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A breakthrough year for digital sustainability

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Defra digital, Digital transformation

This year has been a transformative period for sustainable ICT, and the publication this week of the 2021-22 Greening Government ICT report marks the latest milestone on our important journey.

Defra Digital, Data and Technology Services (DDTS) have been instrumental to the publication of key documentation across government, to ensure that being sustainable is no longer seen as a nice to have but is necessary and vital in the delivery of our government digital services. Key documents include:

  • The National Data Strategy, published June 2021, highlights the role of data in helping to meet our sustainability goals and also the need to increase our knowledge of the potential negative impacts of more unmanaged data.
  • The Technology Code of Practice Point 12 on Sustainability, published November 2021, states that in order to meet point 12, department, agency and Non Departmental Public Bodies (NDPB) plans should include how they aim to increase the sustainability of their technology project or programme by meeting the outcomes defined in the Greening Government ICT and Digital Services Strategy.
  • The Greening Government Commitments, published October 2021, states departments should report on the adoption of the ‘Greening Government: ICT and Digital Services Strategy’ and associated targets and ensure they provide membership to the Sustainable Technology Advice and Reporting team, who manage and deliver the Greening Government Commitments ICT reporting.
  • The Digital and Data Roadmap, published in June 2022, includes sustainability as part of Mission 4: Efficient, Secure and Sustainable Technology ensures all departments will increase sustainability throughout the lifecycle of their technology and services.
  • The Procurement Policy Notice PPN06/21 sets out the need for government suppliers to provide carbon reduction plans as part of the procurement process.

Our government role in leading supplier relationships on this topic has also gone from strength to strength through our breakthrough event at COP26 called Technology for Climate Action. This is where 2,000 stakeholders, CEOs and senior leaders from a range of technology companies came together to discuss how they could best help reduce the harmful impact industrialisation is having on the environment. We have continued this work throughout 2021/22 and I look forward to updating you on our progress after COP27 following the launch of our Government Digital Sustainability Alliance (GDSA).

This work is governed and managed by our Sustainable Technology Assurance and Reporting (STAR) team. A group of around 80 empowered digital sustainability experts from across government departments, agencies and bodies supported by academia, charities and the technology sector which we chair.

The Greening Government ICT Annual report 2021/22

Each year we run the greening government ICT annual report to capture valuable data regarding progress on this topic in the form of carbon footprint, end of life, policy and strategy data. This years report captures more and better data than ever before.

Performance highlights include:

  • Progress towards net zero ICT and digital services: Increased availability of data about footprint, cloud hosting, and green energy mix.
  • Increasing participation: More departments agencies and bodies provided data than ever before with 34 returns, an increase of 9 from the previous year. The vast majority also set strategy statements and provided policy progress data.
  • Global leading action to identify our carbon footprint in the cloud. We asked data centre and cloud hosting suppliers for energy consumption data relating to the services we have consumed for most departments.
  • Focussing on the circular economy: 1.58% of ICT resources were recorded as going to landfill in 2021, +0.78% from 18/19. Almost every department reports zero to landfill. The number of items being reused (+43%) or recycled (+30%) have both increased significantly showing improved end of life management.
  • Generating income: A total of £1,930,942 from commercial sale. An increase of almost 100% from 2019/20.
  • Digital first travel policies: 38 million e-conferences are recorded, an increase from 18.3 million from 2020 directly supporting the ability to work from home. In 2018/19 the figure was just 3.5 million, so this represents a 10-fold increase.
  • Setting direction: Strategy statements setting out proactive sustainable ICT projects and programmes received from majority of contributors and signed by departmental Chief Digital Information Officers (CDIO’s).
  • Evidence towards a net gain provided by digital services. The ICT and digital services carbon footprint has increased but has enabled much larger reductions in carbon from business travel and estates.

The data behind this is vast and available to all members of the STAR to help them make informed decisions about legacy transformation, migration to the cloud and better management of resource. This data is also provided to the Cabinet Office through the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO).

Technology won’t solve everything though. Minimising climate change will require massive behavioural and societal changes. So, we need a greater focus on how technology and data can help drive that. Our partnerships with industry are a vital component to increasing access to vital data needed by our DDaT professionals to design and deliver sustainable ICT and digital services.

My thanks must go to many industrious thought leaders on sustainable ICT that formed and pushed this group and its work into the mainstream. We have been proud to be at the vanguard of this increasingly crucial topic and look forward to engaging internationally to ensure that ICT and Digital services are part of the solution, and not part of the problem.

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  1. Comment by Rob Knight posted on

    Fantastic - congratulations to all involved.

  2. Comment by posted on

    Great news as policies are the ambition security layer towards action. And there are some great action examples out there.

  3. Comment by Nissi Nwaozuzu posted on

    Hi Chris Howes, I love this article! Your points are well-thought-out, and your data is comprehensive.

    You have highlighted the importance of technology in helping to reduce emissions and emphasized behavioral changes that need to be made.

    I agree that partnerships between industry and government are necessary for successful data-driven digital services.

    These collaborations can ensure access to vital data so DDaT professionals can make informed decisions about how best to deliver sustainable ICT and digital services.

    It is also essential for us to engage internationally on this issue so we can learn from each other's successes and failures.

    You have done a great job pushing this group's work into the mainstream!

    This demonstrates how powerful and necessary it is to have people like you fighting for this cause.

    I am grateful for all your hard work and hope that more people will continue to support sustainable ICT initiatives.

    Thank you for a great article!

  4. Comment by Chris Howes posted on

    Hi Nissi
    thank you so much for your comments - I'll pass them onto the team - they've worked so hard to make sure we underpin our approach with great quality data.