Green Resolutions

The New Year inspires new resolutions. Polls tell us that the majority of people give up their resolutions before the month ends — but we would like to challenge schools to take on a new resolution this year and, more importantly, see it through. So here it is: As good stewards of education at [INSERT YOUR SCHOOL DISTRICT HERE], we resolve to help our district take better take care of our network, facilities, environment and budget through energy-efficient programs.

We know that making and keeping the resolution are two very different things. So to help you see it through, here’s how the Rio Rancho Public Schools (Rio Rancho, N.M.) has overcome the odds.

Like other schools, the facilities department at Rio Rancho holds primary “ownership” of energy efficiency, including budget responsibility. That ownership means that coordination between facilities and other departments, especially IT, is critical to ensuring we become more energy aware, reduce our environmental footprint and save on energy costs.

A year ago, Rio Rancho began to closely examine energy use within the IT department. Like 77 percent of our colleagues, according to CDW-G’s Energy Efficient IT Report, we turned to data center consolidation as a first step toward better energy efficiency. Our goal was that energy savings would be sufficient enough to offer a good return on investment (ROI) for new equipment. At the same time, the consolidation itself would help free up bandwidth for other technology programs. To date, we have reduced our 33 servers to eight. Overall energy consumption and demands on the cooling systems drastically declined without compromising performance.

Facilities also solicits the IT department’s input on building construction and design. A building’s design, lighting and construction have a significant impact on how classroom technology is selected, installed and used — and ultimately on its effectiveness. For example, a misplaced light fixture or too many windows in a room can negate the usefulness of a projector — a problem that is easy to fix at the design phase but costly and time consuming to correct after the classroom is built.

So, are you ready to get started on your new resolution? If your district does not have a plan for energy efficient IT, we offer the following recommendations based on our experience.

  • Communicate early and often: It is worth repeating — communication between the facilities, IT and other departments’ stakeholders is crucial to ensuring the success of energy efficient programs. Also consider that because facilities owns the power bill in most districts, it is important to track and report out progress and savings to all departments.
  • Consider incentives and friendly competition: Whether energy reduction is a formal part of an employee’s review process or tracked for smaller rewards, incentives can help spur innovative ideas. Likewise, friendly competition can redirect departmental pride into concrete cost savings.
  • Train employees: Rio Rancho employs an energy and environmental specialist, whose role is to target areas — from lighting to windows to technology — where we can improve our energy efficiency and reduce our impact on the environment. Additionally, the specialist works across departments to train employees on ways to reduce energy use. Likewise, she helps the technology department determine the best ways to communicate and raise staff awareness on IT energy use.

When quantifying ROI, we realize that benefits extend beyond pure cost savings. Communication between departments plays heavily into our ROI because it increases collaboration. Last year we had to take down a server for maintenance, a server that the facilities department relies on for communication to every building in the district. If we weren’t working in tandem, bringing down that server would have brought down the facilities department across the district.

When we look at costs, CDW-G’s report found that of those districts that are employing programs to cut energy use, 63 percent of K-12 respondents measured savings of one percent or more. That can mean significant money back in the budget. While our energy efficient program is still new, and we have not quantified exact savings, we estimate that our current energy efficient measures within the IT realm will save the district $30,000 in annual energy costs.

Paul Romero is the executive director of technology, and Al Sena is the executive director of facilities at the Rio Rancho Public Schools in Rio Rancho, N.M.