Secretary of State’s speech to the SDUK conference

It’s a great pleasure to be with you today.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Caroline Spelman

It’s a great pleasure to be with you today.

I am passionate about sustainable development. A passion that wants to see it drive everything we do. Not just for the sake of our natural world. But for the sake of our economy. And for the sake of our society and wellbeing. I am not alone in this. Sustainability is clearly influencing the business plans of Government Departments. For example it’s good to see the Department for Transport recently establish its 560 million pound sustainable travel initiative. Giving local authorities more power and flexibility to meet local transport needs. Initiatives like this highlight the good work being carried out under the sustainable development banner. It builds on the work that came out of the 1992 Summit in Rio - which led to the first national sustainable development strategy under the previous conservative government. And it informs our work as we look forward to the challenges of Rio plus twenty.

With the Olympic Games in London in 2012 looking to be the most sustainable modern Games ever. And the Games planned for Brazil four years later I certainly have plenty of best practice to share with colleagues in Brazil when I visit them next month and it is one of the things I know they are looking forward to discuss with me. I think such ambition underlines the need for a step change from what’s gone before. A step change that sees us chart a new course. A course that makes sustainable development a core objective across Whitehall. A view that was very much at the forefront of our minds when we announced our initiative to mainstream SD within Government at the end of last month. Here we launched a new approach that embeds SD within everything we do.

Built on 4 solid pillars:

  • Policy Mainstreaming - where in partnership with Oliver Letwin and Cabinet Office colleagues - we will scrutinize departmental business plans against SD principles, to ensure they are properly embedded. And we will shortly produce Green Book guidance for decision makers, to take account of social aspects and the value of nature during policy appraisal.
  • Ministerial oversight - where my appointment to the Economic Affairs Committee will enable me to challenge or reject policies that fail the SD tests laid out in our vision. A role I will also fulfil as a member of the Home Affairs and Reducing Regulation Committees. Only those policies that deliver the most benefits will be allowed to go ahead.
  • **Leading by example **through reducing the environmental impact of the Government estate- minimising waste levels - water usage and greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time making better use of existing and new Government buying standards. While at the same time making the whole process open, transparent and subject to independent scrutiny. Developing further headline SD indicators and reporting more frequently on our progress.

The Environmental Audit Committee will continue to scrutinise our performance as they have done in the past. All of which enables us to focus on tangible action within departments by making sustainable development business as usual. This work has already started. Since last May we’ve made a number of announcements and policy decisions that will help deliver our SD objectives. These include:

  • The Green Deal, whereby existing homes can be adapted so people can live sustainably within them.
  • A consultation on a carbon price floor.
  • Greater support for the export of clean technologies.
  • A review of our waste policy - where we move towards zero waste as we see waste as a resource.
  • A one billion pound commitment to the Green Investment Bank - to help invest in infrastructure - which will underpin sustainable development.
  • And with the reform of planning we will get sustainable development mainstreamed.

In the immediate future we’re looking to publish a Green Economy Roadmap. Here we will outline how we plan to maximise economic growth in tandem with tackling climate change.

The Natural Environment White Paper we are developing - the first in 20 years -looks at sustainable use of natural resources. Here we want to bolster our commitment to value our natural capital in the policy making process.

Our Water White paper also in the making approaches the challenges posed by climate change. But of course just as the rest of Whitehall has realized that one department can’t deliver on our objectives across Government. Then certainly Government cannot be expected to deliver across the whole of the country. Here I see our role as putting in place an effective framework that enables others to deliver and do the right thing.

It was good to see plans being drawn up for a people’s sustainable development commission recently. A spontaneous coming together of individuals who have a passion for sustainability. Who will lobby us to improve our performance and push us to go further. All very Big Society. Their challenge to us can also be a spur to business.

I recently published a report on resource efficiency. A report that found UK business could save 23 billion pounds a year by improving the way they use energy and water. As well as reducing their waste.

All companies, large and small, can benefit from resource efficiency savings. I recently heard of a small hotel in East Sussex that saved literally thousands of pounds - with minimal investment - through measures to reduce their energy, water and transport use.

The private sector is more aware of market forces and is quick to react to changing views and attitudes. In fact I think business is ahead of Government when it comes to sustainable development. Take for example Marks and Spencer and Unilever. Both have embraced the SD agenda. Both see it as being central to a flourishing business model. In 2007 M&S launched Plan A, aiming to become the world’s most sustainable major retailer. Working with suppliers to combat climate change. Reduce waste. Trade ethically and help customers live healthier lifestyles. It’s called Plan A because they believe it is the only way to do business.

Unilever’s recent Sustainable Living Plan commits the company to sourcing 100% of their agriculturally based materials sustainably across their whole value chain. Their plans for growth depend on their plan to reduce costs, ensure security of resources and accelerate innovation.

Companies like Nestle, M&S and Unilever are also leading the way on the wider international stage. Being part of a green economy means being part of a global economy. Sourcing products and raw materials across the planet has an impact on people and communities in every corner of the world. It’s important therefore for UK businesses to be innovative and outward looking. Important for them to be able to see the big picture and understand the social, environmental and economic impact their business decisions can have.

UK business is well placed to become a world leader in developing resource efficient, green technology and reducing the negative impact we have on the natural world. I firmly believe that sustainability and the green agenda have a role to play in transforming the UK economy, offering real opportunities for our future success.

The need for greater energy efficiency. For generating less waste. For preserving our natural resources all can help us on the road to economic recovery. Last month’s mainstreaming SD announcement sets us on course to achieve our objectives within this wider framework. This is the road we intend to take. And with others help I believe we will successfully complete this journey. A journey which starts now - with our sights firmly set on the Rio plus twenty conference next year.

Published 21 March 2011