Government Says Keep Your IT Kit Longer

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Sustainable IT means consuming less IT kit – as well as being more energy efficient – Cabinet Office Minister Angela Smith will say today

The Home Office is continuing to push the importance of hanging onto IT kit longer to cut down on the amount of potentially usable computing equipment that ends up in the waste stream.

In a speech today at the Greening Government ICT conference in London, Cabinet Office minister Angela Smith will launch a report which tracks the public sector’s progress is trying to improve the sustainability of its IT systems. A follow-up to the Greening Government IT report released a year ago, the new document lays out the carbon savings and other targets achieved over the last twelve months.

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According to excerpts of the speech released ahead of the talk, Smith will outline the contribution IT has on climate change and the efforts made by government to curb the impact of its systems. “Information technology is one of the hidden causes of climate change – worldwide, computers are responsible for the same amount of carbon emissions as the airline industry, but few people are taking action to improve the situation,” Smith will say.

The speech will also see Smith claim that the UK is leading the way when it comes to governments tackling the issue of sustainable IT. “A year ago the British Government became the first in the world to set tough targets to tackle the huge environmental and financial costs of computer use and I’m delighted to see the real progress that has been made. In just 12 months we’ve saved enough carbon dioxide to fill almost 2,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

But its not just the UK which is banging its own drum on the issue. The Cabinet Office also cites comments from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which praised the UK for its green IT efforts. Speaking at a conference in Denmark, OECD secretary general Angel Gurria apparently described the Green ICT Scorecard, launched by the Government last year, as “the one very rare exception” to the general lack of targets and measures in this area.

But while the Cabinet Office appears proud of its efforts thus far, Will Day, chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), said that the government is really only just getting started on the road to more efficient use of technology.

“While ICT can provide solutions to cut energy use and emissions, the SDC’s work on sustainable development in Government found that Government electricity use is still rising, and the proliferation of computers, laptops, chargers and the air conditioning of server rooms is likely to be behind much of this,” he said. “After the successes of the first year of this programme, we look forward to seeing levels of ambitions raised further, and the Government working with departments and industry to explore and invest in far-reaching green ICT solutions.”

And while a lot of the computing industry is very much focused on energy efficiency as a way to improve the sustainability of IT, the government appears to have tuned into the importance of lowering the turnover of IT in the public sector – a message that computer makers understandably are not keen to push. For example the The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) claims to have saved around £2.35million by replacing 9,500 computers and 2,500 printers every five years rather than every three and the Home Office (HO) says it has saved £2.4million a year by removing unused IT equipment and improving efficiency.

But speaking at the Green IT ’09 conference in London in May, Cabinet Office deputy champion for green ICT Catalina McGregor hinted that the government was beginning to think in terms of the life-span of technology and may encourage the public sector at least to use technology for longer.

“For the first time we are getting really good information out of Japan, out of the Swiss, and a number of countries about the carbon footprint of creating kit – how much water goes into creating kit, silicon, sand and on an elemental level – so please keep your eyes open because the math from that production is going to help us make a better judgment call on how long we keep our equipment,” she told an audience of government and private sector IT pros at the two day show.

According to a 2003 academic study, Computers and the Environment: Understanding and Managing Their Impacts, 75 percent of the environmental harm caused by PC use occurs in the extraction, manufacture phases of the life-cycle – before a PC is used for the first time.

A recent US survey from IT management company Spiceworks found small to medium-size businesses (SMBs) are holding on to their servers and laptops longer these days but most are also planning to make significant investments in new hardware and software over the next six months. The average planned lifespan of hardware, which includes desktops, laptops and servers, increased 26 percent from 40 months to 50 months, the report found.


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