Supporting net zero with tech – what ‘good’ looks like

A CDPS team is discovering how people across the Welsh public sector are using technology to reduce carbon emissions

29 June 2022

Green tech: how can the public sector use technology to help Wales reach its climate emissions targets? © Unsplash

Agile discoveries typically start with assumptions or existing evidence about a problem area. During research, we refine our view of the problem to decide if it’s worth doing more – for example, designing a service to meet an evidenced user need.

In the Tech Net Zero discovery team, we’ve been clarifying and documenting our view of how technology can meet Wales’s net zero net climate emissions target by 2050.

Scope of the discovery

Digital technology seems to have a greater potential role to play in the public sector supporting Wales’s net zero target.

We suspect such technology is not fulfilling this role to its full potential in part because of a lack of understanding in 2 areas:

  1. what ‘good’ looks like when choosing or using environmentally sustainable technology
  2. opportunities for tech to support climate goals and how much it might contribute

These questions are the focus of our discovery.

What can tech contribute?

There is no shared understanding of how digital technology in the Welsh public sector could contribute to Wales’s net zero commitments.

We need to define the scope of that contribution to begin defining good practice in this area.

There is existing public sector research and guidance about how digital technology can reduce carbon emissions – for example, the sustainability guidance in the UK government’s Technology Code of Practice and the work done by the Sustainable Technology Advice and Reporting team.

However, we need to gather more evidence, along with existing guidance and industry good practices, to decide where to focus our efforts. We also need to check whether this evidence and guidance applies to the Welsh public sector.

Support for the Welsh public sector

The discovery team hypothesise that people working in the Welsh public sector lack support to reach net zero goals with digital technology in the most effective ways. We need to gain a better understanding of the unmet needs and barriers people have in making choices about digital technology that will lower emissions.

We also need to map the net zero policy landscape, how emissions are currently measured and reported and any support that already exists.

Focus on people and digital services

This discovery has a wide focus – how do a broad range of people (professionals within digital and technology, sustainability, commercial and other areas) across the whole of the Welsh public sector consider carbon emissions when making decisions about digital technology use?

We decided the focus should be that broad after lots of conversations. We talked about whether the focus should instead be on how public servants reduce the carbon footprint of their digital technology or how they could use digital technology to reduce the footprint of their wider service.

The discovery team are mapping the climate policy landscape in Wales, including how emissions are measured © Pexels

Leaving well researched areas aside

We’re keeping both these aspects in scope but won’t spend too much time on areas that are already well researched, like data centres and sustainability.

We are also focussing, in the main, on digital services, or services that could be digital, and how digital changes to these services and decisions could decrease emissions. CDPS wants to help make services that are both better for citizens and environmentally sustainable.

Finally, we discussed whether we should look at the data storage cloud and hardware (such as printers and laptops). As these areas have already been looked at in depth, we decided not to include them in the discovery.

Motivations

Questions we always ask at the start of a discovery are:

‘Why are we trying to solve this problem?’

and

‘What outcomes are we looking for?’

You need to consider these questions upfront, as solutions to the problem we define in the discovery phase will need to be measured against the answers.

For this project, we’re trying to help reduce carbon emissions in the Welsh public sector through digital technology.

However, we see there being an opportunity to influence emissions in Wales beyond the public sector through providing guidance and leading by example.

Discovery outputs

The output of the discovery will be a decision about whether we’ve found a problem that’s worth trying to solve.

We initially had outputs in mind such as new standards, guidance and toolkits that could help public sector workers in Wales to make more sustainable choices about digital technology.

However, we decided it would be premature to create new products as part of the discovery. Instead, we will point out the guidance and tools that already exist and uncover gaps CDPS could fill in the next phases of the project.

The Tech Net Zero discovery needs research participants! Please fill in our survey (in English or Welsh) if you work in the tech or environment sectors in Wales and would like to take part, or email jess.neely@perago.wales

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  1. Matt Lewis says:

    Happy to help however we can at the SRS.