Thomas L. Friedman is a great storyteller, which explains why his major works on globalization - The Lexus and the Olive Tree and The World Is Flat - became recommended or even required reading in state and local governments. Given the affinity that governors, mayors and county executives have for Friedman's description of a changing world, it's worth paying attention to his essay, The Power of Green, published in The New York Times magazine earlier this year.

Friedman is no more the last word on environmental stewardship than Al Gore, but both have popularized the issues for a wider audience. For his part, Friedman wants to rebrand and reclaim green. "I want to rename it geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic. I want to do that because I think that living, working, designing, manufacturing and projecting America in a green way can be the basis of a new unifying political movement for the 21st century."

Indeed, inconvenient truths have become very convenient differentiators in IT marketing under the rubric of the greening of IT - just scroll through your inbox or walk a trade show floor to see the selective claims made on behalf of certain goods and services that are being recast as environmentally responsible.

Advocates of point solutions often lack the ability or interest in helping us see the wider programmatic view. Simultaneously there are competing interests that would create an entirely new bureaucracy to monitor and assess just how green "green" is, or becoming. Both alternatives add complexity when what's needed is simplicity.

My colleagues and I at the Center for Digital Government have been thinking a great deal about simplicity. Not simplistic, but simple, elegant and sophisticated. It follows then, that we'd be interested in something that's simply green, in which the general principles of simple are applied specifically to the greening of IT. 

The simplest solution for taking a programmatic view of green IT in the public sector is to adapt existing efforts to account for this new priority. The 20 or more states with accountability or performance programs would do well integrating a green component into those programs rather than creating a new and likely duplicative oversight bureaucracy. 

Saving the environment is a big job, and it lends itself to many possible metrics and measures to reflect the complexity of the underlying science. Resisting the twin temptations to do too little or too much makes it all the more important to define four vital markers or signposts of the green component for understanding and ultimately managing the environmental footprint of government. To those ends, we offer the R2O2ADHome, a modified acrostic to help get us to simply green:

1)Rules and Regulations: A clear-eyed assessment of the completeness and consistency of the policy environment in spelling out the expectations that government has of itself and others in environmental stewardship.

2)Operational Optimization: With a major IT advisory house predicting energy costs will soon consume half of an organization's IT budget, running cleaner, cooler and cheaper from the data center to the farthest reaches of the organization may make green the last best chance to stay out of the red.

3)Acquisition and Disposal of technology: A validation of the long-term, largely volunteer effort to keep old technology out of landfills, and an embrace of industry-led initiatives, such as the new Climate Savers Computing Initiative, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from commodity computing.

4)Home as the new workplace: With much of government's carbon footprint consumed in the commute, the greening of IT may finally provide an impetus for telework that's equal to the resistance it has long faced by entrenched bureaucracies and work rules.

In the next issue of Public CIO, we'll tease out these signposts on the road home - with your help. Join the discussion by posting to the comments section next to the online version of this commentary.

 

Paul W. Taylor  |  Contributing Writer