More from ICT in Higher Education report – several drivers

Posted on January 27, 2009


Here’s more notes from Peter James and Lisa Hopkinson’s  study on Sustainable ICT in Further and Higher Education  (first post).    In this chapter they present the case for universities and colleges at the forefront of sustainable ICT.

The report presents a case for greater action to achieve sustainable ICT in higher education.  They see financial arguments as the strongest in the short term but equally persuasive arguements in the longer term (protecting position, risk management).


Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is now a common feature of the strategies of many commercial  organisations…CSR’s central tenet is that organisations are part of a broader social context, and so have moral responsibilities beyond profit and other commercial objectives.  These responsibilities include assisting community development, helping to create a better quality of life for staff and their families, and preserving the natural environment. Whilst in many cases actions to achieve this will have business benefits, such as enhanced image, reputation and trustworthiness, there is also a sense that such actions sometimes need to be taken for their own sake. As ICT clearly contributes to these objectives, it is an important dimension of CSR approaches…

As ICT is central to some of the key indicators identified within the pilot, especially energy and climate change, moves towards more systematic approaches to CSR within the sector will inevitably involve more attention being paid to it.

Stakeholder case

UK further and higher education receives a large proportion of its funding from public sources. Central Government has set ambitious national environmental targets (see below), and has made it clear that sustainable ICT is an important means of achieving these.

Regulatory case

Government environmental targets are implemented through legislation and detailed regulations, which are having an increasing impact on the sector.   Several directives are specifically targeted at ICT…others are more general, and have indirect impacts

The need to meet stretching EU and UK Government targets for carbon emissions and other environmental impacts means thatregulations are likely to become more stringent over time. Timely anticipation is usually a lower cost response than pressurised actions in response to deadlines, and a possible need for retrofitting.

Financial case  

ICT energy use will cost UK further and higher education around £116m in 2009, and that this figure is likely to rise. Other environmental and social effects can also have direct financial consequences, such as more onerous regulations to deal with electronic waste. This situation means that many measures to create more sustainable ICT can have short payback periods of  1–2 years, or even less.   Many other sustainable ICT measures have payback periods of less than five years.   Such paybacks are based on current conditions in the medium–long term.  However, many people expect such conditions to change in future. Energy prices are likely to rise further (notwithstanding short-term fluctuations in response to the credit crunch), and carbon regulations are also expected to have an increasing financial impact. Sustainable ICT measures therefore have an additional value as insurance against such contingencies.

Risk case

Sustainable IT can help to avoid or mitigate a number of potential financial and other risks, including…Costly retrofitting to data infrastructure if new regulations are applied to existing facilities – as is increasingly the case as Governments try to meet their long-term targets for reducing CO2 emissions.

Reputation case

There is evidence that staff and students pay attention to the environmental and social performance of institutions when making study or work choices…annual ‘Green League Table’ of institutional performance.

Teaching and research case

Sustainable ICT is a topic of growing concern to both suppliers and major users. They therefore need employees and advisors who understand the issues, and access to relevant external research and information. Universities and colleges therefore need to respond to such requirements by ensuring that students are equipped to meet them, and that they have relevant expertise amongst their staff. As the ICT industry is one of the world’s largest – accounting for around 6% of GDP in Europe and North America (Indepen and Ovum, 2005) – there is the potential for considerable rewards (in student numbers, course and research funding and other ways) for institutions that are seen to be responding effectively.

Leadership case 

(with some exceptions)  it is fair to say that universities and colleges have generally been followers rather than leaders with regard to sustainable ICT. However, most organisations are struggling to come to terms with its demands, so that the leaders are not that far ahead of the pack.


Hard to argue with that.   I worry a bit about the financial one, it could easily be overstated – what would happen, say, if someone showed that avoiding child labour meant a 50% increase in costs?  We need to break the lean=green assumption.     I’m not sure how I would have presented it differently.  It’s here on equal footing with the rest, but we all know that it is the primary driver for most decisions.   Perhaps some recognition of the interaction between the drivers would help.