I attended the Greening Government ICT conference yesterday to hear about the various green initiatives that are underway in central Government. The coalition Government has the environment at the centre of their strategies but, although the Green Delivery Unit sits within the Cabinet Office in the Efficiency and Reform team, the current focus is currently on efficiency rather than reform. That said, there has been progress in a number of areas with a range of triggers driving the moves to green departments’ ICT.
For the most part, the work in Government departments has echoed what has taken place in the universities and colleges. Virtualisation of server and client technology featured strongly but there is perhaps greater internal recycling of equipment than currently takes place in the higher education sector. There were a number of other initiatives that were being deployed including turning off VOIP phones when they were not being used, throttling back on the network capacity at off peak periods and switching off router ports when not required. All deliver small power savings but the benefits of aggregated savings to an organisation over a period of time are more substantial.
Gartner often highlight that 2% of the world’s carbon emissions are due to IT. The view was that this was largely being addressed with the various initiatives underway; what was required was strong leadership from CIOs to identify ways where IT can make a contribution to reducing the remaining 98%. It was clear that the business case for any initiatives should include an assessment of the environmental impact and should strive to reduce the organisation’s carbon footprint.
There were two themes that emerged during the day – culture and supplier relationships. A major challenge to green IT initiatives the mindset of individuals whether employees or senior management. People don’t like to change. This was recognised in the function of the Green Delivery Unit – one of its roles was to help break down barriers so that initiatives could progress. There were several examples of the change in mindset required. Individuals are often wedded to their desks – it is their space in the work place – and so a move to greater mobile working, the corresponding reduction in space and consequent move to hot desks presents a challenge. Similarly there is still a significant amount of printing that takes place, largely because it is what people have already done. People will not consider video conferencing, preferring to meet face to face. So technology is the easier part of the problem to address.
Suppliers present another challenge. Delegates at the conference were encouraged to challenge suppliers on environmental issues and to make sure that green issues were at the heart of procurement. It was suggested that, when procuring equipment or services, to go beyond the supplier’s published standards and probe further into the supplier’s product and thinking. So for a PC the suggestion was not just to ask for the Gold EPEAT standard, but to ask questions about what the supplier was doing to reduce their product’s power consumption, to ask about the supply chain, shipping and packaging. With regard to support services, one suggested question was regarding the location of the support staff relative to those being supported to see if the company is taking steps to minimise the fuel consumption of its engineers. There was general agreement that the more customers ask about a company’s green credentials, the greener it will become.
Finally, there is currently difficult is keeping green on the agenda. The Cabinet are largely focused on efficiencies and universities are likely to do the same. One problem cited was that the capital cost of products and recurrent (energy) costs fall in different budgets. In the current climate there will be greater focus on the capital cost of products rather than the total cost of ownership – if a greener unit costs more but the total cost of ownership is lower than a lower priced alternative, will institutions take a holistic view and ‘borrow’ from the estates budget to pay for the difference given that that estates will benefit from the savings? The answer is only with senior management understanding of green issues and their buy in. And that is probably the biggest challenge to heads of IT.
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