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Defra publishes Greening Government ICT strategy


The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has set out business rules and is to produce a series of standard form guides as part of the new Greening Government: ICT and digital services strategy.

Covering the period 2020-25, the strategy is based on the perception that, while ICT is often championed as a means to supporting environmental sustainability, it can also contribute to the problem and needs a careful approach to ensure that government’s use of digital technology does not undermine greening efforts.

It is aimed at meeting five of the UN Sustainable Development Goals – sustainable energy for all, resilient infrastructure, sustainable consumption and production, climate adaptation and partnerships with the technology sector – and at producing five outcomes – reduced carbon and cost, increased resilience, increased responsibility for doing the right thing, increased transparency and collaboration, and increased accountability.

A central element is the listing of three business rules, developed with the technology industry, to be applied to all ICT procurements and reported on annually.

The first is to work towards meeting net zero emission targets by 2050 or sooner, with suppliers required to commit to the target and follow up with roadmaps and action plans. Second is support the circular economy, aiming for zero waste to landfill and an increase in the use of recycled and refurbished ICT kit by 2025.

Third is to meet transparency and accountability commitments with supply chain data on carbon, environmental impacts, materials, chemicals and wider business responsibilities.  

Six issues for guides

These are underpinned by the plan to publish standard form guides on a number of topics and sub-topics, which will be updated throughout the life of the strategy. They cover six issues: the ICT circular economy; net zero and net gain; climate resilience; cloud and data hosting; transparency in the supply chain; and data.

In each case the guides will include definitions, the 2020 business rule as a starting point, a 2025 stretch target business rule, a lit of best practices, guides on how to measure progress, various tools and techniques and example requirements.

Other elements of the strategy include definitions of roles and responsibilities, an emphasis on the role of the Sustainable Technology Advice and Reporting (STAR) team, and the production of education materials and networks.

Energy saving opportunities

Chris Howes, Defra’s chief digital information officer, says in the foreword: “There remain opportunities across the government estate to deliver energy saving benefits, especially in server utilisation and software design.

“Some departments still have large ICT hosting infrastructures on their estates and would benefit from further advice and guidance around potential environmental benefits of moving to collocated data centres or true cloud. There is also industry pressure to migrate.

“The true sustainability impact of digital is still not fully understood or published. Issues remain around a lack of transparency from providers in specific areas relating to the services consumed. There is also room for improvement in the skills of procurement teams to include sustainability criteria and a general a lack of understanding on the responsibilities of all end users.

“There are of course commercial reasons for this, but we need to work together to meet these challenges. To do what we can to avoid and be resilient against a potential climate breakdown and other challenges, we need to better understand our supply chains and the risks placed upon them.”

Defra has previously emphasised the role of suppliers in promoting greener ICT in government. Last year it created the Joint Sustainable ICT Group, and its annual report on sustainable technology for 2018-19 included closer engagement with suppliers as one of the areas of best practice.

Image from iStock, LuckyStep48

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