CIO's green technology solutions cut money, time, carbon footprint

Green technology solutions are a vital part of Janet Claggett's CIO role.

Janet Claggett loves talking about all things green -- from the environment at large to green technology solutions. Luckily for citizens of Richland County, S.C., this CIO not only talks the talk, she walks the walk. Because environmental sustainability is always a consideration in her IT decision making, the county is a greener place environmentally and financially.

Should the CIO role extend to energy efficiency?

Janet Claggett is a champion of green technology solutions, and she has the know-how to make them work. But should CIOs like her take the reins as leaders for energy efficiency? The debate has been going on for years.

Analyst Christopher Mines, an expert in green IT and sustainability at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., answers with a qualified no. For Mines, a research director serving CIO professionals, the CIO role is not well positioned, either organizationally, structurally or in terms of skills, to spearhead energy efficiency. Rather, he believes, CIOs could best serve in the role of energy efficiency enabler -- offering suggestions and seeking out and procuring sustainable solutions for the business when possible.

As involved in and dedicated to finding sustainability and energy efficiency as she is, Claggett agrees. There are many places where the CIO and IT can and should help with these efforts, but the CIO doesn't need to lead them to make a difference. She or he will better serve as part of a team, she said.

"The CIO of any organization should look for opportunities to be engaged and involved, I don't think we should by default be the one in charge," Claggett said. "For sustainability to really work, you have to have all the people at the table … [and] try to find common ground and quick wins as much as possible with an eye, always, for the long-term benefit."

Karen Goulart

Claggett was pursuing environmental sustainability solutions at home and in the office even before Earth Day became a mainstream event and well before 2008, when the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, or NASCIO, called for its members to lead the charge for green technology solutions.

"You know that song, 'I was country before country was cool'? Well, I was green before green was cool," Claggett said with a laugh. "For those of us who have green running through our veins, none of this is new. What is new is there are newer and better technologies that make it easier."

By applying her personal philosophy on environmental sustainability and efficiency to her work as a CIO, Claggett has helped save Richland County money and reduce its carbon footprint significantly.

Hippocrates in the data center

In Claggett's IT organization, there are two rules when approaching a project: First, do no harm; then, look for the green technology solution.

"If with every project, you think about that on the front end -- which I ask my team to do, then you're always on the lookout for that opportunity to find a sustainable solution," Claggett said. "I do believe the CIO's role should include such a commitment. If we embrace a strategy that strives to make things better for future generations, we will make better decisions."

It's that mode of thinking that put Claggett's department in perfect position to share in a U.S. Department of Energy Energy Efficiency and Community Block Grant (EECBG) in 2010. With the grant money, she hired two contractors to round out her project team as it focused on creating a Web-based e-recording system for the county's Register of Deeds. The software system allowed citizens, attorneys and abstractors to file documents and record deeds from their homes or offices 24/7. This reduced trips to the Register of Deeds office, saving fuel and paper, as well as time. The county estimates the system is saving residents $174,000 per year, based on 75,000 transactions annually, average mileage, and the cost of gas and parking -- benefits that now reach beyond Richland.

"It's really providing this type of benefit to attorneys across the country who want to do land transactions and recording of deeds in our state," Claggett said.

Green technology solutions abound

The e-recording software project was an attention-grabbing green technology solution. But it wasn't the first sustainability project for Claggett's IT organization -- or the last. Around the same time, the organization was awarded additional community block grant funds from the EECBG to put toward a server virtualization project that was in progress already. The grant let her get more aggressive with implementation. While virtualization projects aren't always seen this way, they are one of a few quantifiable sustainability solutions. "For every one server that replaces five servers, we computed an 80% energy savings and reduction of four tons of carbon emissions," she said.

More on green technology solutions

The eco-friendly CIO: Tips to save the planet and some green too

Special CIO Report: Going for a green data center

Sustainability solutions make big impact for CIOs

Green projects extend outside the IT department as well. When the county facilities department received its own grant to replace all of the county's lighting fixtures and add timers and movement controls, Claggett was eager to help. The project, poised to reduce energy use in county buildings by 30%, involved a great deal of infrastructure work. It's the sort of outside-the-data-center project with which her organization loves to get involved, she said.

"We were running all the network cables to connect the lighting controllers from floor to floor and back to the main network switching infrastructure; we installed the virtual servers, we did a lot of technical infrastructure help roll out that project," Claggett said. "It may sound boring to some," she said, "but it's all part of being green, doing the right thing and saving money."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, Features Writer.

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