Photo by Keoki Seu on Flickr.

Former DC Council candidate Sam Brooks has been hired to lead a new sustainability and energy division in the DC government. He sat down for an interview about how the District can be a world leader in sustainability and energy conservation.

Since his 2006 DC Council bid, Brooks has been busy making a name for himself in energy efficiency contracting and green workforce development. In February, he was tapped to put that experience to good use as head of the Sustainability & Energy Division at the District’s newly-formed Department of General Services.

Q: You’re the new head of a new division of a new agency. What exactly do you do?

The Department of General Services constructs, modernizes, and manages the District’s government facilities. I’ve heard people refer to DGS as DC’s GSA. That’s part of it. When Mayor Gray created DGS, he charged us with overseeing one of the largest commitments to public school modernization in the United States and we’re doing it with a steadfast commitment to sustainability. Our portfolio includes 30 million square feet of real estate that encompasses schools, office buildings, fire houses, police stations, recreation centers, and more.

DGS’s Sustainability & Energy Division specifically deals with supply of and demand for the government’s energy.  We acquire the energy commodities for DC government facilities, from electricity to natural gas to water, and we pay the bills — all of which is no small task. In many respects, we quite literally keep the lights on.

But the supply of energy is just one component. A core mission for the Sustainability & Energy Division is to create a portfolio of government facilities that run at optimal efficiency in both energy consumption and cost. From efficient buildings with minimum energy consumption, to first-class stormwater and waste management, to maximizing the District’s tree canopy, to even looking at the potential for urban agriculture. My team and I have our hands in all of these initiatives.”

Q: What kind of impact do you think DGS can really make in the city with respect to sustainability?

Our agency will have a tremendous impact on the city’s sustainability. We are already building from a strong foundation. For instance, all of our new construction projects are LEED certified, and we recently won a national Green Ribbon Schools award from the Obama administration. But there’s no doubt we want to go even further. Much further.

Mayor Gray has laid out an inspired vision for the city. The SustainableDC initiative has put forward goals such as reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in the next 20 years. So, it definitely feels like we have the wind in our sails. In my opinion, the Mayor has not gotten enough credit for his bold vision for sustainability. It’s a vision that is going to make real change in the District.

Our director, Brian Hanlon, has a goal to lead by example with regard to sustainability and green features in our portfolio. Our goal is nothing less than to become a beacon for sustainability efforts around the world.”

Q: Any plans to make some of these goals actionable, to actually get some specific initiatives underway?

DGS has an ambitious agenda over the short- and mid-term and we’re moving aggressively to execute this game plan. Here are some examples:

The Mayor delivered on his commitment to energy efficiency with his FY13 budget: DGS has roughly $10 million for retrofits next fiscal year (starting October 1, 2012). A retrofit is a project that removes older, less energy efficient equipment and replaces it with new, more energy efficient systems. We’ve already mapped out a specific road map for those funds, and anticipate at least $2.5 million in annual energy savings as a result of this investment.

Also, we’ve recently launched a composting pilot program in 10 schools (including one in each of the District’s 8 wards) that’s seen an amazing response to from students, teachers, and community members. We’re very bullish about this program’s prospects and we’re looking to make significant progress to reduce DCPS’s waste diversion rate this upcoming school year.

Finally, I can only say so much at this juncture, but by next winter DGS will have a building energy monitoring program that I candidly believe other jurisdictions will be lining up to replicate.

Q: What are the department’s plans where solar or other renewable sources of energy are concerned?

In just the past few months, we’ve made considerable headway with respect to renewable energy installations at our government facilities. One of the most exciting developments in this space might be the progress we’ve made with respect to third-party financing for solar installations.

In the not-so-distant future, we hope to dramatically increase the percentage of the city’s energy supply from onsite renewable sources and to do so with minimal upfront capital costs to District taxpayers.

Q: You came on during a turbulent time for the District government and you’ve had a front row view of a government that’s come under scrutiny in the past year. Is this DC government position meeting your expectations?

The job has definitely exceeded what were already high expectations. There’s no hiding that it’s been a tough PR year for the DC government, but I must say that I’ve encountered so many people in our government that are just extraordinarily talented and dedicated to this city. I work with some really amazing people at DGS. We have strong leadership in the agency and throughout the District government as a whole, and we have the support of the council for our initiatives. I believe we’re doing some amazing things to make DC a leader in sustainability.