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Serving up Metric Tons of Sustainability

The Department of Energy’s Josh Silverman led efforts to halt the release of more than one million tons of the world’s most potent greenhouse gas from Energy Department facilities, the equivalent of taking over 200,000 cars off the nation’s roads every year.

Silverman is the Director of the Office of Sustainability Support for the Energy Department and the Acting Director of the Office of Environmental Policy.

His innovative work has made him a finalist for the Partnership for Public Service’s Sammie Awards. The Oscars for federal employees.

Silver told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program to tell us how he did it.

“A few years ago the President ordered the DOE to take a comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory to understand our emissions,” said Silverman.

Silverman examined the operations at the department’s national laboratories, production facilities and power administrations and found that little attention was being paid to the unintended releases of sulfur hexafluoride, the world’s most potent greenhouse gas. Leading a departmental working group, Silverman identified huge gaps in air pollution controls at DOE facilities and initiated steps to prevent the discharge of these emissions. This included conducting maintenance and repairs to reduce leaks, and deploying technologies to capture and reuse these gases.

“The impact has been surprisingly large, over one million metric tons of greenhouses gases have been avoided since 2009,” said Silverman.

So how dangerous is sulfur hexafluoride? One pound of sulfur hexafluoride, an inorganic, colorless and odorless gas, is equivalent to 11 tons of carbon dioxide, itself a major contributor to global warming.

Sustainable Products

In addition to curbing the dangerous emissions at DOE facilities, Silverman has been deeply engaged in electronics stewardship and green purchasing.

“The government has an Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool registry that is used by the government to identify products that have a lower life-cycle environmental impact. They have few toxic materials in their manufacturing. Can be recycled. In 2007, using the registry became a requirement for government purchasing,” said Silverman.

When Apple Inc. withdrew from a national registry of environmentally sound desktops, notebooks and electronic displays in 2012, the federal community could no longer purchase the company’s products without violating government acquisition regulations. In response, Silverman formed a coalition of 17 federal purchasing entities with huge collective buying power to meet with Apple executives to understand why the company withdrew from the registry. This tactic, combined with outside public pressure, worked. The company soon changed its position and agreed to follow the green standard guidelines.

“The federal government’s purchasing power has the capacity to move the market in a positive direction,” said Silverman.

You can find all our Sammies interviews here.

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