Green tech must be integral to U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra's agenda

Various federal agencies have taken green steps. But Chopra should lead a more directed green effort so significant change takes root

Even the federal government isn't immune to the potential savings of green technology. Per a directive from President Obama, various departments of the U.S. government came up with 77 ways [PDF] in the span of 100 days to cut federal spending by around $102 million per year -- a fair percentage of which is made possible by technologies that help reduce the costly waste of fuel, paper, ink, electricity, and other resources.

The technologies embraced by the feds -- such as Web conferencing, PC power management, and electronic documents and signatures -- are by no means new. Some of the cost-cutting implementations might even be considered blindingly obvious, as suggested by the Wall Street Journal's take on the story: "In a Savings Shocker, the Government Discovers That Paper Has Two Sides."

This story, to me, reinforces the fact that many large organizations, both public and private, cling to a costly culture of waste tolerance. However, if someone with enough clout applies sufficient pressure, an organization can discover ways to apply technological solutions to quickly reap savings -- along with productivity boosts and environmental gains. It also reveals the opportunity for the nation's newly appointed CTO, Aneesh Chopra, to make green technology a cornerstone of his agenda, for the sake of saving tax dollars and improving governmental efficiency, all while advancing the nation's commitment to better environmental stewardship.

[ Learn how this year's InfoWorld Green 15 winners reaped the benefits of sustainable IT. | Stay up on green tech news with InfoWorld's Technology: Green Tech newsletter. ]

Bon voyage to travel
Several departments plan to slash travel costs with communication technologies. For example, the Department of the Interior expects to save nearly $1 million through fiscal year 2010 through the use of Web-based collaboration tools in lieu of in-person meetings. The Department of Homeland Security plans to utilize conference calls and Web-based training and meetings, which, alongside "maximizing use of governmental facilities for meetings conferences" will save an anticipated $2 million this year. The Department of Agriculture expects to save upward of $50,000 with teleconferencing.

Cash saved on transport, accommodations, food, and the like represent but a portion of the benefits of eliminating travel. From a productivity standpoint, it means employees are spending fewer hours on airplanes, in cabs, or recovering from jet lag. From an ecofriendly standpoint, fewer miles traveled add up to a smaller carbon footprint.

[ The InfoWorld Test Center recently took some teleconferencing tools for a spin. ]

Faster than overnight mail
Several governmental agencies are embracing technologies that significantly reduce not only paper and ink waste but also time and expenses associated with sending documents via snail mail. For example, Homeland Security foresees $318,000 in savings by eliminating the printing and distribution of reports and documents that can be sent electronically or posted online.

The Department of Justice is converting its distribution of earnings and leave statements to electronic form, which represents an estimated savings of $890,000 in FY 2010. Additionally, the DoJ foresees savings of $573,000 through 2010 by simply configuring printers for double-sided printing. (Setting machines to print in black and white by default, as well as employing printer management software to reduce superfluous printing, could save even more.)

Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects to save money by rolling out electronic signature technology. The list doesn't specify just how much, but I want to mention it because I'm a big advocate of e-signatures. The idea of mailing bulky documents back and forth via overnight carriers strikes me as ridiculous and wasteful when it can be done via e-mail in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost.

[ Discover how other organizations have cut paper and ink consumption. | Companies such as Equitrac provide tools for smarter printer management. ]

Sleep and save
Federal agencies have also identified PC power management as a source of rapid returns. The Department of Justice is configuring its computers to power down when not in use, which will save $35,000 in FY 2010 alone. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, meanwhile, anticipates $525,000 in savings on energy consumption by (among other things) centralizing power management of PCs.

I'll share just a couple more striking examples of how the feds will save cash and resources with technology implementations: The Department of Defense is adopting a Web-enabled building control system at the Vandenberg Air Force Base to monitor and manage energy systems, which will save $952,000 in FY 2010.

Meanwhile, the Navy is eliminating inactive Internet and intranet accounts, resulting in $10 million in savings (according to the list -- could that be a typo?) combined for FY 2009 and 2010.

It's heartening to see the feds discover technologies that can save some tax dollars while improving government efficiency, even by a relatively small fraction. There's no doubt in my mind that millions more can be saved at the federal level through the adoption of green technology on desktops, in printer rooms, and in the datacenter. These technologies can advance the current administration's desire to cut government spending, as well as reduce the country's carbon footprint. Here's hoping that U.S. CTO Chopra will keep this green-tech ball rolling.

Related content:
Telepresence shatters communication barriers
From high-end suites to tabletop codecs, telepresence systems create a near face-to-face experience at increasingly affordable prices

Fight rising fuel surcharges with e-signatures
Fidelity's adoption of e-sigs is a ringing endorsement of the technology's waste-reducing business benefits

Follow the paperless trail
Companies are finding digital paper more efficient, secure, and economical than the tree-pulp-based variety

The ROI of PC power management
A little math reveals that power-management software is a smart investment

The green IT leaders of 2009
2009 Green 15: Organizations of all sizes reap both business and environmental gains through an array of sustainable IT efforts

Equitrac aims at monitoring and cutting costly print waste
There are plenty of dollars and trees to be saved through better management of MFPs, copiers

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.