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Defra to lead Government Digital Sustainability Alliance

Digital sustainability icons over typing at laptop
Image source: Mihai

The Defra e-Sustainability Alliance is set to formally evolve into a grouping for all government bodies, the lead official has told UKAuthority.

Adam Turner, head of government and public sector sustainable ICT and digital, based in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said a formal launch of the Government  Digital Sustainability Alliance is planned for November to align with the COP 27 climate change convention.

Work is already underway with the creation of working groups and drawing up of a charter for members.

The Defra e-Sustainability Alliance was formed off the back of the department’s UnITy programme, which pulled together its major IT contracts. The alliance brought it together with major supplier to embed sustainability into its approach to technology, with an eye to working across government.  

It involved going beyond the traditional emphasis on the ISO 14001  standard for environmental management within contracts, with schedules for sustainability that Turner said have attracted interest from other organisations, especially since the COP 26 conference in Glasgow last year.

He has also been running an initiative named named STAR – Sustainable Technology Advice and Reporting – involving a group with people from every department as well as a number of agencies and techUK, and with charities and academia. A series of post-COP 26 workshops earlier this year fuelled an understanding that there was scope for more cross-government thinking, with Chris Howes, Defra’s chief digital and information officer, being the senior owner for the issue in central government.

Making it more tangible

“That was the thinking between renaming us as the Government Digital Sustainability Alliance, which has been approved by the Cabinet Office, and we’re trying to make it all more tangible rather than just talking about the topic,” Turner said.

An early step will be the publication before the end of the year of a charter, signed by Howes and the CEOs of the alliance’s corporate members, committing each member to work with government on sustainability in the use of ICT.

In addition, three working groups are being formed on the circular economy, scope three emissions and the ecological impact of technology, to work up demonstrator projects and get the members to share their learnings with government. There will also be efforts to engage internationally through organisations such as Digital Nations – a network of the world’s leading governments on digital services.

This will lead to a series of events and launches around the time of COP 27.

“We’re moving it on from having a body of people who are all very well intentioned to actually delivering outcomes that will help improve knowledge around the sector,” Turner said.

Significant commitment

He said he expects the number of members to be small at the beginning, but that there will be efforts to build it more formally, and signing the charter will amount to a significant commitment for the businesses involved.

He added that he expects the strategic technology suppliers to government, numbering almost 20, to sign up early and there will be an effort to bring more companies onboard, partly through the STAR network and other groupings such as the Circular and Fair IT Pact.

“We are trying to break down barriers around knowledge sharing,” he said. “It’s hard when you get into the nuts and bolts of what sits behind this, about ‘How do you do that?’ and ‘What are the unknowns in your supply chain?’

“I don’t think it will be easy but the momentum is there on both sides.”

Amended 6.10.22 pm, changing 'e-Sustainability' to 'Digital Sustainability' in new organisation's name. Also changed 'scope free' to 'scope three'.

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