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Government cuts carbon and saves millions by making computers greener

The Government has saved at least £7 million over the past year by making its IT systems greener, Cabinet Office Minister Angela Smith said today.

Changes including extending the life of PCs, making double-sided printing the default option and making sure computers are turned off at night have helped cut the carbon footprint of central Government computers by 12,000 tonnes – the same as taking 5,000 cars off the road.  

Speaking at the Greening Government ICT conference in London, Cabinet Office Minister Angela Smith said:

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“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.

“A year ago the British Government became one of 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.

“All departments have risen to the challenge of cutting their IT carbon footprints and countries from around the world are now looking to us for advice on how to follow our lead. But it’s not just about the Government. I hope that private companies and individuals will also recognise the savings that can be made and get on board.”

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is responsible for up to 20 per cent of carbon emissions generated by Government offices. Each year it generates around 460,000 tonnes a year, the same amount created by a million households in a month or a jumbo jet flying around the world more than a thousand times.

Last year the Government was one of the first in the world to introduce measures to tackle the huge financial and environmental cost of ICT.

Departments were asked to take 18 key steps including turning off all machines at night, extending the lifecycle of computers, reusing as much IT equipment as possible and increasing server efficiency.

In the first year alone some of the success stories include:

Last month the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) praised the UK Government for being the only Government taking serious action to tackle the Green IT issue.

Speaking at a conference in Denmark, OECD secretary general Angel Gurria 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.

Will Day, Chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), said:

“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.

“So greening the Government’s ICT is an urgent priority, which can save money as well as minimising energy use and emissions. 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.”

Chris Chant, Chief Information Officer at the Government Olympic Executive and the Government’s Green ICT Champion said:

"The UK holds a significant position of International Leadership and expertise in this specialist sector but its now time to take this to the next level. We will look for wider areas where we can work internationally to get best practice and credible, measurable delivery of CO2 savings.

“Green ICT efficiencies and cost savings go hand in hand and this will be a key priority area for us moving forward."

Notes to editors

  1. Following the publication of the Greening Government ICT strategy last year, 110 public bodies have produced Green ICT action plans establishing measures for improving the energy consumption and carbon cost of their. The action plans not only clarify what steps are completed but also set out actions with delivery dates for the remaining steps during the next 18 months.
  2. 80 per cent of the actions have been delivered, are in progress or planned by more than 60 per cent of the public bodies.
  3. Top facts about the environmental impact of IT:
    • Worldwide, ICT accounts for 4 per cent of carbon emissions –that’s the same as the aviation industry
    • The Carbon Trust estimates that 20% of carbon emissions from Government offices come from ICT.
    • Between 1999 and 2006 the amount of electricity used in Whitehall rose by 34 per cent. The single biggest reason for this was the increased use of IT.
    • A server that is switched on but not in use still consumes 70 per cent of the power used when operating at full load.
    • By defaulting our printers to duplex we can save 60 kg of CO2 for every 1 million print jobs.
  4. Things you can do at home:
    • Adjust your home computer settings – shutting down when not in use and hibernating when idle rather than having a screen saver
    • Set home printers to duplex printing and draft mode printing, or use Ecofont
    • Unplug devices when not in use, for example printers, scanners, hairdryers, phone chargers still use electricity if they are connected to the wall socket
  5. Copies of the report and Angela Smith’s speech will be available on the Cabinet Office website on Tuesday September 15. For an embargoed copy ahead of publication contact Sinead Keller in the Cabinet Office press office.
  6. Cabinet Office Minister Angela Smith will deliver the keynote speech at the Greening Government IT Conference at the QE2 Centre in London at 2.55pm on Tuesday 15 September. For media enquires about the conference contact GovNet events on  0161 211 3032.
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