The White House announced on Jan. 29 that the federal government will reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 28% by 2020. The announcement comes on the heels of President’s Obama’s pledge on Jan. 28 that the United States would reduce GHG emissions by 17% by 2020 as part of an international climate agreement.

The Jan. 29 announcement follows up on an executive order signed by the president this fall, which required federal agencies to set sustainability goals by Jan. 4. The 28% reduction target is the aggregate of 35 federal agency self-reported targets required by the executive order.

Among other goals, the initiative calls for the implementation of the 2030 net-zero-energy building requirement and that 95% of all applicable contracts with the federal government meet sustainability requirements.

The reduction target is expected to reduce federal energy use by the equivalent of 646 trillion BTUs, equal to taking 17 million cars off the road for one year. Administration officials estimate that the reduction should save $8 billion to $11 billion total in avoided energy costs through 2020.

Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, says, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Federal agencies will achieve the target reductions “by measuring their current energy and fuel use, becoming more energy efficient and shifting to more clean energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal,” she says.

Some projects already underway include solar installations at military facilities across the country and refurbishing buildings in the General Services Administration arsenal to be more energy efficient. One project already underway involves the installation of a 600 kw wind turbine on the roof of a Dept. of Veterans Affairs medical center in St. Cloud, Minn. Due to be completed in spring 2011, the turbine is expected to supply up to 15% of the facility’s electricity annually.

Sutley says that many of the projects are being funded through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

The federal government is the single largest energy consumer in the U.S. economy, occupying nearly 500,000 buildings and operating more than 600,000 vehicles. In 2008, federal agencies spent more than $24.5 billion on electricity and fuel in 2008, White House officials estimate.