Thursday, 17 July 2008

UK Government Green IT

Well, as mentioned yesterday, the UK Cabinet Office has announced a strategy to reduce the carbon footprint of the government's IT. With government offices generating 20% of carbon emissions - around 460,000 tonnes - from ICT, the plan is to make this energy consumption in central government departments carbon neutral by 2012 and carbon neutral across its life cycle by 2020.

There are a total of 18 actions to reduce emissions, which suggests a lot of discussion has gone on, since they were trying to keep the number down to around 10 when I met with them earlier this year. The increased number may be a reflection of the ambitious carbon reduction target. Lets summarise the actions first:

PCs and laptops:
- remove active screen savers
- switch monitors to standby after five minutes
- shut down PCs after office hours
- enable active power management
- re-use equipment where possible
- use low-power CPUs
- apply thin-client technology

Other ICT equipment:
- apply timer switches to printers, etc
- set default Green printing (duplex, etc)
- optimise sleep mode on printers
- consolidate printers
- device consolidation, e.g. single device rather than phone + PDA

Data Centres:
- server optimisation
- reduce data centre cooling
- turn off servers that are not being used
- specify low-power servers
- ensure equipment re-use
- audit data centres for potential savings in cooling

These 'guidelines' will be adopted by the Cabinet Office immediately; other departments will be asked to base their environmental action plans around these rules and will be expected to report on their implementation in their submissions to the Transformational Government Annual Report.

These are all great actions and mostly things that have been advocated in industry for some time. My problem with the announcement is around the stated aim for ICT to be carbon neutral. In the Greening Government ICT document that sets out the strategy there are two revealing comments:

"Work is ongoing with Defra (the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to define Carbon Neutrality and how this can be delivered" and the footnote "These targets will be reviewed in light of the ongoing work in the definition of carbon neutrality".

There is also a comment that "Off-setting to be seen as a last resort and only through an accredited scheme in line with Defra’s code of best practice".

I keep harping back to my web cast last week, but one theme was that actions to turn Green need to be transparent and comparable. There is insufficient detail in the announcements so far for me to understand how the actions could result in carbon neutrality. Maybe its a definitional issue, maybe because there's some relevant purchase of Green energy involved, maybe its the offsetting. I don't know. But credibility is undermined unless there is a clear road map to achieve the targets.

There's a press conference early on Thursday morning to formally unveil the strategy (unfortunately at too short notice for me to attend, although the policy has been in production for around nine months!) and ministerial speech will be published later, so maybe we will learn more then.

© The Green IT Review

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