How the public sector can lead by example to tackle climate change

If the government wants the UK to be a world leader in reducing carbon emissions and achieving net zero, it must lead by example, says Luke Morton, CTO, Made Tech

Posted 18 November 2021 by Christine Horton

The UK recently welcomed representatives from around the world to Glasgow for one of the most important meetings of world leaders in history.

COP26 saw countries, including Britain, commit to a range of initiatives to reduce their carbon emissions. The UK government announced some major plans on how it intends to tackle the nation’s climate footprint, including making Britain the first carbon neutral financial centre.

While these announcements are welcome, the government must walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Society is looking to the public sector to lead by example and show that it’s doing what it can to reduce its carbon footprint and help create a greener future.

This means that public bodies, from ministerial departments through to local councils, should identify which of their systems and processes impact the environment and put the solutions in place to address these.

A good place for the public sector to start addressing emissions is their digital platforms. Whether in the public or private sector, IT estates are making up a larger part of organisations’ carbon emissions as systems and ways of working become more digitised due to power use and information storage.

But, while the vast data these bodies hold may be a challenge from an environmental perspective, it also provides them with an opportunity to reduce digital carbon footprint. If used in the right way, data has the potential to influence design and architectural choices during the software development lifecycle, as well as identify where changes should be made to make the biggest impact.

For example, implementing tools which track platforms’ energy consumption and carbon intensity lets public bodies gather valuable data on their digital estate. This information can be used to build a better picture of the physical impact and resources being used by different software, which can then be acted on by optimising the platforms to reduce their emissions.

At the same time, legacy solutions may be more carbon intensive than newer alternatives. Identifying older technologies that can be replaced by greener models and implementing new platforms will not just help create greener public departments, but can also save money in the long term and create better services.

If the public sector wants to take these steps to create a greener digital ecosystem, they must work with partners that have the green credentials and expertise, as well as access to the right tools to harness their data to pinpoint carbon-intensive platforms and put in place the solutions to address these.

Digital partners have to play an important role in creating a greener public sector. They must make solutions open source so that other governmental organisations can see what has been successful and put in place the same processes to reduce their carbon footprint. This will speed up digital decarbonisation across the UK and help create a greener public sector more quickly.

The clock is ticking for us to address the climate crisis. If the government wants the UK to be a world leader in reducing carbon emissions and achieving net zero, it must lead by example. By tackling the impact of public sector IT estates while at the same time making these projects open for all to see and use, public bodies can help guide Britain to a cleaner, future for all.