Defra applies analytics to develop green strategy

Published on 11 Jan 2011

Validated on 02 Jan 2014

"“Thanks to the analysis we’ve completed with IBM, our Green ICT Transformation programme has clear direction. That’s really valuable, we know what will work best for Defra and can focus on that with confidence, knowing we’ll deliver the savings we seek.”" - John Yard, CIO at Defra

Department for environment, food and rural affairs


Deployment country:
United Kingdom


As the UK government department responsible for securing a healthy environment in which current and future generations can prosper, Defra (the Department for environment, food and rural affairs) has a leadership role in promoting sustainability across UK government and the drive to a low carbon economy.

Business need:
An enthusiastic leader for sustainability in UK government, Defra fully embraces the move to a low carbon economy but, as a public service, it has to provide value for money.

Only by analysing in depth the carbon and financial impacts of various initiatives could Defra ensure a cost-effective Green ICT Transformation programme. Building on an award-winning methodology developed with Defra, IBM assessed the current carbon emissions baseline data for Defra’s ICT and identified the carbon and cost impacts of existing and proposed initiatives.

Clear insight and direction for the Green ICT Transformation programme; identification of additional quick win carbon reductions; focus on value for money; creation of a sustainability-focussed governance model for all projects; leadership role in assessing how ICT can contribute to the UK’s low-carbon economy.

Case Study

The UK Government’s Green ICT strategy sets government departments an extremely challenging target of carbon neutrality for ICT in use (including outsourced ICT) by 2012. In response, Defra created its Green ICT Transformation programme but was immediately confronted by a long list of existing and proposed projects with no clear information to help it decide which would deliver the greatest benefit within the required timeframes. Furthermore, as a government department, Defra is required to deliver value for money and cost efficiencies.

Bob Crooks, Green ICT Lead at Defra explains: “Rather than working on fragmented green activities, we required a more structured and analytical approach. We needed to gather information to confirm our current carbon footprint, pinpoint where the significant emissions lay, and then identify both the carbon and cash value of existing and proposed initiatives.”

Unveiling value
With significant experience of delivering IT services to Defra, expertise in carbon management and strong business analytics and optimisation capabilities, IBM was ideally placed to help with this task. Focussing on core Defra plus two executive agencies (Animal Health and Marine and Fisheries), IBM completed a groundbreaking carbon cost-benefit analysis, in just four months.

The first step was to review and update the carbon emissions baseline calculated for Defra’s ICT one year earlier when Defra and IBM jointly developed an award winning carbon baselining methodology and toolset. The effects of existing and proposed initiatives were then modelled against this baseline data under a number of scenarios and projected forward five years along with a “do nothing” scenario.

The potential benefits of using ICT enabled initiatives to avoid business travel were also analysed. Although these result in a small increase in the direct carbon footprint of ICT, they could enable significant reductions in travel related carbon emissions, and travel costs, and improve employee productivity by reducing travel time.

A sophisticated cost-benefit cash flow analysis incorporated the implementation and energy cost impacts of each initiative, plus the direct and indirect costs of the carbon emitted, to determine the viability of each initiative. To further help prioritise initiatives, a variant of Marginal Abatement Cost Curve analysis was applied to identify the five-year Net Present Value per tonne of CO2 saved.

Bridging the zero carbon gap
Once the impact of all cost-justified carbon reduction activities was known, IBM assessed how far Defra was from achieving carbon neutrality for ICT by 2012 and formulated proposals for bridging that gap.

IBM investigated the feasibility of the main renewable energy options, a suitable funding model for delivery and the cost of these options compared to buying offsets. The recommended approach is to commission the building of four wind turbines on Defra owned land to match the level of ICT related energy consumed. As suppliers are prepared to fund the upfront investment and provide ongoing operating cost benefits, the initiative would deliver bottom line benefits to Defra with minimal investment, while demonstrating real leadership in supporting the UK’s move to a low carbon economy.

Surprising results
“The findings of the carbon analysis were sometimes surprising,” says Crooks. “They showed that, for Defra, many potential green initiatives - although founded on best practice - would not yield net benefit based on energy and carbon emissions alone. This highlights the fact that you shouldn’t take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to carbon reduction.”

One of the most significant conclusions was that Defra’s Green ICT Transformation programme should focus on ensuring that the energy and carbon reduction benefits of all current and planned business initiatives are fully understood, quantified and harvested . Analysis indicated that certain tactical projects aimed solely at ICT energy and carbon reduction, such as replacing inefficient assets ahead of refresh cycles, would not prove cost- effective for Defra. When factored into the business case for any change initiative though, their green benefits could have a significant material impact on the options selected and overall project prioritisation.

This finding had implications for the recommended governance model as, rather than owning and controlling a number of green projects, the success of the Green ICT Transformation programme depends on maximising the green benefits of projects that may not be under its direct control. Carbon impact assessment and subsequent management must be embedded into the business cases and ongoing governance of all projects.

Sizeable opportunity
The greatest opportunity for ICT carbon reduction was found to be an already planned application rationalisation (retiring applications as appropriate and switching off hosting servers) together with server virtualisation and consolidation (moving applications from dedicated servers to improve server utilisation and minimise idle time). These activities are expected to yield a reduction of over 25% of baseline ICT emissions by the end of 2011.

Printer reduction, with a supporting behaviour change programme, was found to be a viable new ICT initiative. Further initiatives identified for Defra to consider include active power management, converged communications to enable PABX reduction, dynamic provisioning of development and test environments, and continued focus on electronic communications.

As far as using ICT as an enabler for reducing business travel is concerned, both the extension of teleconferencing through the rollout of reservation-less teleconferencing (a quick win) and the implementation of web-conferencing, were identified as cost-effective ways of reducing Defra’s overall carbon footprint.

In total the project delivered a set of 31 valuable recommendations for Defra to act upon, as well as detailed recommendations for updating asset inventories, a sampling methodology for baseline updates, a recommended benefits realisation framework and a proposed governance model.

Measuring success
Crooks emphasises not only the critical importance of gathering information to create a carbon emission baseline for ICT in use, but of measuring and re-measuring this footprint and the footprint of the other services Defra staff use in their work, including travel and accommodation. Here footprints are larger and ICT services and associated behaviour changes can be used to deliver more significant reductions.

“Although measuring won’t produce a direct return on investment, it helped us understand the ‘hotspots’ in our footprint and confirm the benefits of the various initiatives proposed. For example, we found that the power efficiency of our on-site server rooms was significantly lower than that achieved for our off-site IBM data centre, thus supporting our server virtualisation and consolidation programmes. Only by using a comprehensive bottom-line assessment and models based on asset registers and user behaviours, as set out in the IBM approach, can we be sure of the cumulative impact of all our initiatives on Defra’s emissions.

“More widely, similar footprint measurements undertaken by IBM for Defra’s staff business travel and accommodation can be used to highlight the knock-on benefit of using ICT services more extensively and smartly to improve the efficiency of our working practices. For example the use of web, audio and video conferencing can reduce staff travel and, with mobile communications, the need for office space.

“The analysis is already guiding future carbon reduction actions, helping Defra lead the way in managing central government’s contribution to carbon neutrality by 2012 and in supporting the UK’s move to a low carbon economy.”

John Yard, CIO at Defra says: “Thanks to the analysis we’ve completed with IBM, our Green ICT Transformation programme has clear direction. That’s really valuable, we know what will work best for Defra and can focus on that with confidence, knowing we’ll deliver the savings we seek.”

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