Kevin Kampschroer, chief sustainability officer and director of the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings at the General Services Administration (GSA), cited the ambitious clean-energy targets of big tech-sector companies as encouragement that the Federal government can meet White House clean-energy goals, including through more efficient data center usage.

Kampschroer delivered his assessment on April 6 at GSA’s Data Center Sustainability Summit , which had a stated aim of “energizing sustainable change in Federal agencies,” and focused on what agencies need to do to begin moving on President Biden’s December 2021 executive order instructing the Federal government to reduce carbon emissions across the government.

The executive order aims to use the scale and procurement power of the government to advance a broad range of goals including:

  • 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2030;
  • 100 percent zero-emission vehicle acquisitions by 2035;
  • Net-zero emissions from Federal procurement by 2050;
  • A net-zero emissions building portfolio by 2045;
  • 65 percent emissions reduction from overall Federal operations by 2030, and a net-zero emissions goal of 2050.

Kampschroer listed statistics that illustrate the size of the data center energy-consumption equation, saying that all data centers in the U.S. consume about 70,000 gigawatt hours of electricity per year. That compares to a total electricity consumption by the entire U.S. government for all uses of about 54,000 gigawatt hours per year.

He said that 25 percent of the world’s data centers are based in the United States, “and many of them are leading the way in showing how this can be done, and how the ambitious goals that the president is laid out for us can be achieved.”

In particular, Kampschroer cited commitments by Google to become carbon pollution electricity-free by 2030, and Microsoft to be carbon-negative by 2030.

Based on his experience leading the GSA’s Workplace 20-20 research program that studied how to make better workplaces for Federal employees to improve their productivity, he said the findings showed that Federal employees “didn’t really need more of anything.” Rather, he said, “they needed better of what they needed – they needed a design for what they were doing.”

“So we used less space and got better productivity, and it influenced programs” to “freeze the footprint” of the Federal government. “Everyone said it was impossible, and then it happened.”

He said GSA is now working on its Workplace 2030 project for further re-sizing the government workspace footprint “so we start understanding and really using the lessons of the last couple of years of the pandemic.”

Those lessons, he said, include GSA’s seamless transition to telework since the beginning of the pandemic. “Three years later, I’m not sure we miss the office that much. We miss other people, and I think that’s the missing component in all of this we’ll have to figure out.”

That experience has direct parallels to data center size and demand, he said.

“Most companies when they move to cloud computing or service computing, just as GSA did, see drastic reductions in the amount of data center consumption that there is. We have found that data centers can shrink by large percentages just by all of the modern techniques of server optimization.”

On that note, he cited a statistic from several years ago that found average server capacity utilization in the U.S. was about 15 percent of the total capacity. “The more we can use the resources effectively, the better we are,” he said. “We’ve got private sector companies that are showing that the ambitious goals of the executive orders that the President is laid out are actually achievable.”

He said that from GSA’s perspective of managing the Federal government’s real estate portfolio, “what we deal with in buildings is people, and people are notoriously difficult to control – they have their own individual quirks, needs, and so on.”

On the other hand, he said jokingly, “servers don’t argue back and they do exactly what you tell them.” He added, “so tell them to do good things to tell them to maximize their output, tell them to consolidate.”

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.