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Greener computing saves ‘Olympic pools full’ of CO2

KeyboardThe UK government has cut its carbon footprint by 12,000 tonnes and saved some £7 million over the past year by making smarter use of its computers and IT systems, Cabinet Office Minister Angela Smith announced today.

The carbon reduction, equal to taking 5,000 cars off the road, was achieved in part by such simple steps as making double-sided printing the default option and turning off computers at night.

“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 said at the Greening Government ICT conference in London. “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.”

(Editor’s question: Carbon-dioxide-filled swimming pools? Oh well, never mind … )

The government estimates that information and communication technology (ICT) is responsible for up to 20 per cent of the carbon emissions generated by its offices. Each year, ICT generates around 460,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, the same amount created by a million households in a month or by a jumbo jet flying around the world more than a thousand times.

Last year the UK government was 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.

Among the strategies that have been adopted since then:

  • The Department for International Development donated old equipment to charities in developing countries;
  • The Crown Prosecution Service expects to save £2.35 million by replacing 9,500  computers and 2,500 printers every  five years rather than every three;
  • The Home Office expects to save £2.4 million a year by removing unused IT equipment and improving    efficiency; and
  • The Department for Work and Pensions will save 200 million sheets of paper a year through cutting down the number of printers in the department and changing the default setting to double-sided printing.

Still, more room for improvement remains, according to Will Day, Chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC):

“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,” Day said. “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.”

1 Comment

  • Ross
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Ultimately, the Government has managed to cut the carbon footprint of its offices by a whopping 0.5% by this exercise, and decide that that’s enough to make a song and dance about?

    This is simply the UK Government’s greenwash on top of routine cost cutting. Deferring the computer purchasing is simply due to lack of money – if they were serious then they commit to purchasing models which use less energy than current machines. There is no investment in energy efficiency here, simply ways of cutting back spending (and they’ll need to save much more than £7m to make up for the black hole in the budget!)

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