Grist is an official media partner of the SXSW Eco conference, featuring interviews with some of the headliners who will be speaking Oct. 10–12 in Austin. 

Two years ago, Kate Brandt was appointed by President Obama as the country’s first chief sustainability officer. The idea behind the position was this: If she could help federal departments make even a small move toward greater energy efficiency, it could cut greenhouse gas emissions dramatically because the government is so large. The feds own a lot of things (360,000 buildings and 650,000 vehicles) and buy a lot of things ($445 billion spent annually on goods and services).

One of the contractors the government worked with was Google. The company had made steep cuts in energy use over at the General Services Administration by helping the agency switch from running email off its own servers to using Gmail, which runs on Google’s enormous, remote, hyper-efficient server farms.