The federal government is the largest energy consumer in our nation. In 2008, more than $24 billion was spent on energy including power for buildings and fuel for the government automotive fleet. In October 2009, the White House launched the GreenGov Challenge, which encouraged federal employees to submit ideas on how to reduce the government’s energy use. The employees then voted on these ideas.

Thousands of ideas were submitted and many have already been implemented. Fort Irwin in California is in the middle of a solar array installation, and the GSA building in Washington, D.C., is undergoing a green retrofit designed to improve the building’s overall energy efficiency.

Ideas in the Conserving Energy category that that were popular among federal employees include improved telecommuting options, replacing all incandescent lights with either CFL or LED lights, and even changing the dress code. Barbara J. in Bangkok, Thailand, had this to say about the federal dress code:

“Thermostats could be a degree of 2 higher in the summer and a degree or 2 lower if people modified how they dressed. Skip the jacket and tie in summer/add a sweater in the winter. Japan is already doing this.” Source: GreenGov Final Report (PDF)

Personally, I think this is a brilliant idea! It is definitely thinking a bit outside the energy efficiency box, so-to-speak.

The top idea in the Conserving Water category was xeriscaping. Other popular ideas were low-flow plumbing, rainwater recapture systems, and eliminating bottled water from all federal buildings. Again, another great idea because this not only cuts down on the upfront expenses but also the glut of plastic bottles in landfills, or worse — the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.

Ideas were also submitted in the Eliminating Waste category. S.A. Shira from Washington, D.C., submitted the top vote getter in this category: “Digital Signatures. All federal computers should have approved digital signature software installed that will sign a pdf or word document with the digitized signature of the employee. No more print out forms/evals/memos to sign, it’s all digital.”

In addition to cutting down on paper waste, this will also cut down the time it takes to perform these tasks. More available time in a day = more productivity. Other ideas submitted in this category include discounts at government cafeterias for bringing your own cup, recycle construction and building demolition waste, and require double-sided printing.

Since the ultimate goal of the program is to reduce the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions, it is logical that a category be dedicated to this specific effort. The top idea in the Reducing Carbon Emissions category was to stop using Styrofoam. Elimination of bottled water and telecommuting were also submitted in this category — definitely two popular ideas among federal employees.

Sustainable Building ideas were also submitted with the most popular idea being a suggestion to install solar power on all federal buildings. Interestingly enough, telecommuting also came up in this category. I’m curious if the government is noticing the trend — federal employees want to work from home.

The final GreenGov Challenge category is Sustainable Products and Purchasing. The most popular eco-friendly idea in this category was to require government cafeterias to use biodegradable take-out containers. Other ideas submitted include using only 100 percent recycled paper products, preference for green business vendors, and eliminate the complete redesign of an office every time a new politician is appointed.

Although the initial challenge period expired on Oct. 31, 2009, President Obama is encouraging federal employees to continue to submit ideas that will help the government reduce energy costs by improving energy efficiency in government buildings and fuel efficiency among the government fleet. These ideas will help the federal government reach their goal of a 28 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade.

For more information, visit the GreenGov Challenge website. Please note that only federal employees can participate in this challenge.

Photo: dcJohn