Whitehall must push green IT

Whitehall must push green IT

Environmental issues not considered closely enough in procurement

The government’s failure to include environmental factors in its technology spending criteria is weakening innovation and slowing progress towards carbon reduction targets, say experts.

With annual IT spending of £14bn, the public sector has significant market influence.
But calls for green procurement guidelines have gone unheeded because they contradict the strict remit of Whitehall buying agency the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) to ensure value for money.

There are moves to solve the problem, but hardware with high environmental standards is often more expensive, said Emily Holmes, assistant director of the Cabinet Office’s delivery and transformation group.

“We are working with the OGC to bring cost and environmental considerations in line with each other,” she said.

The idea of using the government’s buying power to boost the environmental agenda is not new.

In 2005, a report from the House of Commons environment committee called for better government leadership on sustainable procurement, particularly an increased willingness from the OGC to push the green agenda.

And a report from the National Audit Office later that year highlighted that the long-term cost savings of energy-efficient equipment were not being considered.
But there has still been little actual progress.

Green factors play no part in public sector contracting, two major suppliers told Computing.

And by ignoring sustainability issues, the government is not using its power to positively shape the market, according to Emma Fryer, programme manager for supplier trade group Intellect.

“Energy efficiency has not been a criterion in purchasing decisions, so there is little incentive for suppliers to offer energy-efficient solutions,” said Fryer.

An OGC spokesman said the agency has a number of initiatives aimed at guiding the public sector towards sustainable hardware procurement.

“When suppliers participate in reverse e-auctions they are asked to meet the Energy Star (or equivalent) standards, and are assessed on the energy use of their equipment,” he said.