The Greening of IT at State Governments

10/01/2010 08:44 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Do you know what your state is doing to "green" the way it conducts business? Is your state government taking steps to consume the least amount of energy? And how important is it to you to live in a community that reflects your views regarding use of energy?

Computer systems are the engine of modern life, including our state governments.

Yet, CIOs have so much on their plates these days: the number of different devices, the volumes of data, the complexity of networks, tough compliance and security issues. All of these responsibilities are skyrocketing as technology becomes ever more important to both public and private sector organizations.

Now, add addressing environmental and energy issues. The challenges we're dealing with are broad, ranging from conserving energy and water to lowering our carbon footprints. The debate over whether we should be concerned about sustainability has been replaced by a call to action by both government leaders and citizens.

The good news is that CIOs have unique skills and resources that they can use to be responsible stewards of the environment and energy. Government CIOs and their organizations, in particular, are leading the way. At this week's National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) conference, local governments shared best practices on how to green their information technology and government.

More than any other sector, government is showing by example how we can make fundamental changes in IT that can not only save money but also conserve natural resources.

There are three compelling reasons behind green government initiatives:

  • First, "going green" can save citizens money, create jobs, and improve the local economy. For example, one finding suggests that as much as 30 percent of the energy used in commercial (including government) buildings is often used unnecessarily or inefficiently. Sustainability policies at the state level can also create new green jobs and spur economic development.
  • Second, whether it's taking steps to measure and reduce the carbon footprint of public buildings, track and address water leaks in water systems, or set up policies for using renewable, recycled, or recyclable materials, government can provide a blueprint for implementing more environmentally friendly practices by all citizens.
  • Finally, protecting the environment can make our communities more innovative, productive, secure, and vibrant places to live, work, and play.

Underlying all of these approaches is use of analytics and diagnostics. Data crunching and monitoring can help CIOs identify potential opportunities for greening their organizations. Then, once programs are in place, analytics and diagnostics can help manage the programs so that they are as efficient and cost effective as possible.

We learn the most when we learn from the success of others. There are a few ambitious programs already underway in governments around the U.S. that provide helpful insights. NASCIO has published a white paper: "Green IT in Enterprise Practices: The Essential role of the State CIO." In the report, a range of best practices were identified, including:

  • The state of North Carolina is implementing a program aimed at reducing the state's carbon footprint and creating a more cost-effective environment.
  • Under the plan, the state will dramatically slash the number of its data centers, servers, and the IT infrastructure it maintains. In the second phase of the program, eight agencies will eliminate their local data centers and reduce the number of computer servers by 35 percent.
  • In California, the Department of Technology Services upgraded its energy management system and developed an energy management plan and reduced its energy costs by 9 percent.

Government, of course, doesn't act alone. Greening government initiatives can have other ripple effects. Government agencies buy equipment from private companies. They run programs with outside businesses. They work together on research and development programs. In this way, government can provide a critical leadership role in a green future for everyone.