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New software to help measure carbon footprint

Aug. 22, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON   |   Comments
The General Services Administration has created a free Web-based tool to help agencies calculate and manage their greenhouse gas emissions building by building. Above, solar panels sit atop the Denver Federal Center.
The General Services Administration has created a free Web-based tool to help agencies calculate and manage their greenhouse gas emissions building by building. Above, solar panels sit atop the Denver Federal Center. (Courtesy photo)

DALLAS The General Services Administration has created a free Web-based tool to help agencies calculate and manage their greenhouse gas emissions building by building.

The tool enables agencies to develop a comprehensive inventory of their direct and indirect emissions and identify areas for reduction.

Federal agencies are racing to meet an executive order to report gas inventories by January.

"Agencies are in different phases of beginning the inventory process," said Jennifer Hazelman, project manager for the GSA Carbon Footprint Tool. Hazelman gave an overview of the tool Aug. 16 at the GovEnergy conference here.

GSA initially created the tool for its own use even before Obama's executive order. The agency later developed the tool to meet the specific mandates of the executive order and then made it available to other agencies.

To use the tool, an agency manager enters data from monthly energy bills, employee commuter surveys and business travel records. The software then calculates the agency‘s greenhouse gas emissions and breaks the number down by category, or "scope." Scope 1 refers to direct emissions generated by federal buildings and vehicles. Scope 2 refers to indirect emissions released in the transmission of energy to federal facilities. Scope 3 refers to indirect emissions, such as those generated by business travelers, vendors and commuting employees.

The tool does not offer advice on how to reduce emissions but it includes a feature that shows how much energy can be reduced by increasing or decreasing programs such as video conferencing, teleworking and server virtualization.

There also is a return-on-investment calculator to predict how long it would take an agency to generate savings that cover the cost of an energy-efficiency investment.

The tool also helps managers comply with other eco-friendly mandates in the 2005 Energy Policy Act and the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.

Agencies do not need to use the tool when compiling their emissions data they can also use an Excel-based workbook created by the Energy Department's Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP).

Agencies will transmit their emissions data to the White House's Council on Environmental Quality via FEMP's Greenhouse Gas Reporting Portal. That portal will become available Oct. 5.

Hazelman said the FEMP workbook isn't as robust as the GSA tool.

To use the GSA tool, an agency's sustainability officer must register for an account on www.carbonfootprint.gsa.gov.

Already, the Homeland Security, Treasury, Commerce, and Health and Human Services departments have signed up to use the tool, but some say it's too soon to tout its benefits.

"We are generally in favor of agencies pulling together for a corporate solution. However, we are still assessing the tool," said HHS spokesman Bill Hall in an e-mail.

Hazelman said there may be slight modifications to the tool once the administration finalizes the guidance for accounting and reporting emissions.

The tool will be pre-populated with emissions data related to GSA-provided services such as office space or fleet services that the customer agency uses.

"We look at the Carbon Footprint Tool as a work in progress, and … it will continue to be enhanced and developed," Hazelman said.

Hazelman expects much federal interest in the tool after the fiscal year ends in September when full-year data is available.

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