6 ways public sector digital can help Wales hit net zero
A CDPS discovery into greener third sector and government tech spoke to public servants across Wales – this is what they found
2 September 2022
CDPS’s 12-week, Tech Net Zero research project has been looking at how digital technology in the public sector could help Wales to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.
Through direct interviews and surveys, the discovery team (which included members from the digital development agency Perago and the science park M-SParc, as well as from CDPS) gathered evidence from people working in the public sector across Wales.
Interviewees included people who exemplified good practice in the digital-climate sphere, as well as providers of relevant services such as public ‘cloud’ hosting. The team also researched climate and digital policy in Wales, the UK and internationally.
Through our research, the team have come up with 6 recommendations for how the use of digital technology in the public sector can help Wales reach its climate goals.
Recommendation 1 – Raise awareness
Our research showed that technology leaders, and practitioners, often lacked a full understanding of:
- how digital could support net zero in general
- their organisation’s net zero goals specifically
- what meeting net zero meant in their professional context
Most participants could give an example or two of where their digital work had an impact on carbon emissions, positive or negative. However, some participants clearly lacked the full picture.
Recommendation 1 – potential solutions
- Build sustainability into public sector digital strategies
- Mount a cross public sector communications campaign
- Make sustainability more prominent within the Digital Service Standards for Wales
Recommendation 2 – Make net zero a priority within digital
Research showed that there’s a disconnect between the climate emergency and digital priorities within the public sector. Sustainability is rarely a driving force for digital teams.
People working in the public sector in Wales need to see sustainability prioritised from the top, where it will filter down to digital team objectives.
Recommendation 2 – potential solutions
- Make net zero a part of every digital project
- Highlight existing climate policy and commitments
- Set short-term climate targets
- Emphasise how digital can help towards net zero organisation-wide
Recommendation 3 – Help people follow net zero good practice
Where there are sustainability professionals within organisations, they’re not joined up with digital teams to influence and support them.
The sustainability professionals we spoke to often had a good idea of how digital can support net zero but less ability to see those ideas through to delivery.
We heard from some public cloud providers that organisational culture was one of the biggest barriers to clients helping to achieve net zero.
Recommendation 3 – potential solutions
- Signpost existing good work in this area
- Nurture communities of good practice
- Encourage organisations to interact with exemplary existing practitioners
- Develop sustainable digital skills
- Promote a digital culture
Recommendation 4 – Measure the carbon footprint of a digital service
The need to evaluate services’ climate impact came up in our user research. There was no clear and easy way to evaluate the climate footprint of a digital service. Such a method was also top of the UK government’s Sustainable Technology Advice and Reporting team’s wish list.
Some of the people we interviewed had strong views on how to design and run services sustainably but found it difficult to measure services’ environmental impact.
Recommendation 4 – potential solutions
- Provide standards for measuring a digital carbon footprint
- Provide examples of measuring the footprint of a service end to end, across channels
- Provide guidance on measuring the climate footprint of legacy IT systems
- Provide guidance on comparing the climate impact of digital and off-line services
Recommendation 5 – Support sustainability work across boundaries
Our research found that reducing duplication, and moving towards shared services across the public sector, were important ways to cut emissions. Both within and across organisations, teams are often siloed from each other. That lessens their ability to replicate good sustainable digital practice from elsewhere.
Working together on service delivery models isn’t a new idea (it features in Wales’s net zero route map for 2022-2026) but, done well, it could have a big impact.
Many participants talked about the perceived efficiencies and environmental benefits of shared service work.
Recommendation 5 – potential solutions
- Enable collaboration on sustainable digital practice across public sector organisations
- Adopt a systems-based approach to service delivery
- Apply systems thinking and systems engineering practices
Recommendation 6 – Make sustainability part of procurement
Our policy research and our conversations with public servants both highlighted the opportunity to procure digital products and services in a way that supports reduced carbon emissions.
Users said they did not know how to translate sustainability thinking into digital procurement. However, they advocated building sustainability into wider procurement policy and platforms, rather than leaving it to individual organisations to interpret.
Recommendation 6 – potential solutions
- Provide guidance on embedding net zero goals within digital procurement
- Involve sustainability specialists early in procurement decision-making
- Develop vendor relationships to include net zero goals
- Make user-centred design (which makes services more efficient and so potentially greener) part of buying as well as building products and services
The Tech Net Zero discovery team are sharing our findings with stakeholders and agreeing with them on the actions to take this work forward.
Please leave comments below or email CDPS with questions about this work.