The Government’s CIO Council is planning a “green” strategy for the public sector which includes cutting tens of thousands of printers, buying PCs by how little power they use as well as price, and keeping equipment up to two years longer.
The strategy is designed to minimise the effects on the environment of the £12.4bn a year spent on public sector IT and related services, and the carbon footprints of about four million public and civil servants who use computers.
John Suffolk, the government CIO, told Computer Weekly: “We’re saying to people that any piece of new technology has a price that’s not just pound notes. It’s a carbon price. We’re asking people with everything they do to consider: is there a way of working issue here that you could change?”
Proposals were discussed at the CIO Council last month and will be put to minister 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.”
“Figures from industry suggest that worldwide, information technology is responsible for about 1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions each year – that’s between 2 and 4% of global energy.
“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.”
One of those leading the green initiative is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [DEFRA] where the 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 or recycled.
Defra’s board has taken a decision recently to fund centrally only one computer per employee – usually a thin-client desktop but mostly a (lower-power) laptop, but not both.
Chant himself has decided not to have a dedicated office desktop or laptop – he uses only a Blackberry, and occasionally shares the use of an office PC and desk.
Docking stations for laptops are discouraged, and thousands of power-hungry CRT monitors have been replaced with flat screens.
Chant says the power-saving features in Microsoft’s Vista will be used when a roll-out of the operating system begins in March – and security guards are being required to switch off at night all unused PCs and other equipment.
“You don’t have to do anything complicated to make a difference,” said Chant.
Using virtualisation technology Defra’s main IT supplier IBM has replaced 120 servers at a data centre in London with 12. Virtualisation allows one server to do the jobs formerly done by several. Defra is also using IBM “enterprise vault” tool to compress archived emails by 90% which Chant says “saves a huge amount” of storage. It is also encouraging staff to travel less to meetings and work from home using communications technologies such as Webmail, OneNote, Sharepoint, Live Messenger and teleconferencing.