John Howard, Federal Environmental Executive, Promotes Sustainable Environmental Stewardship

April 30, 2003

Photo of John Howard, Federal Environmental Executive

John Howard, Federal Environmental Executive, addresses the audience at the 2002 Presidential Awards for Leadership in Federal Energy Management.

During February 2003, the FEMP Focus conducted an extensive interview with John Howard, Federal Environmental Executive. Mr. Howard discusses the role of the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive (OFEE), President Bush's views on environmental and energy issues, environmental management systems, and many other interesting topics.

FEMP Focus: Let's start at the beginning, what is the mission of the OFEE?

John Howard: Our mission is to promote sustainable environmental stewardship throughout the Federal government. We focus our energies on six priority action areas:

  1. Environmental Management Systems
  2. Waste Prevention and Recycling
  3. Green Purchasing
  4. Electronics Stewardship
  5. Sustainable Buildings
  6. Industrial Ecology

During February 2002, we articulated a vision statement: "A Federal government that applies sustainable environmental practices." We also developed our methods to initiate momentum for adoption of sustainability practices and policies:

  • encourage sustainable practices;
  • identify and share success stories, best practices, and other tools to make sustainable practices easier to adopt and maintain;
  • provide training, awareness, and outreach;
  • assist in coordinating and advancing sustainability policies across agencies;
  • publicly advocate and support sustainable practices and policies; and,
  • measure and report on agencies' progress.

FEMP Focus: Your first priority action area is environmental management systems (EMS). What are the benefits of an EMS?

John Howard: Environmental management systems are a huge priority for OFEE as EMS's provide the strategic framework for complying with the law, reducing costs, avoiding potential liability, increasing sustainability, and implementing green purchasing.

Two key concepts are integration and systems. DOE has taken an innovative approach with DOE Order 450.1, "Environmental Protection Program," which requires DOE sites to implement an EMS integrated into DOE's Integrated Safety Management System (ISMS). The Order also aligns the Department's system for environmental protection with the requirements of Executive Order 13148, "Greening the Government Through Leadership in Environmental Management." The integration of the EMS into the ISMS is the appropriate approach, but will require some work to resolve differences in traditional operating procedures.

Systems are also important. When I came here, OFEE was doing a lot of training, especially for green procurement and then EMS training, but it was not systematic. It was ad hoc, and we were missing a lot of people, such as new government credit card holders. To be more systematic, we're trying to reach more people with the best tools, such as using our web site to connect more people with the right training.

Another important benefit of EMS's is the unexpected results from new groupings of people working together to achieve new goals. People from energy, budget, health, environmental, and legal areas will develop and implement new ideas that will be effective and successful. That is exciting.

EMS's are typically for manufacturers, not for offices, but because they are so important, we are developing one for our office here at OFFE. And, of course, we're looking at energy usage.

An internal audit in our office revealed that computers were not turned off at night, and that the Energy Star. function had not been enabled. DOE has developed software to ensure that the Energy Star. functions are enabled, and the Department of the Interior recently applied this successfully here in Washington, D.C. (Please see Another aspect of our EMS concerns mitigating the environmental effects of business travel and meetings. Our EMS is not final, but we are working on it.

FEMP Focus: How, and why, have you expanded the mission of OFEE to include sustainable buildings?

John Howard: We've adopted sustainable building as one of our priorities for two reasons. First, buildings—in their design, construction, operation, maintenance, use, and removal—affect our indoor activities, land use, energy use, communities, and the environment. As stewards, we have the opportunity and responsibility to reduce these impacts. Using sustainable principles in buildings can reduce these impacts, as well as improve working conditions and worker productivity, increase energy efficiency, and reduce costs and risks. Second, sustainable buildings can be great showcases to educate people about environmental issues, possible solutions, partnerships and creativity, and opportunities for reducing environmental impacts in our everyday lives.

FEMP Focus: We understand that you have a long standing interest in environmental issues. Please tell us about it.

John Howard: As a child I won an Earth Day poster contest, and as a Boy Scout I was very active in recycling. I attended law school and worked on environmental issues for 8 years in private practice in Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas. I worked for then-Governor George Bush's policy team studying a range of environmental and natural resource issues, including energy. When President Bush took office, I served as the Senior Associate Director for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and worked on the National Energy Policy. I became the Federal Environmental Executive in April 2002.

