UK Will Get Tough on “Sweating” IT Assets

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Green IT is not just about energy efficiency, the length of time that equipment is used is also key to improving sustainability, according to the government

Government IT departments could be asked to use some IT equipment for up to ten years and avoid unnecessary refreshes according to the body leading green tech regulation in the UK.

Speaking late last week at the Green IT ’09 conference in London, Cabinet Office deputy champion for green ICT Catalina McGregor, said that as well as facing mandated targets, government departments will be asked to potentially hold onto existing IT kit even 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.

McGregor’s comments – made on a panel session on green IT and the recession – follow the publication of the Greening Government ICT strategy report in July last year which called on departments to “sweat” IT assets to ensure that enough use is got from technology to justify the Co2 and other resources used to produce it.

“The strategy published in July asked governments to sweat their assets but we have been waiting for the maths to come out and there will be a much more intense study on a particular kind of PC, a particular kind of monitor – we are getting down to the category level of ‘Gosh how long should we keep it?’,” she said.

“It is going to be uncomfortable when it first comes and I think there is going to be a lot of raised eyebrows but certain areas really needed to be sweated and sometimes up to 10 years and you are going to be shocked.”

While there is a lot of focus from the IT industry on energy and financial savings that can come with improved power management for desktops and datacentres, some environmental IT experts claim that energy efficiency is only part of the story when it comes to sustainable technology.

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.

Tony Roberts, founder of environmental IT charity Computer Aid International, said green strategies such as turning off PCs at night and improving energy efficiency of data centres is a start but vendors need to address the entire life-cycle of devices from manufacture to disposal to really offset the negative impact of technology on the environment.

“It is certainly the case that a great deal of IT equipment is unecessarily wasted and thrown away when it is still functional and could be used productively by groups with more modest processing requirements,” he said. “If government wants to attain its carbon neutral targets it needs to address the 75 percent of the problem by using its massive procurement leverage to reward those producers who have the ‘Greenest’ manufacturing and production processes

According to McGregor, the government’s findings on making the most of IT assets should be published later this year.

“There is a lot of pressure for energy savings but please begin to balance out because when that math comes out in – maybe in September, October, November – certain categories are going to be asked to sweat from three to five years,” she added.

As well as an increased focus on extending the life of IT equipment, McGregor said that her department would also be championing the use of renewable energy to power IT infrastructure. “There is no green IT without renewable energy – so let’s wake up and start asking for more renewable energy,” she added.

Computer Aid takes donated IT from the European businesses and sends it to the developing world for use in schools, colleges, hospitals and other social projects.