Policy

Making sustainable development a part of all government policy and operations

Issue

The government is committed to sustainable development. This means making the necessary decisions now to realise our vision of stimulating economic growth and tackling the deficit, maximising wellbeing and protecting our environment, without affecting the ability of future generations to do the same.

The government takes account of sustainable development as a part of how it develops its policies, how it runs its buildings and how it buys its goods and services.

All departments are responsible for making sure that their own policies and activities contribute to sustainable development. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has a role in overseeing sustainable development across central government.

Actions

Business planning and annual reports and accounts

We make sure that all departmental business plans contain actions that contribute to sustainable development. Business plans for 2012 to 2013 were the first to do this.

Departments review their progress towards sustainable development every year and report on it in their annual reports and accounts.

Embedding sustainable development into policy

Defra helps develop sustainable development tools and capabilities across Whitehall, for example we have supported development of additional sustainable development guidance for departments on impact assessments and policy appraisal and have developed a cross-government sustainable development e-learning module with Civil Service Learning.

Greening Government Commitments

Greening Government Commitments are targets for central government departments and their agencies to significantly reduce waste, water usage and carbon emissions by 2015, together with making our procurement more sustainable.

They’re mainly meant to reduce impact on the environment (for example, using less paper means cutting down fewer trees) but they’re also there to improve operational efficiency (for example, reducing carbon emissions across government between 2009 to 2010 and 2011 to 2012 saved the taxpayer an estimated £45 million in fuel bills).

We have published three annual reports on our progress towards the 2015 targets:

The 2009/10 SOGE (Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate) performance data informed the baseline for these Commitments.

The Greening Government Commitments: guidance on measurement and reporting sets out the scope of the Commitments and the criteria for exemption.

Sustainable procurement

Public sector spending is worth approximately 16% of the UK’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Central government alone buys the equivalent of 9% of GDP.

The public sector can use this buying power to encourage suppliers to make their products and services sustainable. It can also use its buying power to make the way contractors carry out works sustainable.

Carrying out works means - for example - building an office block. Doing works sustainably could mean ensuring that the office block is energy-efficient or working in ways designed to reduce waste.

Sustainable procurement is also about reducing costs to the buyer over the lifetime of a particular product. For example, the lifetime cost of a computer includes the initial price the customer pays and also the price of the energy it uses in its lifetime. An expensive, but energy-efficient, computer could be more cost-effective in the long run.

More sustainable procurement therefore contributes to the government’s efficiency and reform agenda and innovation agenda.

Taking factors such as energy use into account means sustainable procurement also helps protect the environment, as well as reducing the risk of exposure to future rises in energy costs. New rules for procurers of energy-using goods under the Energy Efficiency Directive 2012/27/EU are set out in a Cabinet Office Procurement Policy Note.

Defra continues to develop the Government Buying Standards (GBS) and maintain other guidance including the Flexible Framework for the assistance of central government and the wider public sector.

Central government departments and agencies are expected to use the GBS to comply with the Greening Government Commitments. They’re also expected to collect and publish information about the impacts of their supply chain. These can include the environmental impacts of businesses such as facilities management companies, which provide them with services or products. We work with the Crown Commercial Service to embed the GBS in centralised contracts.

Our Timber Procurement Policy (TPP) for public sector procurers and suppliers of timber commits us to buying sustainable and properly sourced timber.

We are committed to 100% sourcing of credibily certified sustainable palm oil by 2015.

We’ve also created the Sustainable Public Procurement Programme. This is a training programme for people working in government procurement. There are additional e-learning tools:

Find out more information about the various sustainable procurement tools that are available.

Sustainable food and catering procurement

We are improving public sector procurement of food and catering services to help build a healthy future for people, farms and food producers.

The new approach proposed in our plan for public procurement of food will improve how public sector bodies buy food. It follows a review by procurement expert Peter Bonfield into sustainable food procurement. It gives departments and other public bodies a set of tools that they are expected to use.

Sustainability indicators

We have developed a new set of sustainable development indicators (SDIs). These are statistics which help measure national progress on key issues that are important economically, socially and environmentally in the long term.

Indicators about the economy include gross domestic product (GDP), median income and poverty.

Examples of indicators relating to society are healthy life expectancy, fuel poverty and housing provision.

Environmental indicators include greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy consumption and bird populations. Looking at the indicator set as a whole helps us to see whether the country’s development takes into account all of these issues.

Read more about the July 2013 SDI release.

Responsibility for compiling and publishing future releases of the SDIs has transferred to the Office for National Statistics.

Background

We launched our vision for sustainable development in February 2011. In it we said that we wanted to make sustainable development ‘central to the way we make policy, run our buildings and purchase goods and services’.

We have published further information about the guiding principles for sustainable development.

Who we’re working with

Defra supports improved transparency and independent scrutiny by working with the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) and the National Audit Office. The EAC reviews government progress towards sustainable development. Ministers and officials are sometimes invited to give evidence to the committee on how the government is doing. Read more about the committee’s inquiries into sustainable development.