Embedding sustainable development across Government, after the Secretary of State's announcement on the future of the Sustainable Development Commission - Environmental Audit Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the "Cradle to Cradle Network", Lead for the East of England (Partner 8), Suffolk County Council

The Cradle to Cradle Network aims to help regions across Europe to move towards eco-effective societies. This brief response, following the Environmental Audit Committee's invitation to comment on embedding sustainable development across Government, points towards a more positive interpretation of "sustainability" and suggests that a visible ambition and movement to achieve eco-effectiveness (through the development of particular principles) will help the Government to differentiate itself from previous administrations and demonstrate that it is the "greenest government ever".

1.  The Cradle to Cradle Network (C2CN) consists of ten European regions committed to reducing raw materials' utilisation, generating less waste and environmental pollution as well as enhancing economic development, inspired by the concept of "Cradle to Cradle".

2.  There are 10 partner countries in the project. In the UK, Suffolk County Council is the lead authority representing the East of England region. Other regions represented in the project are Lead Partner Province of Limburg (Netherlands), Ovam (Belgium), RDA Milano (Italy), City Graz (Austria), RDA Rhone Alp (France), RDA Kainuu (Finland), RDA W. Pannonia (Hungary), RDA NE Romania and Slovenia.

3.  C2CN is an "INTERREG IV C" capitalisation project and is funded primarily by the European Regional Development Fund with contributions from the ten partner regions.

4.  Suffolk County Council, on behalf of C2CN, welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Environmental Audit Committee's inquiry on embedding sustainable development across Government. Comments below are set out in relation to each question posed by this inquiry that the C2CN has an interest in responding to.

How can mechanisms to ensure the sustainability of Government operations, procurement and policy-making be improved and further embedded and mainstreamed across Government departments?

5.  In order to improve the "sustainability" of Government operations awareness of true measurements of "sustainability" needs to be raised amongst politicians and within the civil service. "Sustainability" should mean more than reducing the consumption rate or negative impact of an operation to an agreed "acceptable" level. This is only likely to prolong the timeframe for which an operation can be sustained. The world has a finite amount of resources and however "efficient" operations become, if this is not combined with a commitment to using resources in an effective manner (i.e. they never become "waste" but are re-used / upcycled and remain in a chain of utility) then there is a limit to how sustainable any operation can be.

6.  The C2CN would advocate a commitment to moving towards an eco-effective approach to operations, whenever possible, to ensure "sustainability" in the truest sense of the word. Eco-efficiency techniques can lead to a reduction of negative environmental effects, but do not encourage real alternatives to the linear "cradle to grave" material flows. Eco-effectiveness, on the other hand, ensures that resources flow in a cycle whereby at the "end" of a cycle they form the beginning or feed stock for a new one. In addition, renewable energy will feed these cycles of production and consumption. If valuable materials are difficult to separate out or reuse at the end of products' useful life span, materials are gradually dumped or incinerated (with or without energy recovery). Design for eco-effectiveness reduces resource degradation and subsequent loss or "waste" of resources.

7.  The C2CN recognises that a period of transition is likely to be required during which eco-efficiency is replaced by eco-effectiveness, but that an ambition to achieve eco-effectiveness is necessary in the present to sit above goals and targets to reduce negative effects upon our environment.

How can governance arrangements for sustainable development in Government be improved, and how can sustainability reporting by Government departments be made more transparent and accountable?

8.  Governance arrangements need to reflect and support a move towards an eco-effective approach. The work of the C2CN project is split into four "themes"; industry, area spatial development, build and governance. Conclusions drawn from the governance strand of the C2CN project which will help to inform how governance arrangements may be developed to support an eco-effective approach will shortly be available from our Belgian partner. Initial indications suggest that partnering between customers and suppliers and between individuals in communities will be required to facilitate eco-effectiveness i.e. to establish material partnership communities. Partnering between designer and end user in the context of building, industry and spatial development is essential. Governance structures must facilitate the design of products, buildings and processes including spatial development that is energy positive. (i.e. generating more energy than is consumed). They also need to be "diversity positive" and contribute to biodiversity and social and cultural diversity rather than reduce it. In all situations governance structures need to facilitate the creation of beneficial environmental and social impact rather than simply reducing negative impacts. Metrics need to be devised to monitor movement in this direction.

9.  Governance structures should bring parties together to adopt, promote and showcase good practice and emulate success in eco-effective design. They should stimulate innovation in design, spread information and awareness and encourage growth in this area. Ultimately an eco-effective heritage will only result when individuals, communities, businesses and other organisations embrace this concept and work together towards eco-effective implementation in all aspects of their lives.

How, without the assistance of the SDC, will the Government be able to demonstrate that it is "the greenest government ever"?

10.  To be the "greenest government ever" requires a new and more positive, proactive approach to our interaction with our environment. This could be achieved by placing emphasis in policy-making and operations across Government departments on the C2C approach of being good (eco-effective) instead of simply less bad (eco-efficient) and promoting the importance of this approach through incentives and benefits for those in all sectors who make headway in moving towards eco-effectiveness.

11.  Whenever, and wherever possible, principles which support an eco-effective approach should be considered such as "waste is food" (everything should exist as either a biological or technological "nutrient" for something else, reused within continuous loops), direct use of current solar income and celebrating diversity (using healthy ecosystems as a model for human society - encouraging bio, cultural and functional diversity at a range of different scales).

12.  The C2C ® principles discussed above have been interpreted and supplemented with other principles based on local conditions and interests. This has led to the development of the Hanover Principles for the World Expo in 2000, and the Almere and Limburg Principles, developed by provincial governments in the Netherlands. The Limburg principles are;

  1. We are native to our place.
  2. Our waste is our food.
  3. The sun is our income.
  4. Our air, soil and water are healthy.
  5. We design enjoyment for all generations; and.
  6. We provide enjoyable mobility for all.

The development of similar principles for the UK, across government departments and/or development of local principles for UK regions would demonstrate an ambition to move towards eco-effectiveness and a real "sustainable" approach.

13 October 2010

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