Federal Agencies Sustainability

In his speech on Tuesday laying out a national climate action plan, President Obama called on federal agencies to lead by example in taking actions to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases.

In a new report today, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) highlights one area where the federal government is making progress, and can achieve much more.  It’s called Leading by Example 2.0: How Information and Communication Technologies Help Federal Agencies Meet Sustainability Goals.

Faced with declining budgets, federal agencies are looking for innovative ways to cut costs while meeting a growing list of sustainability mandates.  Expanding the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) – metering and energy management systems for buildings, GPS-based tools for fleets, teleconferencing, e-training, teleworking, and cloud-based data storage – offer agencies new ways to reduce their energy use, cut greenhouse gas emissions and enhance productivity.

We estimate widespread deployment of  ICT could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12 percent, roughly half the amount called for under a 2009 executive order, and could save an estimated $5 billion in energy costs through 2020.

One of the first environmental actions taken by the Obama Administration was directing federal agencies to lead by example in adopting more sustainable practices.  Issued in October 2009, Executive Order 13514 set a number of specific energy targets for agencies, including for the first time greenhouse gas targets.

Using 2008 as a baseline, agencies have a goal of reducing direct emissions (Scope1 and 2) 28 percent and indirect emissions (Scope 3) 13 percent by 2020. With reductions of 7 percent through 2011, federal agencies are making good progress.  By expanding use of ICT, the federal government could go much further.

Our report builds on a set of eight case studies published last September by C2ES highlighting examples of agencies using ICT to help meet their sustainability goals.  For example.

  • GSA cut energy use by 45 percent by embracing enhanced mobility and collaboration tools in a pilot project as part of renovating its headquarters building.
  • The Smithsonian Institution adopted an automated fleet information management system and GPS-based telematics and was able to reduce the size of its fleet by 19 percent.
  • GSA shifted from an outdated email system that relied on 324 local servers to a cloud-based system that reduced energy use by 85 percent.

The case studies also identified a number of key barriers that agencies have to overcome if they are to more widely expand use of ICT. Our report recommends ways to address these barriers, including:

  • Expanding use of energy saving performance contracts, an innovative mechanism that can overcome the lack of upfront funding for energy efficiency investments.
  • Training and engaging workers and managers early in the process of implementing teleworking and teleconferencing to help overcome resistance.
  • Setting goals and monitoring progress by, for example, including specific goals for adoption of ICT applications in the Office of Management and Budget’s annual agency sustainability scorecards.
  • Forming interagency communities of practice so that those responsible for fleet management, building energy use, and IT systems can identify best practices and work together to overcome barriers.

Federal agencies are showing that meeting sustainability goals can be accomplished even in times when budget cutbacks are the order of the day. By expanding their use of innovative ICT, agencies can be more efficient while cutting costs and becoming more environmentally sustainable.

Photo Credit: Federal Agencies' Sustainability/shutterstock