Make Your Government Agency Greener and Cut Costs Too

California Franchise Tax Board CIO Cathy Cleek offers tips on reducing overall carbon footprint.

by / May 12, 2010
garbage truck in city at night/trash collection Illustration by Tom McKeith

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Taxpayers likely didn't realize or even care, but when California's tax filing system moved from paper-heavy to electronic-friendly, it became a catalyst in the Franchise Tax Board's (FTB) goal of going green.

About 75 percent of California taxpayers file electronically, according to Tax Board CIO Cathy Cleek on Tuesday, May 12, at the Government Technology Conference West, in highlighting one of several recent changes at the board that has enhanced its green image.

As with many government agencies, green initiatives have added up to dollars saved -- a relationship that many citizens don't realize. "Citizens don't care if the taxman saves money," Cleek said.

But the agencies themselves certainly care. Cleek offered tips and shared examples of technology her agency has used to cut costs, reduce waste and improve sustainability. "That one small thing [e-filing] has really made a difference," she explained.

The FTB is striving to keep building on its green successes while encouraging others to do the same. While her agency is always looking for ways to save money -- it's "who we are," Cleek said -- cutting costs while reducing waste and energy consumption serve a dual purpose.

Speaking about specific ways the FTB has reduced its carbon footprint, Cleek used "green" as an acronym -- Generate less pollution, Recycle/reduce, Eliminate wastewater, Energy conservation and Now! -- to display ideas her agency used that can be mimicked by others. Below are some of those advances:

  • Recycle everything possible, such as paper, cardboard, batteries, beverage containers. Also, encourage your agency to purchase recycled-content paper and other products.
  • Examine and modify printing behavior. Paper and toner costs can be reduced greatly with a few simple steps, Cleek said, such as setting printers to double-sided printing and using "Century Gothic" font, because it uses less toner than most other fonts.
  • Reuse office supplies. This can create a tremendous savings in not re-ordering supplies, Cleek said. By hosting an annual office supplies blowout, in which employees dispose of unneeded supplies into a main area, those items that are considered usable -- or "gently used" -- can be returned to the stock supply closet, Cleek said.
  • Replace old equipment with high-efficiency models. This can include toilets, light bulbs and sensors that turn equipment off when not in use. Cleek recommends replacing fluorescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, installing light timers or occupancy sensors in rooms and installing solar panels upon roofs.
  • Consider server "shower curtains." An agency's data center is an energy-consuming, yet necessary, hub of information. With the help of a grant and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the FTB recently installed shower curtain-like server protectors, which keep hot air concentrated to certain areas and cut overall energy use, Cleek said. Paired with automatic temperature sensors, the curtains cut air conditioner use in the server area by half and create a potential annual savings of $20,000 to $30,000, Cleek said.
  • Create a green team. As cheesy as it sounds, getting others on board with your vision is what you can do as an individual. Cleek suggests organizing an annual green fair, identifying strategies and goals as an agency and educating staff on the benefits of going green.

What may seem like a small potatoes, like moving to a plastic foam-free cafeteria, makes a difference and is visible, Cleek said. Also, create incentives for employees to use less energy, like a competition that tracks which department's employees use the least nonrenewable energy in getting to work.

"It's been fun and really made us more aware as an organization," Cleek said.


Karen Wilkinson

Karen is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.