May 6, 2008 By Andy Opsahl
State and local governments are climbing aboard the green bandwagon, although "green building" innovations such as energy-efficient light bulbs dominate the ride.
Emphasis on lighting is understandable given that light bulbs devour 22 percent of all electricity produced nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). But green government involves more than the usual suspects. Emerging projects in state and local government show that IT workers have a role to play via data center consolidations, GIS, inventory databases and telework.
Consolidations typically get the most attention from CIOs because data centers account for 1.5 percent of all electricity consumption in the country, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Data center consolidation slashes power consumption by eliminating redundant processing and unnecessary cooling, as well as by conserving floor space.
It may seem lofty to implement green projects for environmental concerns alone. However, the trick of a successful green IT project may be pursuing something the government needs to accomplish anyway.
For example, agencies typically consolidate data centers to reduce costs, simplify IT management and improve business continuity. But these initiatives also lower electricity bills, which automatically reduces carbon emissions. An inventory management system cuts costs by eliminating unnecessary purchases; it obviously reduces consumption, which ultimately lowers emissions. GIS and mobile applications eliminate unnecessary driving, which improves productivity and reduces fuel costs - once again, a carbon emissions reduction comes built in to that investment.
California law requires state government agencies to cut energy consumption by 20 percent by 2015. The California Department of General Services (DGS) intends to meet the mandate by collecting information that gives the department new insight into state operations. That insight will be used boost efficiency and conserve resources, said Will Semmes, chief deputy director of the DGS.
For example, the department - which negotiates all statewide vehicle procurement contracts - is implementing fleet management changes that will provide better data about the use of state vehicles.
The 119 California agencies that own at least one state vehicle will upload fleet information into a centralized DGS database. The solution will offer the DGS an unprecedented breadth of information for calculating carbon emissions and other factors, said Semmes.
"If you multiply by 50,000 vehicles, we're going to get information that we've never had before about the use of our fleet in different aspects: the actual disposition of the vehicle, whether it was used appropriately and whether it was used enough to warrant having that vehicle," Semmes said. "How are the emissions? How much fuel did we use? Are we buying the right fuel? Where did we buy it from, and therefore what kind of alternative fuel infrastructure can we get in those places where we seem to be buying the most?"
Semmes said the database will give the DGS a comprehensive view of all state vehicles, making it easier to see if unused vehicles could be shared among agencies. The project could potentially reduce the number of cars the state owns and maintains, thereby cutting costs and reducing consumption.
The DGS also aims to reduce carbon emissions by purchasing more alternative fuel. The agency has many vehicles that can operate on traditional or alternative fuel, but state workers often don't fill them with alternative fuel because it's usually unavailable on their routes.
"I think it's unconscionable for us to demand of a child support worker, who just happened to get the E85 car [that is fueled by a mixture of ethanol and gasoline] that day, to drive 20 miles out of her way to fill it up with E85 when her job, and the only thing she's being judged by, is whether she picked up this foster kid and took him to the right place on time," Semmes said.
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