Screenshot: South Carolina's Online Services Savings Calculator

"Well, I'm running down the road tryin' to loosen my load...." sings Glenn Frey in the Eagles' hit Take It Easy first recorded in 1972. Between the state of the economy and a renewed environmental consciousness, it seems that government agencies everywhere are trying to do just that as they work to reduce their impact on the environment and reduce costs.

Several tools exist to help them, with Microsoft recently releasing a tool that may be of use to small government agencies. Now South Carolina has added a widget to its Web site that allows residents to calculate the savings realized from using an online service versus standing in line and the effect of those savings on the environment.

"The online services savings calculator demonstrates the benefit of e-government services to citizens and the environment and we hope it will encourage people to use e-government services when possible to help South Carolina be more green," said Barbara Teusink, Deputy Director of the Division of State Information Technology.

When the user inputs the one-way travel distance to the government office that provides the service (such as the department of motor vehicles), the fuel economy of his car and the price of gasoline in his area as well as the cost of parking near the government office, the calculator returns how much he would save by conducting his business online.

Turns out, if someone lives 30 miles from a government office, makes $16 per hour and drives a car that gets 20 miles per gallon and spends five dollars to park he ends up saving $35.00 by doing business online and not making the trip.

With the environmental impact of their actions on everyone's minds these days, this is a good first step, but it could be more useful. Not to mention how hard it was to find on the South Carolina's Web site given how important it could be to the state.

Currently, the user must know how far he is to the nearest government office that provides the service he wants. Improvements to the calculator could include using Google Maps to calculate the distance between a user's point of origin and the appropriate government office. Using Google Maps could also make calculating the cost of parking nearby and the cost of a gallon of gasoline in the area more intelligent as well-not to mention Google Maps would give the user a better idea of how long it takes to get to the office. Also, the calculator doesn't display how much time someone can expect to spend standing in line.

Overall, South Carolina's Online Services Savings Calculator is a useful tool. Hopefully it gets more prominent placement on the site, or at least the title of the link is changed. How many citizens use "Green IT?" Why not call it what it is: South Carolina's Online Services Savings Calculator? And while text links keep the site lightweight, a button would catch the eye much better and probably positively impact the adoption of the tool.