Government to go neutral on IT carbon emissions

The government is looking to go carbon neutral on their ICT energy use within four years, but carbon offsetting will be used to make up the difference if energy efficiency measures don't deliver.

As much as a fifth of carbon emissions caused by central government offices come from IT, worth some 460,000 tonnes annually, according to the Cabinet Office, which announced the plan today.

"Worldwide, computers are responsible for the same quantity of carbon emissions as the airline industry. It is a serious problem that requires a serious solution," said Cabinet Office Minister Tom Watson.

"That's why I'm so proud that we are the first Government anywhere in the world to formally set out exactly what we're going to do to make our ICT systems carbon neutral within four years," he added.

A Cabinet Office report explaining the green plan noted that the government had not yet defined exactly what carbon neutrality' means.

That office will itself start implementing its own green guidelines immediately, while other central government departments will have to report annually to the office on their green status from 2010.

Those guidelines include such basics see below for more as switching off computers which aren't being used, printing on both sides of the page, and using server capacity more efficiently.

If such methods aren't enough to take the government carbon neutral by 2012, carbon offsetting will be used.

Carbon offsetting is essentially buying credits for emissions a method seen by some as a way to buy green credentials. Clearly with this in mind, offsetting would be "a last resort," the report said. "We won't achieve this just by offsetting but by making serious changes to the way we do business," Watson claimed.

The Cabinet Office also set a goal of 2020 for all IT equipment to be carbon neutral throughout its lifetime, from manufacture to disposal.

Watson also called on companies to take up green methods. "Lots of small actions make a big impact. Between us we can make a real difference in the fight against climate change."

The Cabinet Office's guidelines for cutting energy use include:

For PCs and laptops:

- Remove active screensavers

- Switch monitors to standby after five minutes of inactivity

- Shut down PCs after office hours

- Enable active power management on desktops

- Ensure re-use of equipment that is no longer required but is still serviceable

- Specify low-power consumption CPUs and high-efficiency power supply units

- Use thin-client technology

For other IT equipment:

- Apply timer switches to non-networked technology and printers

- Set printers to duplex and grey scale

- Optimise power-saving sleep modes on printers

- Consolidate printers

- Consolidate devices, such as moving toward single integrated devices

For data centres:

- Optimise servers and storage using virtualisation and capacity management

- Reduce cooling to ambient room temperature

- Decommission unused servers/disks

- Use low-power, low-voltage servers

- Reuse equipment where available

- Have a data centre audit