Government departments and executive agencies are being asked to take steps to reduce the energy consumption of their IT systems and make them carbon neutral over their lifetimes.

The plans have been unveiled in a strategy document, Greening Government ICT, which sets out short and longer-term targets for cutting carbon emissions.

The Cabinet Office strategy wants to make the energy consumption of government ICT systems carbon neutral by 2012 and to make them carbon neutral across their lifetimes (including manufacture and disposal) by 2020.

Immediate steps demanded by the strategy include reducing the number of PCs, laptops and printers in use, extending the lifetime of computer devices, taking steps to reduce printing and ensuring that devices are turned off overnight. Auditing government data centres and server use for maximum efficiency are also called for.

Cabinet Office minister, Tom Watson, said: “Worldwide, computers are responsible for the same quantity of carbon emissions as the aviation industry. That’s why we’re offering practical solutions to a growing problem.

“We are the first government in the world to formally set out exactly what we’re going to do to make our ICT systems carbon neutral within four years. We won’t achieve this just by offsetting but by making serious changes to the way we do business.

“We want to see changes taking place immediately. We want to see best green practice throughout government – computers switched off overnight, printers defaulting to duplex, data centres efficiently cooled.”

The report says that turning off every desktop PC in central government for the 16 hours that fall outside the working day could save up to 117,500 tonnes of CO2 per year – equivalent to taking 40,000 cars off the road.

The strategy is part of a broader commitment to making the “central government estate” carbon neutral by 2012 and to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent by 2020.

It says that ICT systems have a part to play by reducing building occupancy and travel and encouraging home and teleworking. However, it also says it is already clear that energy consumption is not falling across the government estate as fast as was expected because more ICT is being installed.

Therefore, it says it is essential for the power and carbon demands of ICT systems to be addressed. An NHS Connecting for Health spokesperson told E-Health Insider that green credentials were looked at in the systems they provided.

"Systems and services within the National Programme for IT are keeping abreast of emerging technology by using the latest microprocessor solutions to drive forward greater efficiency and at the same time reduce electricity consumption and minimise impact upon the environment.

"There is a very active programme of research and development that is completed on behalf of NHS CfH by industry partners such as Intel and Microsoft.

"NHS CfH is working with all its health application suppliers to introduce new computer systems that will deliver faster, safer and more convenient patient care for patients in England," she said.