Sustainability and Historic Federal Buildings

May 02, 2011

[Executive Order 13514, which was the catalyst for publication of this report, has since been revoked.]


In 2009, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13514, “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance.” This Executive Order (E.O.), referred to in this guidance as the “Sustainability Order,” establishes an overall federal policy on energy efficiency and sustainability and sets goals for federal agencies to implement that policy. The Sustainability Order builds on the requirements contained in E.O. 13423, “Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management,” and a host of other pre-existing orders, memoranda, laws, regulations, and guidance.

E.O. 13514 requires federal agencies to ensure new construction and major renovations comply with the 2006 Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU defined Guiding Principles for energy efficiency and sustainability and established the federal government’s leadership in ensuring that new direct and indirect federal undertakings meet those Guiding Principles. In 2008, the Office of Management and Budget issued guidance revising the Guiding Principles for New Construction and Major Renovation and adding Guiding Principles for Sustainable Existing Buildings. 

The administration of federally owned or controlled buildings is governed by a wide range of federal laws, regulations, and policies. Since 1966, federal agencies administering real property, including the General Services Administration (GSA), Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of the Interior (DOI), and others have balanced their federal missions and program needs with the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), an independent federal agency established by the Act, promotes the preservation, enhancement,
and sustainable use of our nation’s diverse historic resources, and advises the President and the Congress on national historic preservation policy.

With the support of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the ACHP has developed the guidance presented here to assist federal agencies in their efforts to meet the expectations of the Sustainability Order and the Guiding Principles while also meeting the requirements of the National
Historic Preservation Act. In addition, this guidance addresses the intersection of historic preservation policy with the recommendations of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and other federal agencies for selecting sustainable locations for federal facilities, prepared pursuant to Section 10 of the Sustainability Order.

The goal of this guidance is to assist federal decision makers, usually capital asset managers, facility managers, and other program and project managers, in their considerations regarding sustainability and historic federal buildings. Decision makers will benefit from the ACHP’s recommended strategies to consider
historic preservation along with energy efficiency and sustainability concerns; to seek out historic  preservation outcomes; and to take advantage of opportunities for meeting historic preservation, energy efficiency, and sustainability goals together in the administration of federal buildings. Accordingly, this guidance recommends the following approach to decision making regarding federal historic buildings:

  • Consider reusing a historic building before constructing a new building or leasing space in a privately owned building,
  • Rehabilitate a historic building by using, reclaiming, and enhancing historic sustainable features and by adding compatible sustainability improvements when needed,
  • Design compatible new green construction in existing historic communities when needed, and
  • Consider disposing of a historic building only after other options are appropriately considered.

The sections of this guidance are organized to reflect this approach to decision making regarding sustainability and historic federal buildings: Integrated Planning and Design, Reusing Historic Buildings, Applying the Guiding Principles to Historic Buildings, Reinvesting in Historic Districts, and Considering
Disposal of Historic Buildings. Each section provides key information regarding who should be involved in decision making, what should be considered, and when it should be considered.