Good government progress in mainstreaming sustainable development – or so we're told

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

In February 2011, the government launched its vision for mainstreaming sustainable development in relation to the operation of its buildings and estates, including the goods and services that it buys and the policies it makes.  Defra has now reported on progress in this.  Their website says:

Sustainable development requires consideration of the economic, environmental and social factors in decision making to deliver the right policies now and enable others to do the same in the future. Defra has published this report on behalf of the government to provide an overview of what has been achieved so far in the move towards mainstreaming sustainable development.  The report will be of interest to those with a concern for sustainability in government, but also more widely.  It is intended to facilitate scrutiny of our progress to date. The government continues to move towards fully embedding sustainable development in its policies and operations and solid foundations have been put in place to enable further improvement in this area.

There is not much in the report about education:

Building sustainable development capability across Government

Many Departments, such as DH/NHS, DWP, Department for Education (DfE), HMRC, MOD and DECC, have dedicated Sustainable Development Units. These units are helping to drive capability and provide a range of resources on their internal or external web sites.

There's more about about learning and training:

The UK Government Sustainable Development Forum was established to provide updates on each administrations activities and share experience and learning. Government has also been working with Civil Service Learning (the Government’s central training resource) to embed sustainable development in relevant training materials.  Some departments also provide their own in-house training.  DWP has run master classes for staff to raise awareness of sustainability.  DECC is incorporating sustainable development into the development of a standard operating model for policy and project development. Staff are supported through a range of guidance and training.  Learning material and case studies from the London 2012 Games, including sustainability, are available on the Learning Legacy website

Many Departments have been driving improvements to their staff’s understanding of sustainable development through training, sharing of good practice and the development of tools. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) launched a “Sustainability and Environmental Appraisal Tools Handbook” in March 2011.  It is the single point of reference for appraisal tools used on Estates related plans, programmes, projects and activities such as military training within MOD. It sets out guidance and methodologies for the suite of tools

Defra’s National Sustainable Public Procurement Programme includes training modules.  New sector specific modules as well as general carbon literacy training have been added. The DH has embedded sustainable procurement within the “NHS Standards of Procurement” issued in May 2012, and supports the NHS with guidance and training on procuring for carbon reduction and ethical procurement, and through the NHS Sustainable Procurement Forum. DCLG undertook to publish a pipeline of future procurements as part of its commitments in 2011.  This is on its website in a section aimed at SMEs and includes other support such as training.

Although "more" doesn't amount to all that much.  Ironically, a case study on schools deals with energy, not learning:

Case Study (14): DfE – Supporting Schools to reduce their energy bills

DfE is providing £8 million to support Schools to reduce their energy bills through the Salix Finance Energy Efficiency Loans Scheme.  It allows public sector bodies to apply for an interest free loan to finance up to 100% of the costs of energy saving projects.  DfE is also working with Energy Services Companies (ESCos) to help schools significantly reduce their energy use and save money.  For example, the Greater London Authority RE:FIT programme has used ESCo principles to deliver average yearly savings of £26,500 on secondary school energy bills, following an average investment of £87,000.  For primary schools, average annual fuel bill savings of £8,200 per year were achieved following an average investment of £38,000 per school.

... although I guess somebody learned something from all this.  Whoever that was, it doesn't look as if it was the DfE's curriculum division.

This is the report's concluding commentary:

Over the past two years much progress has been made to deliver on the Government’s vision for sustainable development.  Structures are in place to ensure sustainable development is being considered across policy, estates and operations.  There are numerous examples, more than this report can include, of Departments driving forward sustainability in policy, operations and procurement.

The Coalition Government’s “Mid Term Review” published in January 2013 sets out the achievements and the policy priorities for Departments, often working together, until 2015.  Further information will be set out in Departmental Business Plans alongside details of how they will continue to mainstream sustainable development across their activities.

Government also recognises that the delivery of sustainable development will always be a work in progress: the outcome of decisions made now in relation to the longer term will take time to become clear and new challenges will present themselves.  The development of policy will continue to require the weighing up and balancing of a number of economic, environmental and social factors.

Having identified the good progress that has been made, Government has also identified areas where improvements can be made.  Government’s Business Planning and Annual Report and Accounts cycle will continue to be a key element of the approach to mainstreaming. Revised guidance to Departments should lead to improvements and greater consistency in Departmental sustainability reporting.  Government will consider the outcome of its baseline evaluation into the effectiveness of sustainable development appraisal guidance and whether further improvements are needed.  To ensure consistency Departments will continue to work together to share good practice in mainstreaming sustainable development.  Revised sustainable development indicators will be published in summer 2013 and Departments will continue to work to meet their Greening Government Commitments.

All looking good, then, and sunny uplands beckon.  No wonder the government thought it didn't need to fund the Sustainable Development Commission.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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