ICT has poor "green" credentials but public sector bodies in the UK will soon be forced to reduce their carbon footprints under new environmental legislation passed this year. And agency heads were warned to get their skates on in drawing up new green strategies at a recent conference, with sustainability now an imperative.
Chris Head, principal associate of the Society of IT Management (Socitm) told delegates at Headstar's recent conference, Techno-Footprint: ICT and Sustainability in the Public Sector, ICT managers and project managers must immediately begin drawing up strategies to reduce ICT energy use and heat emissions; reduce and manage ICT waste; embrace flexible and mobile working to cut transport requirements; and use technology systems to reduce other emissions and waste.
According to Dan Jellinek's e-Government Bulletin the event was used as the launch-pad for Socitm's new report Green ICT? Current research into the environmental impact of ICT. The report urges greater citizen take-up of online services as a way to cut agencies' carbon footprints.
"The Climate Change Act is going to have an impact on the UK public sector very soon, alongside EU directives on energy use," Head said. "Someone is going to be coming round and asking how much energy you use -- and you don't want to be caught out as the villain."
Head told the conference it is the usage phase of the ICT lifecycle that has the largest impact on carbon use, with servers and desktop PCs gobbling up energy.
"Computers use 10-20 times more carbon per unit weight than a fridge to manufacture, and then you use them for three or four years and throw them away," he said. "Factories that make computer chips, for example, use huge amounts of noxious chemicals and huge amounts of water to wash the chemicals away.
"There can be precious little difference in purchase price between two computers, but enormous difference in carbon emissions used in manufacture."
While EU procurement laws restricted the selection of ICT equipment, managers could still question its manufacture. And public sector bodies could also make a difference by using machines for as long as possible, rather than replacing them frequently.
He also said figures from the British Computer Society figures show data centres were "horrifically inefficient".
Meanwhile UK government research to be published next month suggests greater citizen take-up of online services could slash public bodies' carbon footprints. Carried out by consultants Best Foot Forward for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), and based on data supplied by Sunderland City Council, the study showed carbon savings from online service provision greatly outweigh the losses from ICT use.
Peter Blair, head of e-government take-up at DCLG, told the conference using e-government to share services, reduce duplication, cut waste and reduce travel could significantly reduce government ICT's impact on the environment.
"Each minute spent driving to the Town Hall uses more than 20 times the energy of a minute spent transacting on the Internet. And there is amazing demand for online services if you get it right -- in Hackney, 81 percent of parents and carers applied for secondary school places online."
Overall, the research shows that annual reductions of CO2 emissions averaging 28 percent can be obtained by moving services online in five areas: planning, schools, registrar's services, environmental services and council tax, he said. Work is now being carried out to use national figures on school applications, council tax payments and other sources to scale up the projections and extrapolate to a figure for potential national savings, Blair told E-Government Bulletin.
Earlier in the conference Peter Blair, head of the e-government take-up campaign at the Department for Communities and Local Government, offered delegates a sneak preview of another piece of new research showing that ICT need not always be the villain of the piece when it comes to sustainability.
"The transfer of services to citizens onto the Web has the potential to generate huge amounts of carbon savings," Blair said".
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