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Government makes progress on green IT, according to report

Defra report on sustainable digital services shows improvements have been made, but highlights challenges with legacy systems and waste, as well as the importance of departments measuring progress

The government has made improvements on the awareness and use of sustainable digital services and technologies, according to a report by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The annual report, on Greening Government IT, said departments across government have significantly reduced staff members’ individual energy footprints to 891KWh/staff from a baseline figure of 1467 KWh/staff.

However, the report added there are significant challenges remaining, and it’s important departments measure their own progress in delivering more sustainable IT.

While the overall IT estate in government has become more energy efficient as a result of cloud-first initiatives and digital policies, these new ways of working have also introduced challenges.

“A further consequence of this transformation, coupled with the smart working agenda, is that user device allocation across government has increased,” the report said.

It added that people often have the view that the government is getting “greener by default” by getting rid of outdated IT practices and systems, working in a paperless manner.

While the statement does hold some truth, it doesn’t tell the entire picture. Cloud-first and digital agendas, policies and strategies have led to the closure of legacy and – often inefficient – on-premise data centres and into often more efficient cloud, private cloud or co-located data centres,” the report said.

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Commenting on the report in a blog post, Defra’s chief digital and information officer (CDIO) John Seglias said that as departments move “to greener digital services, the impact of legacy systems (and practices) should not be overlooked”.

“A good example is waste: replacing legacy ICT with more sustainable options means redundant technology removed from government estates was over one million kilograms. The better news is that almost 98% was donated, reused or recycled, with many departments recording zero to landfill,” he said.

As part of the report, 12 departments have reported a total of 60 best practices for sustainable technology and IT. Some 63% of those have already been delivered or are set to be delivered soon. Best practices include smarter ways of working, using e-conferencing rather than travelling to the meeting and introducing managed print services.

According to the report, those best practices relating to behavioural changes are more difficult and lagging behind those related to IT implementations and roll-outs.

Seglias said the report highlights the need to do more to support staff in how to get the most out of new technologies and what they have to offer.

Above all, what the report underlines is the importance of government departments measuring their progress, especially in a time of increased government activities such as preparing to leave the EU.

Sustainable technology

The annual report, which has been published yearly since 2011, this year focuses on the commitments set out in Defra’s Greening government: Sustainable technology strategy 2020 policy paper, which was published in December 2018.

The strategy aims to deliver savings on office space, energy, paper and travel through the use of a pool of best practices.

In the policy paper, Defra warned the proliferation of digital technology and data services, coupled with the globalisation of service supply, means people are often unaware of the sustainability impact of the online services they may be using.

The policy paper recommended electronic waste (e-waste) is minimised and landfill avoided where possible, with the aim that the government should work towards zero landfill of e-waste.

It also recommended remote conferencing services should be used for 40% of government meetings, and these should be conducted without the need for anyone to travel.

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