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Government digital skills ‘should include sustainability’

Sustainability icons over laptop
Image source: Mihai

Sustainability skills should be built into the Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) Profession Capability Framework for government, according to a leading official.

Adam Turner, government sustainable technology lead based in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), raised the point in a discussion at the UKAuthority Powering Digital Public Services conference yesterday.

He said there is currently a serious shortcoming in sustainability not being included within the recognised digital skillset for the public sector.

“I’ve been campaigning for about five years to build sustainability into the DDaT skills framework,” he said. “It’s desperately needed. Either it goes in as an individual skill or a cross-cutting skill.

“We’ve heard about the importance of low code, areas of FinOps or GreenOps, the need to build business cases and supplier management. It is vital that we do this as we are literally going to run out of resources for digital unless we build this stuff sustainably. It’s absolutely vital and extremely concerning it’s not there at the moment.”

Rising consumption

This reflects a point made in his presentation that, despite the adoption of the Greening Government ICT Strategy and the introduction of reporting mechanisms, the increased consumption of digital goods and services is adding to the public sector’s carbon footprint.

“We’ve been doing this a long time and the trend is up in terms of consumption,” he said. “We’re consuming more energy and more carbon.

“Yes, the grid and our technology providers are getting greener, but the point is we are consuming more and more, and this is line with industry trends. You will see various figures out there for the cloud sector and tech sector as a whole, and whatever they are they are large, in excess of sectors like the aviation industry, and growing, and projected to grow considerably.”

Turner also told the conference there ae two big elements to sustainable ICT: one in removing waste such as in legacy systems that are little used; the other is using ICT itself to improve sustainability.

These have led to the development of a series of strategies, the latest version of which was published in 2020, and the creation of various materials to help organisations measure and monitor their energy consumption.

STAR role

He highlighted the role of the Sustainable Technology Assurance and Reporting (STAR) Group for government, which he chairs, and which has created a series of dashboards for government organisations to view and assess carbon footprints. These include breakdowns between the major departments and by categories.

These can provide data that can help organisations understand their present position and be built into their enterprise architectures and help deliver sustainability strategies.

“It can help you understand where you are coming from and moving to,” Turner said.

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