As Federal Environmental Executive, Joe Cascio works with federal agencies to promote sustainable environmental stewardship throughout the federal government. In this interview, Cascio outlines the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive’s (OFEE) successes and goals and explains how implementation of environmental management systems can benefit federal agencies.
OFEE Chief of Staff Dana Arnold contributed to this interview.
Please provide a brief description of your professional background and of your position as Federal Environmental Executive.
I have 26 years of experience in the environmental field. I spent 14 of those years in environmental management at IBM and 12 years as a consultant, mostly working with federal agencies. From 1991 to 2003, I was chair of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group that represented the U.S. in the development of the ISO 14000 series of management standards.
In my current position as Federal Environmental Executive, which is appointed by the President, I work with federal agencies to promote sustainable environmental stewardship throughout the federal government. No matter what an agency’s mission, each has office buildings, owns or leases fleet vehicles, uses office electronics and purchases goods and services. The government environmental footprint is large and gives us a tremendous opportunity to lead by example and to engage in actions that reduce energy and water use and benefit human health and the environment.
OFEE promotes sustainable environmental stewardship throughout the federal government.
Specifically, OFEE focuses on:
What new developments or accomplishments have recently taken place in each of these areas? Does OFEE plan to pursue any new areas of environmental stewardship?
OFEE promotes the use of organizational- and facility-level environmental management systems. In addition to our core program areas, we work closely with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Agriculture to implement and promote their programs related to these areas.
The most significant development is President Bush’s 2007 Executive Order (EO) 13423, “Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy and Transportation Management.” This EO builds on the federal government’s success in increasing energy and water efficiency, purchasing green products, using renewable energy, building green buildings, managing electronics, using alternative fuel vehicles and alternative fuels and reducing the use of toxic and hazardous chemicals. It provides a holistic approach to implementing these programs, rather than continuing to address them as separate issues.
We have made much progress in each of these areas. Our 2004-2006 report to the President, which is available on our website (www.ofee.gov), documents hundreds of examples of federal successes in each of these areas. Highlights are as follows:
With so much more to accomplish in each of these areas, we are not pursuing any new areas at this time.
Does OFEE share its successes with state and local governments so they may adopt similar sustainable practices and policies?
OFEE shares successes with the public and private sectors and academia via our website, our quarterly newsletter (which is available on our website), our listserve and presentations at conferences.
You served as Chair of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group and head of the U.S. ANSI delegation to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) committee that created the ISO 14000 series of environmental management standards. How has this experience helped you in your position as Federal Environmental Executive?
It gives me greater credibility and authority when I provide guidance to the agencies on how they should implement management systems. I believe this will the increase the energy that agencies put into greening efforts, and we will see even better results.
By drawing all of the practice areas under one EO and promoting the use of environmental management systems, the EO encourages agencies to bring together the key functions needed to fully implement its requirements. The EO is not just the province of the environmental and energy managers. Implementation requires the active assistance and participation of facility management, fleet management, the chief information officers and the acquisition community. Several agencies, including the Departments of Defense and Agriculture, have created senior-level workgroups to ensure that key functions in their organizations participate in the achievement of EO goals.
EO 13423 requires the use of environmental management systems. What types of environmental management systems do the federal agencies use, and how does OFEE determine which system(s) best suits the needs of each federal agency?
EO 13423 requires environmental management systems at appropriate facilities and/or organizational levels. We will soon send guidance to the agencies on what we mean by “organizational-level environmental management systems.” Whether the system is oriented to a facility or to an organizational level, it is expected to conform to the requirements of the ISO 14001 standard. No requirement exists for third-party certification, but systems must have independent second-party declaration of conformance audits at least every three years.
To assist federal agencies, we have also made a generic system model available to all agencies through the FedCenter website. The standardized procedures, programs and templates in the model should serve to ease the implementation efforts for those environmental management systems that have yet to be started. Existing environmental management systems will also benefit by comparing their approach against the model and by making any necessary adjustments or upgrades as appropriate. OFEE does not determine which system(s) best suits the needs of each federal agency. Each federal agency does that for itself by applying the elements of ISO 14001 to its own unique needs and requirements.
OFEE works under the authority of the Council on Environmental Quality. We work with various DOE and EPA programs through daily contact, interagency working groups, assistance with information dissemination, such as disseminating applicable EPA or DOE regulations or guidance, and participation in the development of regulations and guidance.
For the last 14 years, the White House Closing the Circle Awards have recognized federal employees and their facilities for outstanding contributions to environmental stewardship. Have award winners’ contributions led to any long-term or groundbreaking changes within the federal government’s environmental practices over the years?
Groundbreaking, yes, but in quiet ways. Just looking at this year’s winners, a Department of Defense agency worked with an affiliate of the National Industries for the Blind to create biobased cutlery, which is now offered to its customers. From March 2007 to January 2008, more than $2.4 million worth of this cutlery was sold. This creates jobs for the blind and markets for biobased materials. An interagency workgroup created environmental management system metrics, which makes it easier for agencies to measure and improve their environmental management system implementation and to do so in a uniform way.
In past years, agencies have created enhanced communication and outreach strategies as well as outstanding recycling programs to cite some examples. These are not earth-shattering, but they can have a significant impact because the awards provide ideas to other federal facilities about practices and programs that they can also implement. For example, other federal agencies frequently adopt winning recycling or waste prevention ideas.
What is your vision for OFEE for the remainder of 2008? What goals does OFEE expect to achieve by the end of this year?
We are completing guidance documents so they can be disseminated prior to the next Administration taking charge after the January 2009 inauguration. We do not want to saddle the new officials with unfinished work. We are also compiling the status of environmental management systems that have yet to be implemented. This information will be packaged for the new Administration’s benefit.
We are providing tools and additional training on environmental management systems to assist agencies in their efforts to make further progress in their implementations. We are also initiating a program with EPA to provide assistance to federal facilities from the bottom up on strategies and tools for meeting EO 13423’s requirements. The direction and assistance these facilities receive from the top of their agencies must be complemented with assistance from the bottom to achieve the desired outcomes. EPA has stepped up to provide such support to facilities, and OFEE will work closely with them to bring out that support as quickly and as strongly as possible.
From 1991 through 2003, Cascio was chair of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group and head of the U.S. ANSI delegation to the ISO committee that created the ISO 14000 series of environmental management standards.