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We did it - but now the hard work really begins

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: GDSA, Sustainable ICT

A man in a suit standing at a podium.

Chris Howes reflects on what was achieved at the recent GDSA Summit and considers the challenges ahead for all those who have a stake in driving the meeting of IT sustainability commitments.

Last week I joined leaders from across the digital sustainability world – from both the public and private sectors, and from academia – for the very first UK Government Digital Sustainability Alliance (GDSA) Summit.

We hosted the Summit in partnership with our GDSA member organisations in the Illuminate venue within the world-famous London Science Museum.

Why we held the Summit

The Summit was an opportunity for current and prospective GDSA partners, and other key stakeholders, to come together to share knowledge, brainstorm digital solutions and strengthen relationships across the UK IT sector.

The day was also about giving delegates a voice in changes to policy that may in turn influence how they operate.

If I was nervous beforehand about whether the event would achieve its purpose, or indeed whether delegates would even turn up, I wasn’t disappointed. The energy in the room was infectious and really served to energise the conversations and drive new ideas.

And reading some of the comments online in the days since the Summit has reinforced that sense of enthusiasm for the task at hand, and really made me realise even more just how big an impact the day has had.

Collaborating for progress

For me the day was definitely all about that collaboration; bringing together stakeholders from different sectors to discuss how we meet the various challenges posed by the need to meet Sustainable ICT commitments.

And getting so many key stakeholders together from all these different sectors is no mean feat by the way.

The reality is that we need to take action, and we need to do it now. Linked to that is the fact that so much of our destiny is in our own hands. It’s also the case that our suppliers are urging and pushing us – government – to do more and to go further. So the will is clearly there, from right across industry.

There are great ideas out there too, with many organisations already doing some great work. And there is demand from the public to do things in a better way. So we have the mandate, and by collaborating we can do that better, and more sustainably.

A tall order, but we’re taller

For me the biggest challenge – and let’s be clear, it is a big challenge - is that ICT is both part of the problem, and part of the solution. So it’s one of those weird situations whereby the impacts of ICT are growing, but they need to grow more.

The reason I say that is because we will need technology solutions to help us face the challenges we have confronting us, which include greater demands on ICT. So it becomes even more important to ensure that whatever technologies we deploy are as sustainable as possible.

My sense being in that room last week, hearing all the conversations, and watching the engaging panel discussions, is that everyone who was there is both up for, and up to, meeting that challenge. Which makes it hugely exciting.

Speaking from personal experience really hits home

One of those who joined us was our keynote speaker Toby Strong. Toby is a multi-Emmy and Bafta award winning cinematographer and director, someone who travels the world. Through his work with David Attenborough and others, Toby has a unique insight, seeing first-hand, as he does, the impact of climate change on the natural world.

Toby spoke passionately about how, in his line of work, it’s very much about balance. He explained how he needs the ‘digital world’ to help him capture the natural world. It makes perfect sense, when you stop and think about it. So, he really appreciates the need for those two things – the digital and the natural - to work together.

Another of our guests, Natalie Jones, Director for Digital Identity at the Government Digital Service, reflected on that point about how we in Government can work together to really make a difference, and what making a number of small changes might mean, cumulatively, but in order to do that we need to bring everybody with us.

A model of a chameleon made from various electronic components.

A chameleon with potential for karma

An enduring highlight of the day, for me, was definitely the amazing chameleon sculpture created by Zak Miskry especially for the GDSA and introduced at the Summit. The sculpture, made entirely from discarded e-waste, got me thinking about one of the lyrics in the famous Culture Club song ‘Karma Chameleon’, which goes ‘Every day is like survival’.

The future survival of the natural world very much depends on all of us being more adaptable and sustainable, in all aspects of our lives; the chameleon is a creature whose very evolution has been driven by its ability to adapt. Perhaps that’s a lesson for us all to ponder.

Making pledges keeps us all honest but we also need to park our loyalties

One of the things we asked all attendees of the Summit was to make a pledge. My pledge was to make sure that Government acts as one, rather than a series of different departments, and that we help more with managing demand and with more clarity of what we are asking stakeholders to do. Others made pledges too.

A key phrase I heard repeated several times during the day was ‘leave your badges at the door’, a reference to the need for all of us to approach this challenge from a neutral standpoint, free from the prejudice or baggage that we might carry with us from our individual organisations.

It’s so important that all of us approach this issue objectively, bringing our collective knowledge, insights, and ideas together, so that the sum of our parts is turbo-charged and enhanced, for the good of nature and the future of this planet we call home.

Look out for more from the Summit coming soon…….

Over the coming weeks we’ll be sharing more stories and perspectives from the GDSA Summit, exploring in more detail some of the issues relating to our three working groups – Planetary Impact, Circular Economy. and Scope 3 Emissions – along with why they are important in terms of ICT sustainability. We’ll also explore why tech is very much part of the sustainability solution, but how that can’t be at all costs.

Chris Howes is Defra’s Chief Digital and Information Officer and the Cross Government lead for Sustainable ICT.

The Government Digital Sustainability Alliance (GDSA) seeks to promote, collect, share and demonstrate best practice aligned to Defra’s and UK Government sustainability commitments.

If you’re interested in finding out more about what we do, or would like to know about becoming a member of the Alliance, please get in touch.

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