Getting your house in order

Published on Monday, 10 May 2010 01:00
Written by Martin Ferguson

Globally, ICT is responsible for 2% of CO2 released. ICT in the public sector accounts for almost 35% of energy consumption. Pressure is building to reduce ICT's contribution, driven by UK Government and EU targets.

Public sector ICT and the environment

There is much talk of ICT's potential to save the planet by eliminating unnecessary travel, but given its own, very large carbon footprint, ICT functions need to get their own house in order as well as helping others.


Many public sector organisations have implemented their own carbon reduction schemes, while the Government's energy strategy calls for UK emissions cuts of 34% by 2022 and at least 80% by 2050.


The Department for Energy and Climate Change has just started consultation on the incorporation of EU Directive 2009/29/EC into UK law. More specifically to ICT, the Government's Green ICT strategy calls for carbon neutrality of government technology by 2012, with office carbon emissions down 11.5% by 2011.


The charity Global Action Plan is working with Socitm to secure a £1 billion fund to overhaul ICT to reduce emissions and has conducted a survey of public sector ICT managers. This found that less than half were aware of the targets and that more that two-thirds thought that they could not meet them.


Many organisations have set local green targets. Socitm is advocating that CIOs apply for sponsor status within the EU Data Centre Code of Conduct and, where facilities permit, full participant status, in order to demonstrate their commitment.


If legislation provides insufficient motivation, public opinion may well do so, driven in part by the potential for energy costs to rise sharply as the world recovers from recession. Renewed demand from the emerging economies in the Far East is likely soak up remaining spare capacity in the energy market, leading to yet another price spiral. Will newly squeezed public sector budgets be able to cope?


Being green means considering all four stages in the equipment lifecycle: manufacture, distribution, use and disposal. Of these, use offers the greatest potential.


Manufacture and distribution


Manufacture of technology goods is not only highly intensive in using energy, it also

releases noxious chemicals and uses large volumes of water. With most manufacturing in the Far East, and consumption in the West, the carbon footprint from distribution is another concern.


Through their joint purchasing power, public sector organisations are able to apply significant pressure to manufacturers to reduce emissions in their supply chain. But perhaps the most important question to ask when considering replacing equipment is actually ‘can we put it off'? Simply extending replacement cycles can reduce the environmental impact of emissions from manufacture.




User behaviour is a key factor in reducing carbon emissions. The ICT function can influence user behaviour though ‘Switch it off' campaigns and also by removing screen savers, reducing the time to switch to standby, and forcing shut down out of hours.


Socitm Insight recently surveyed all UK local authorities on behalf of HM Government to determine a profile of their green credentials. The survey showed that a little over half have made progress on these actions, with a further 25% planning to, or reviewing their position. Meanwhile, councils are making excellent progress with thin client technology and low energy PCs, with only 11% of the total yet to take any action.


It is not only PCs that are power-hungry. There are devices that will power down peripheral devices when the PC is shut down (and the PC itself can be shut down from the server). Another approach is to use timer switches, but these have a low take-up, with only 20% of councils making progress in implementing these devices.


                              Green ict


The data centre


Server virtualisation has ‘taken off' since most software suppliers ceased to insist on dedicated machines. Many councils in our survey reported very large savings from this process, and there is near-universal adoption.


There is strong progress with multi-tiered storage. However, there is reluctance to shut down power-hungry storage devices outside of the agreed service level hours. Among reasons cited for this is the higher incidence of operational problems at power up. However, ‘lights out' operations also help to reduce energy use and also mean less heat generation for the cooling system to deal with.


More radically, some organisations are looking at relocating their data centres through outsourcing arrangements to colder places where the ambient temperature demands less forced cooling. Iceland and Greenland also offer cheap geothermal energy. Where this is impractical, data centre managers can at least review their equipment layout to optimise use of the cooling capacity.


A periodic audit of the data centre and consolidation and disposal of redundant equipment is also good practice, reducing energy requirements, removing clutter, freeing-up space and saving money.




As the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) came into force in January 2007, there has been ample time for the public sector to respond, but 7.5% have yet to take action about desktop disposals. Contractors' statements about ethical disposal should be carefully checked.


Rapid replacement of mobile devices creates a significant disposal problem. Globally, about a billion new mobile phones are sold every year. A very high percentage of these are replacements. The phones contain noxious material that is unsuitable for landfill, such as brominated flame retardants, liquid crystals and lead, while the batteries contain cadmium or lithium, both of which are highly toxic.


Unless rapid pace of development in mobile computing and connectivity abates, it is unlikely that organisations will be able to resist ‘technology push' and high replacement rates. The only answer is to build component recycling into the contract for any new provision. Currently, users only recycle 27% of mobile devices.


Performance baselining and monitoring


A key issue for the ICT service is to establish a reliable baseline for its energy consumption so that ICT's contribution to the organisation's overall carbon reduction programme can be monitored. Technology research specialists Gartner say that overall consumption will continue to increase, and that savings will only create a saw-tooth effect on an otherwise upward trend. Yet few authorities have the luxury of sub-metering for data centres, and desktop energy consumption is not visible in departments' budgets.


Socitm is currently developing KPIs that seek to address both data centre and desktop energy consumption. Calculating these allows organisations to model total consumption based on samples of actual use or the rated usage of equipment. In due course we will be providing a means to track benchmark performance against other, similar organisations.

The views expressed in the contents below are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of GovToday.

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