The government has set its central department CIOs with the challenge of reducing the carbon emissions their departments produce. It has set a target for central departments to be carbon neutral by 2012.
In its Greening Government ICT strategy, launched yesterday, the government outlined 18 steps that CIOs should take. These range from activity as simple as making sure staff turn off PCs after work to carrying out more complicated audits of the energy use of datacentres.
Tom Watson, minister for transformational government, said, "It is essential that we start off by getting the basics right. This [report] is a positive first step but CIOs have to do the tough things."
He said the government will monitor just how well CIOs perform. "Tools are being developed to keep track of these targets and the information will be shared."
The central government's strategy will initially focus on changing working practices but will evolve to recommend the use of energy-efficient technology.
The advice, within the Greening Government ICT report, is for departments to take advantage of what the government describes as "quick wins".
"These are things that do not cost any money but save money," said government CIO John Suffolk. "There are a lot of things that people can do that are quite simple." The time is now for action and not analysis, he says.
The longer term goals include the introduction of energy re-use systems, virtualisation technology and the introduction of thin client computing.
Suffolk said although this type of development is more complicated it need not be expensive. "If you talk to the virtualisation suppliers they said you get a pay back within a year."
The government will then look at using technology to make savings in other areas. These include technology for video conferencing to save people having to go to meetings which will reduce the emissions related to travelling by car, or mobile technology to allow people to work from home.
John Higgins, director general at IT industry trade body Intellect, warned that it is important to ensure that technology is not used to "give a new lease of life to carbon inefficient things."
He said by introducing technologies to cut carbon in other areas the carbon footprint of IT will inevitable increase but this will be offset by a larger proportional reduction in other areas.
Some government CIOs are already well into strategies to reduce their carbon emissions. These include software as a service to reduce the hardware requirements and renegotiating with suppliers to reduce the regularity of refreshes.
"Cloud computing is on the horizon which means hardware is less critical," said Chris Chant, CIO at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Stephen Dunthorne, deputy CTIO at the Crown Prosecution Service said, "We have changed our contracts with suppliers to extend the use of technology with refreshes every five years rather than every three years."
Greening Government ICT report: the basics
The simple first steps outlined in the Greening Government ICT report include:
- Removing active screensavers, because a monitor left running with an active screen saver uses the same amount of energy as when the screen is in full use,
- Switching monitors to standby, with no active screensaver, after five minutes of inactivity, which prevents a longer period of wasted power,
- Shutting down PCs after office hours