Top 8 ways feds (and corporate users) can take advantage of green IT

GAO report outlines key federal green IT initiatives

How does the federal government go about implementing green IT? According to a report out today from the Government Accountability Office, the feds have adopted a number of practices that are useful not just for government IT but all manner of private and public company IT groups as well. These include everything from dedicated funding for green products, to improved employee training and reducing use of paper.

BACKGROUND: 25 tech touchstones of the past 25 years

From the GAO report, here's a green IT roadmap:

1. Utilize new IT tools, such as thin client technology. An alternative to the use of desktops that is gaining attention is the use of thin client technology. The Department of State, by the end of fiscal year 2010, replaced 8,187 standard desktop computers with thin clients, providing annual reported energy savings of 630,399 kilowatt hours and emission savings of 422.7 tons of carbon dioxide, an environmental impact equivalent to planting 1,900 trees or powering 71 households year round.

2. Implement print management actions beyond duplex printing. Using responses obtained from its 2009 survey of federal employees, an IT provider estimated that the federal government spends about $1.3 billion annually on employee printing, and about one-third of that total, or about $440.4 million per year, is spent on unnecessary printing. The survey indicated that 89% of federal employees report that their agencies do not have formal printing policies in place -- for example, according to federal employees, just 20% of agencies have restrictions on color printing; only 11% of agencies have policies dictating when to print or not to print; and only 5% of agencies require personal password codes to print. In the non-federal sector, Hewlett-Packard implemented managed print services that reportedly allowed a customer to reduce the number of printers by 47% globally, cut per-page print costs by up to 90% and save more than $3 million in two years in the United States alone. In addition, California implemented the Go-Online program as an alternative to mainframe printing, reportedly reducing the number of pages printed by 54 million and reducing costs by $700,000 annually.

3. Consolidate and standardize IT equipment and services. In an earlier 2011 report, the GAO found because procurement at federal departments and agencies is decentralized, the federal government is not fully leveraging its aggregate buying power to obtain the most advantageous terms and conditions for its procurements. The report also stated that applying strategic sourcing best practices throughout the federal procurement system could produce significant savings. Similarly, according to a 2010 report by a private-sector IT council, the federal government's costs of operating IT systems are higher than they need to be, in some cases by more than a factor of two. The report estimated that at least 20% to 30% of the more than $70 billion spent annually on IT assets could be eliminated by reducing overhead, consolidating data centers, eliminating redundant networks and standardizing applications. Therefore, the report recommended that the federal government consolidate IT infrastructure. In the non-federal sector, the IT council report indicated that IBM had cut its overall IT expenses in half over the past five years through consolidation and standardization. In addition, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) identified consolidation/optimization, through centralizing or consolidating services, operations, resources, infrastructure and data centers, as its No. 1 priority for 2011.

4. Procure IT equipment that meets the most stringent Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) standard available, if economically practical. EPEAT is a tool to help purchasers in the public and private sectors evaluate, compare and select electronic products based on their environmental attributes. EPEAT-registered products must meet 23 required environmental performance criteria. The products are then rated gold, silver or bronze based on whether the products met 75% or greater, 50% to 74%, or less than 50%, respectively, of 28 optional criteria. The three EPEAT level ratings differ to a small, but measurable, extent in their environmental benefits. As the GAO reported in 2009, if federal agencies replaced 500,000 non-EPEAT rated laptop computers and computer monitors with either EPEAT bronze-rated, silver-rated or gold-rated units, the federal government would achieve energy savings equivalent to 182,796 U.S. households, 183,151 households or 183,570 households, respectively. In the non-federal government sector, in March 2009 the city of San Francisco upgraded its environmental requirement for IT purchases to the EPEAT gold level as its procurement baseline whenever possible.

5. Provide appropriate personnel with sufficient green IT training. As part of a 2010 private-sector survey of federal chief information officers, industry officials also offered some observations, including that agencies should work with the Office of Personnel Management to improve the IT workforce. The survey noted that, in doing so, government organizations should use existing best practices, such as those found at the Department of Defense, to train employees and develop new leaders.

6. Evaluate and prioritize green IT options. With various green IT options available, lifecycle return on investment can be a useful tool for determining which options provide the greatest return on investment in an environment of reduced agency budgets. According to a 2009 survey of IT professionals by a national IT services and solutions provider, IT departments may be foregoing large, long-term savings by ranking factors such as cost over energy efficiency in their purchasing decisions. One recommendation from the survey is that organizations need to prioritize their actions based on costs and benefits.

7. Align green IT with the organization's budget. According to a 2007 industry report on creating a green IT action plan, green IT must fit within an organization's anticipated budget. In recognition of the importance of adequate funding to program success, the 2009 executive order states that, starting in fiscal year 2011, strategic sustainability efforts, which include electronics stewardship, should be integrated into the agency's strategic planning and budgeting process, including the agency's strategic plan.

8. Obtain senior management commitment. Senior management commitment can remove potential obstacles when implementing green IT initiatives and establishing goals. For example, according to a 2009 study of the key drivers of green IT, research showed that identifying an executive sponsor who will champion the green IT initiative will help to remove the road blocks to implementation.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8

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