FEMP Focus: What is your understanding of President Bush's views regarding environmental and energy issues?

John Howard: I am happy to answer that. I have worked for him for nearly 7 years, and I know that he is passionate about these issues. The President's ranch house in Texas is just a fantastic environmental and energy success story—using site orientation, a single-level building with integrated breezeways, and geothermal heating. On the ranch itself, the President is replacing high water consumption cedars with native plants, which is restoring streams and wildlife, and using propane to fuel the pick up trucks on the ranch.

When he was Governor, the Governor's Mansion was one of the first entities to enroll in the City of Austin's renewable energy program, and solar panels were recently installed on the White House grounds buildings. (SeeWhite House Installs Three Solar Energy Systems.) President Bush is conscious of energy use and was very involved with the National Energy Policy and the Executive Order on standby power devices. These measures are not just a response to the California energy crisis; during his campaign, the President named energy efficiency and security as one of the country's most important issues. He even tells staff to turn off the lights when they're done meeting in a room. Although the President doesn't use the term sustainability, he adheres to the principles of sustainability and considers stewardship our responsibility to the future.

FEMP Focus: What can you tell us about the solar panels recently installed at the White House? Is it fair to say that this is an example of the President's personal commitment to stewardship?

John Howard: Yes, absolutely. There is a huge drive to improve energy efficiency, which you can look at from several perspectives, including the pure benefits of energy efficiency, the cost savings, and the environment—reducing greenhouse gas emissions, national security, and promoting domestic supplies and our own renewables. Part of what the President sees as his job is to lead by example. We were very comfortable sharing the story for them. It is very important to get the story out. The government can show people opportunities by being good examples ourselves.

FEMP Focus: How does the OFEE relate to FEMP's mission to reduce Federal energy use?

John Howard: Energy is not in our name, but it is certainly in our goals and we try to be supportive of your mission. Our report, Leading By Example—A Report to the President on Federal Energy and Environmental Management (2000-2001) (Please see the OFEE web site at includes a large section about DOE's activities, such as Energy Star. and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Since there are some gaps in the government's efforts, the report provides 18 recommendations.

Regarding integration, one of our goals is to bring people together to share information about the various green product programs across the Federal government—from Energy Star. to biobased products. Regarding our office and FEMP, it is in the energy efficiency world's best interest to work together, share information, and think strategically. We work very closely with the DOE Federal Energy and Water Management Awards, and the OMB Presidential Award for Leadership in Federal Energy Management. We also are very interested in the Interagency Sustainability Working Group and helping it as much as we can.

FEMP Focus: What are your near-term goals for OFEE?

John Howard: As an Office, we change a lot since we only exist with people from other agencies who are here for short periods of time. Our focus this year is on implementing the 18 recommendations in the President's report. The two most important are, as I have said, the integration idea, and the systems idea. Some things we can implement directly, and for others we serve as a cajoler, which can be difficult, but I use my relationships with others as much as I can.

We are about sharing successes. One of the things that I have had the most fun doing in this job is visiting facilities, attending conferences, and giving speeches, and hearing what people are doing. Invariably, I learn a great new story. Even though it's our job to know those stories, I hear new stories all the time—my favorite is the hybrid Humvee. DOD did a fuel cost study and determined that the actual fuel costs were much higher than they realized. The Department of the Army built six hybrid Humvees. They use batteries with conventional combustion engines. Battery mode provides low noise and heat signatures for battlefield operations, in addition to increased fuel economy. The battery also replaces a towed generator for other uses. It is our job to collect and share this type of exciting story.

The President has said "lead by example." It is the name of a FEMP report and our report, so we are trying to do that.

FEMP Focus: What do you hope to accomplish at OFEE by 2005?

John Howard: Ensure that Federal facilities are developing and implementing robust EMSs, for all the reasons we discussed before—they provide a strategic framework to help with compliance, cost cutting, sustainability, public relations, and other issues, such as risk management. It is important to have the EMS tool, and not another program, because the EMS tool will help you solve your issues. There is the beginning of a trend to combine environmental and national security issues into a comprehensive risk management system.

FEMP Focus: Thank you for speaking with us. Are there any final comments that you would like to make to our readers?

John Howard: The great thing that they can do is to share their success stories (and problems, for that matter) through a listserv, for example. I'm really impressed with all of the work we see going on—and we need to do more.

For more information, please see the OFFE web site at