Join your nearest Empowering Women training (running in July and September only)

Public sector digital trends 2023 collection | Article

Green and sustainable

Net zero in 2023 will bring greater urgency in public service organisations and the places that they serve. Local public services bear the brunt of the costs of dealing with climate change, including floods, drought, coastal erosion, melting roads, health impacts, homelessness, heat and cold, wildfires, damage to assets, rising energy costs and protecting vulnerable people.

In cities worldwide, data and technologies will play an increasingly valuable role in the drive towards net zero in 2023. Many public sector CIOs will find themselves on the front line of meeting the carbon reduction challenge. In our research, each of the areas indicated in Figure 1 were reported by councils as a priority for the coming year.

Figure 1: The role of IT and digital in tackling climate change and environmental breakdown

Many local authorities are developing strategies designed to bring forward their aspirations to achieve net zero, including Barnet and Dorset Councils in the UK.

Most public service organisations will prioritise the adoption of cleaner technologies and renewable energy sources, electric vehicle use and charging points, and waste management, setting an example for other organisations to follow. In 2023, they will also need to spend more time demonstrating how green initiatives will directly and positively impact local environments and citizens, now and in the longer term, rather than just being a response to external political pressure.

These practical examples will all depend on new technology deployment to make or to track the differences being made. For example:

  • Deploying IoT devices to measure and report on progress towards net zero in a variety of scenarios.
  • Using renewable energy sources that depend on intelligent systems for optimisation and to demonstrate value.
  • Addressing visible impacts on the environment, such as avoiding degradation of wild areas using managed tourism apps, pollution in cities through congestion control, and so on
  • Reducing and redirecting travel by using digital services to lower carbon footprint.
  • Reducing high-carbon activities (lighting, heating, waste, water use, single use plastics, non-recyclables, and so on) with improved behaviours and purchasing practices, and publishing results online for people to see.

The use of technology itself will come under renewed scrutiny – the IT industry accounts for 2-3% of global carbon emissions. Moving to the Cloud has a greater impact on reducing carbon costs than optimising data centres, while a focus on the carbon cost of end-user devices is even more important. All public bodies need to be seen to set an example in how technology itself is deployed.


Case studies

Green City Accord – cleaner and healthier European cities

Green City Accord (eurocities.eu)

Cities such as Tallinn, selected to be European Green Capital 2023, are leading the way. The city has developed strategic goals linked with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and is undertaking urban greening using digital twins and hosting a ‘Greentech’ week. Over 100 European cities have signed the Green City Accord, committing to making their cities cleaner and healthier in the five areas of environmental management: air, water, nature and biodiversity, circular economy and waste, and noise.

Barnet Council – framework for carbon net zero by 2030

Barnet Council will be carbon net zero by 2030 (barnet.gov.uk)

The framework includes commitments to:

  • Improve the energy efficiency of the borough’s housing and buildings by retrofitting social housing to an average of EPC B by 2030
  • Explore renewable energy generation across Barnet’s property portfolio
  • Install 500 on-street residential electric vehicle charge points by November 2022, with a total project value of £4.65M including a £3.5M grant from government
  • Further install a comprehensive network of electric vehicle charge points across the borough by 2030
  • Establish a scheme which will give residents the opportunity to borrow household items as and when needed, reducing waste, and supporting a culture of reusing
  • Support residents and businesses to help make sustainable choices, including signposting to available grants and government schemes
  • Update the council’s Procurement Strategy to include sustainability criteria and ensure it is net zero by 2030.

Dorset Council – climate and ecological emergency strategy

Climate and ecological emergency strategy – Our approach (dorsetcouncil.gov.uk)

This strategy encompasses several topics where action needs to be taken. These include transport, buildings, waste, water, natural assets, economy, and food and drink. For each topic, the key challenges are set out with suggested priority areas for action. From this strategy and consultation with the public, Dorset Council has developed more detailed action plans and will engage with partners, organisations, and individuals to encourage wider action beyond the direct areas of their services..

Westminster City Council – air quality monitoring

EarthSense & Westminster Council Empower Active Travel to School with Zephyr® & Public Portal (earthsense.co.uk)

Westminster City Council has been using IoT sensors near schools to monitor air quality. The aim is to use the data intelligence to correlate the relationship between traffic, pedestrians, and air quality.

“Westminster has some of the highest carbon emissions and poorest air quality of any local authority. Not only will it encourage active travel such as walking and cycling and reduce the number of cars driving down school roads, but this trial will give us vital information about the impacts of air quality which will allow us to take more permanent steps towards creating a safer and more environmentally friendly experience.”

– Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Cabinet Member, Westminster City Council, England.