Since coming to power, the Con-Lib coalition has been keen to present itself as the 'greenest' government the UK has ever had. The environment clearly remains a highly political issue, both domestically and internationally, with climate change in particular representing a major global challenge. And on the whole, the government does appear to be serious about reducing the UK's impact on the environment. Plans for the Green Investment Bank are ongoing, hundreds of millions of pounds are being invested in a national clean heating programme, and the government remains on course to meet EU emissions targets.
Another way the government is aiming to demonstrate its low-carbon credentials is by revamping Whitehall's IT infrastructure, in a bid to capitalise emerging energy efficiency technologies. Innovation within the data centre - specifically the development of virtual servers - means companies can now run vital IT hardware at a reduced environmental cost. Aiming to prove it is serious about reducing energy consumption and lowering carbon emissions, the coalition recently published a new green ICT strategy, outlining its attempts to reduce power consumption and the impact of public sector activity on the environment.
The strategy focuses on three areas in particular: the development and implementation of green standards, the adoption of green approaches in government and the reduction of data centre energy consumption. It notes that green ICT standards "are pivotal to the delivery of improved cost efficiencies" and will also be factored into the design, delivery and disposal of ICT solutions. The strategy document adds that to reduce the cost and carbon footprint of government ICT, a programme will be set up aiming for a 35 per cent reduction in expenditure.
In line with this publication, the government is also in the process of formulating a Greening Government ICT strategy, the paper noted. This will set out how the government plans to achieve reductions in operational costs and carbon footprints. It will also outline plans to increase the use of collaboration and mobile working technologies in a bid to reduce business energy consumption and reduce the commuting burden placed on the UK's transport infrastructure.
Where the ICT strategy is concerned, the government has identified 30 specific action plans to ensure delivery, with timescales ranging from six to 24 months. The coalition is understandably keen to make tangible progress during the course of the current parliamentary term, but whether the plan fully comes to fruition remains to be seen. Despite outlining its intentions, some commentators are concerned about the level of commitment within Whitehall to creating a truly green government.
The Green IT Review noted that the ICT strategy is notable principally for its lack of detail, claiming that the 30-point action plans reads more like a "wish list" than anything else. The news provider commented that, given the vagueness of the government's commitment to green IT upgrades, there is little cause for optimism as yet.
"Although there is a reference to green ICT helping reduce travel costs - through mobile flexibility - there is no overall recognition of how ICT can help reduce emissions in the public sector as a whole," it stated. The news provider explained that just five of the 30 action plans refer to 'using ICT to enable and deliver change', compared to 14 in the 'reducing waste/product failure category', and this is not necessarily a good sign. "Unfortunately, since [this] is the area that gets the least focus, ICT as a green enabler gets lost altogether," the Green IT Review stated.
Earlier this year, the Carbon Trust warned that the UK is falling behind many of its major rivals in terms of becoming a green nation. The organisation noted that countries such as Germany are achieving greater success in terms of capitalising on low-carbon growth, and this is something the government may wish to look at as it plans for the rollout of green ICT. What the UK needs is a clearly defined action plan, rather than a vague set of ideal goals for green technology adoption.
Dr Neil Bentley, director of business environment at the Confederation of British Industry, claimed that by delivering the right policy framework to attract global investors, the government can encourage growth in the green economy. In his view, this has historically been "one of the key challenges" for the government, meaning affirmative action is needed to set the UK on the right path. The formulation of a green ICT strategy is a positive step, but the coalition will ultimately be judged on its implementation.