Contacting councils online can help save the planet

Residents who use the internet to contact their local council could help save the equivalent of millions of air miles in carbon emissions.

Councils could start to tackle climate change by encouraging local people to turn to their website for routine transactions according to new research issued by Communities and Local Government.

The report found that not only is online service more cost efficient in staff time than the use of paper, but there are also parallel savings in terms of CO2 emissions because of the reduced number of journeys.

Contrary to what was expected, it also shows that these carbon savings are significantly in excess of the negative impact of extra IT server capacity.

The research, undertaken by Best Foot Forward, was based on real life data supplied by Sunderland City Council which showed that increasing the number of online applications for five key local authority services - planning, schools admissions, registrar's certificates, environmental services enquiries and council tax payments.

The results revealed that the city council could save 80,000 kg of CO2 each year. Rolled out nationally this is the equivalent of over 14,000 tonnes of CO2 or 5,362 return air flights from Heathrow to Malaga each year.

Parmjit Dhanda, e-government minister, said, "We know that driving to the Town Hall to carry out a transaction uses 20 times more energy than doing it online. That's why it's so important that we encourage people to talk to their local authority through the web.

"The Best Foot Forward study supports government plans for a low carbon economy and debunks the received wisdom that increases in IT server capacity negate any CO2 savings arising from the internet economy."

Councillor Bob Symonds, leader of Sunderland City Council, said, "Delivering services in ways that are efficient as well as environmentally beneficial by using the appropriate technology is a continuing priority for the city council. With our partners across Sunderland, we have declared our commitment to sustaining and nurturing the city's green, clean, coastal environment as part of our Sunderland way of life."

The report concludes that increasing the take-up of online services can form an important part of a broader carbon reduction strategy in all local authorities, improving their capacity to deliver better quality services without requiring an increase in CO2 emissions.