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Q&A with GSA’s Sustainability Architect


By Robert J. Kobet, AIA

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The United States is in the midst of one of the most controversial election cycles in modern times. The positive passions and negative cynicism common in politics are heightened and individual feelings and partisan politics are running deep. It is certainly making for some “strange bedfellows,” and the unprecedented, often-partisan media coverage is keeping the discourse front and center in 24-hour news cycles.

Approval of Congress has never been lower, and millions of Americans are asking aloud if their tax dollars are being used in ways that benefit them or the country. And, if so, how?

It is against this backdrop that I am currently contracted through Scanlon Engineering LLC to the Penn State Facilities Engineering Institute to prepare water conservation workshops for the U.S. General Services Administration that focus on the needs of GSA Property Managers. GSA is the nation’s largest landlord, with more than 370 million rentable square feet.

The research necessary to put the workshops together revealed some extraordinary programs and case studies that show the GSA is a leading proponent of the national green building movement. I was very pleased to learn that my friend and colleague, Lance Davis, is central to that effort.

I reached out to him to offer a glimpse into GSA’s work involving high performance green building.

RJK – Lance, what is your position and your responsibilities within GSA?

LD - My official title is Program Manager for Design Excellence Architecture+Sustainability, but in essence, I am the Sustainability Architect for GSA.  I focus on three main aspects: researching/writing sustainable policy; educating the GSA, our clients and our design teams; and reviewing projects to ensure they meet our performance requirements.  

RJK - How did GSA come to embrace sustainable design / LEED and why?

LD - Early legislation led us to include sustainable design features, but we saw the need for an integrated approach and adopted the use of the LEED rating system in 2000. We now require a Gold certification as this level means design teams must focus on the entire building and sustainable performance, not just energy or water. We also have research to show that our approach is working and GSA's LEED buildings perform better and are better places for federal workers.

green roof

The LEED Gold U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington is the second largest green roof system in North America, and third largest in the world. This extremely resource efficient facility is host to deer, bald eagles and numerous plant types.

RJK - What GSA initiatives are most important to you?

LD - I am focusing much of my effort on meeting the requirement for new construction to be Net Zero Energy and Water or Waste by 2020. Imagine a 1 million-square-foot headquarters building in downtown D.C. being off the grid. We have also committed to "25 by 25," which is 25 of our existing buildings will be Net Zero Energy and Water or Waste by 2025.  

RJK - What have been your most important lessons learned?

LD - GSA project managers are bold. They push design teams to do better and provide higher performing buildings. They can inspire A/E teams to achieve performance unheard of in the industry like a net zero historical courthouse. I work from D.C. to provide our property managers education and inspiration, but they are the ones that make sure it actually gets installed.

RJK - What should the public know about what GSA is doing?

LD - GSA is a leader in sustainable architecture that performs. We have one of the largest planted roofs in the world and we continue to reduce energy and water use by amazing metrics. We are also setting the standard for Class A office space, not by gilding the halls, but by requiring high performance space and new models for the office from hoteling, to telework, to IT solutions.  

RJK - What would you like to add?

LD - GSA is also doing the research to ensure we are achieving our sustainable goals. From energy use, to circadian rhythms, to worker productivity and sleep patterns, GSA is verifying that the bold ideas we bring to the market will perform, help the mission of the agency, and save taxpayers dollars. 

So, the next time you hear the old adage, “We’re from the government, we’re here to help you,” take heart, for Lance and all those involved are helping to make the GSA green building initiatives a success for the country and taxpayers.


Robert J. Kobet, AIA

Robert J. Kobet has worked with clients on five continents for more than 35 years to create innovative places to live, work and learn. As an architect, educator, speaker, former chair of LEED for Schools, primary author of LEED for General Contractors and Construction Managers, and president and CEO of The Kobet Collaborative, Bob is working to make his vision for a green building era a reality. Leaning Green explores that reality. Contact Bob.



Tagged categories: Architects; Consultants; Design; Green building; Green design

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