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Report calls for improvements in Whitehall ICT sustainability

01/11/19

Mark Say Managing Editor

Central government needs to raise its game in key areas of ICT sustainability, according to the latest report on the issue from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Computer keyboard

The Sustainable Technology Annual Report 2018-19, which has replaced the previous Greening Government ICT reports, highlights shortcomings around the adoption of several areas of best practice.

It says that 21 departments and agencies provided best practice returns, nine more than last year, and that 40 of 63 of the identified best practices have been delivered or are in delivery.

This marks the continuation of a steady improvement since 2016; but average scores are still below 30% in every category. The highest rating is for energy at 28%, followed by travel at 23%, paper and waste at 22% and sustainable procurement at just 17%.

In response, it points to four areas in which central government needs to improve its performance: closer engagement with suppliers and upskilling in procurement; improved resource management, especially in managing the full ICT lifecycle more effectively; focused end user training to deliver sustainability benefits; and a more widespread adoption of sustainable procurement practices.

Energy issues

The report also includes estimates of energy consumption using figures compiled by Defra’s Sustainable Technology Advice and Reporting Team (STAR). But direct comparisons of performance with previous years are difficult as the measurement methods have changed and departments and agencies have not been consistent in supplying figures.

It says the average energy footprint is much higher than before at 2,571kWh/staff, compared with 891kWh/staff in last year’s report, but that this reflects a more accurate method of calculation that takes in more complete view of assets. A number of organisations have reported larger energy footprints, largely due to the change in recording and highlighting the combination of legacy, cloud and industry hosting systems.

More than half of the energy is used in server rooms, accounting for 56% of the total, followed by 15% for networks, 13% on PCs, 8% on audio visual systems, 7% on imaging and 1% on telephony.

Among the other findings are that: a minimum of 3.5 million e-conferences were held across government last year, reducing the need for travel; four departments generated £1.9 million from the re-use of ICT; and that only 0.8% of ICT waste went to landfill, a reduction from 2.9% in 2017-18.

Despite the latter figure, the amount of waste generated was higher than in previous years, due largely to widespread decommissioning of legacy equipment as organisations moved to mobile devices and hosting services. The STAR team struggled to obtain much data on how much equipment went for resale or charity donations as only four departments provided figures.

More devices and waste

Chris Howes, chief digital and information officer for Defra, commented: “Demand for technology services is growing. This means more end user devices, big data stores run by our service providers and more ICT waste.

“All of these, through their supply chains, consume resources and electricity – and technology’s share of this and therefore its contribution to the world’s carbon emissions is on the rise.

“STAR’s focus is to make sure our approach to technology in this changing world is both green and sustainable. We need to measure our ICT carbon footprint, including that of our service providers, and put in place steps to reduce it.

“We need to strike the right balance. We must deliver and operate services efficiently. But we should also exploit technology fully to bring sustainability benefits.”

Image by Ben Colley CC BY 2.0 through flickr

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