How information technologies advance federal sustainability

As the nation’s largest landlord, fleet operator, and purchaser of goods and services, the federal government has both the opportunity and the responsibility to lead by example in moving the United States in a more sustainable direction.

Across the federal government, agencies are facing two imperatives: tighter budgets requiring them to find ways to cut costs and increasingly stringent sustainability mandates requiring them to seek out new ways to reduce their energy use and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

A C2ES report released today highlights exciting initiatives across the federal government where agencies are using information and communications technologies to meet these dual challenges.

In the report, funded by the Digital Energy and Sustainability Solutions Campaign (DESSC), we present eight case studies from such agencies as the Department of Defense, General Services Administration, Smithsonian Institution, and NASA. The agencies profiled are using smarter building systems to save energy; expanding teleconferencing, teleworking and e-training to cut travel and training costs and emissions; and shifting technology infrastructure from inefficient local servers and data centers to the cloud.

In each case, we found that technology could produce cost savings, more sustainable practices, and a more productive federal sector. All provide valuable lessons that can be replicated by other federal agencies to strengthen sustainability efforts across the U.S. economy.

Here are a few of the examples we found:

  • Through redesigned office space, a pilot project at the GSA headquarters in Washington, D.C., encourages greater collaboration among employees while providing them the flexibility of a more mobile workforce. The result: The agency can double its utilization of space, cut energy use by 45 percent, and increase worker satisfaction.
  • At the Smithsonian Institution, fleet managers are using new tools to track vehicle use, gas consumption, maintenance, idle times and driver safety. The result:  An 18 percent reduction in the number of light-duty vehicles the Institution uses.
  • GSA shifted its email operations from energy-inefficient local servers to cloud-based computing. The result: It reduced its email service energy use by 85 percent.

Several studies have estimated that information and communications technologies, if widely implemented, have the potential to reduce energy consumption across the U.S. economy by 12 to 22 percent. While achieving savings of this magnitude will not be quick or easy, it is clear from this report that across the federal government, agencies are aggressively moving in this direction.