Public sector computer systems need to become greener, Cabinet Office minister Gillian Merron said today.

Speaking at the fourth European Ministerial e-Government Conference in Lisbon, the minister called on the UK Chief Information Officer Council to reduce the carbon footprint of government computers and improve the sustainability of public sector IT.

Gillian Merron said: "Figures from industry suggest that, worldwide, information technology is responsible for about 1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions each year – that's between 2 and 4 percent of global energy.

"The government is by far the biggest user of IT in the UK, spending around £12bn a year. We have a responsibility to set a positive example on the environment, so I am asking our IT leaders to work with industry to find new ways to improve the sustainability of government computer systems. This doesn't just mean reducing the amount of electricity they use, but also looking at how they can be designed and built in ways that consume fewer materials and which make recycling easier."

John Suffolk, the Government's chief information officer, said: "There is real potential to deliver more sustainable IT that also costs less and provides better results for users. New technologies can help reduce energy consumption and allow more flexible working. There is already some excellent practice in place and we look forward to working with the IT industry to build on this and to deliver continued improvements in the future."

Duncan Mitchell, chair of the Information Age Partnership, said: "The Information Age Partnership welcomes this challenge and looks forward to working alongside the government to achieve its aims. The IT industry is focused on making existing systems more sustainable and is ideally placed to advise how service transformation can be used to reduce the environmental impact of activities in the public and private sector alike."

The Chief Information Officer Council will now work with the Information Age Partnership to take a systematic look at how Government can work with the industry to put public sector IT onto a more sustainable footing. They will publish their initial report in 2008.