The government's CIO Council is planning a "green" strategy for the public sector which includes cutting tens of thousands of printers, taking power consumption into consideration when buying PCs, and keeping equipment for up to two years longer.
The strategy is designed to minimise the effects of the public sector's £12.4bn annual IT spend on the environment and reduce the carbon footprints of some four million public and civil servants.
Government CIO John Suffolk told Computer Weekly, "We are saying to people that any piece of new technology has a price that is not just pound notes. It is a carbon price." He said the CIO Council is asking staff to consider whether they can change how they work.
Proposals were discussed at the CIO Council last month and will be put to ministers this spring. Last September the then Cabinet Office minister Gillian Merron called on the CIO Council to "reduce the carbon footprint of government computers and improve the sustainability of public sector IT".
Merron said the government is by far the biggest user of IT in the UK. "We have a responsibility to set a positive example on the environment, so I am asking our IT leaders to work with industry to find new ways to improve the sustainability of government computer systems," she said.
One of those leading the green initiative is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Defra's CIO Chris Chant said there has been a dramatic reduction in printers in large offices, from one per eight employees to one for every 15 staff. This cuts buying costs, electricity bills and the amount of equipment that needs to be disposed of, he said.
Defra recently decided to fund centrally only one computing device per employee - usually a thin-client desktop or a laptop. It also discourages docking stations for laptops and thousands of power-hungry CRT monitors have been replaced with flat screens.
Chant said the power-saving features in Windows Vista will be used when the operating system is rolled out in March, and security guards are instructed to switch off all PCs and equipment left on at night. "You don't have to do anything complicated to make a difference," he said.
At an IBM datacentre in London used by Defra virtualisation software has enabled 12 servers to do the work previously done by 120 machines.
Defra also encourages staff to travel less to meetings and work from home using technologies such as OneNote, Sharepoint, Live Messenger and teleconferencing.
In 2007, 68% of all unwanted equipment, by weight, was reused, 28% of material was recycled, and only 4% was disposed of, said Chant.