available to the public. A closer look at the implementation of Clinton’s EO 13148 gives us an idea of its effectiveness, and is a good predictor of how effective LEEEP might be. EO 13148 contained the following goals and requirements:

Reduction of Toxic Release Inventory releases and off-site transfers of toxic chemicals for treatment and disposal by 10 percent annually, or by 40 percent overall by December 31, 2006.

Reduction of selected toxic chemicals, hazardous substances, and pollutants, or generation of hazardous and radioactive waste types by 50 percent by December 31, 2006.

Development of a plan to phase-out procurement of Class I ozone-depleting substances for all non-excepted uses by December 31, 2010.

As does LEEEP, EO 13148 required Federal agencies to produce annual reports showing progress made in achieving the stated goals. I found some of these reports on the Internet-one from the Department of Energy (, one from the Department of Defense, and one from Oakridge National Laboratory. The reports contain many examples of things that were done toward greater sustainability, as well as graphs and charts showing reduction of toxic waste and other pollutants. The reports do not, however, clearly indicate percentage of completion toward the goals established in the EO. None of the reports were able to show achievement of the stated goals and requirements.


The Obama administration has pushed the idea about the creation of “green” jobs as a way to help improve the U.S. economy. LEEEP is a good start toward fulfillment of this promise. The amount of effort required to meet the goals and requirements in LEEEP will be substantial, and will require employment of architects, engineers, and contractors to design and build new and renovated buildings and infrastructure. I have no illusions that LEEEP will be any more effective than other, similar executive orders and have no doubt that the stated goals and requirements will likely not be fully met. But I am encouraged about the opportunity that LEEEP will provide for Federal agencies, design firms, contractors, and product manufacturers to aggressively pursue the goals and requirements in the EO and to really push the envelope while doing so. The required annual reports and performance measurements will allow us to evaluate what works and what does not, and will provide valuable information available for use on future projects. W&C


*At the time of this writing, the USGBC states that the total number of commercial buildings registered is 25,608 and of that, a mere 3,858 have gone through certification, or 15 percent.