Embedding sustainable development across Government, after the Secretary of State’s announcement on the future of the Sustainable Development Commission

(ESD 26)


· The scope of SDiG reporting is limited to operation of the estate and does not give a comprehensive assessment of the department’s contribution to sustainable development.

· The most effective levers for action have been:

o capacity building in the department through embedding SDC advisers to work with policy teams;

o leadership from the Permanent Secretary who has an objective on sustainable development in his job plan;

o the requirement for annual reporting on progress to the SDC against the SDAP; and,

o comprehensive delivery plans underpinning the SDAP monitored by a programme board.

· For a small department with a large public sector, the influence the department can have on the sector has more impact on reducing carbon emissions and improving UK sustainability than the operation of a small part of the government estate.

· Going forward, sustainable development targets should be relevant to Departmental aims and objectives and reflect both estate and influence on the public sector.

· Reporting should be embedded within overarching structures rather than additional, for example in the structures for departments’ annual performance reporting.

General observations on the Committee’s themes for the inquiry

The mechanisms that have been used to ensure the sustainability of Government operations, procurement and policy making are based on formulaic reporting – on Sustainable Operation of the Government Estate (SOGE) targets, including against the Sustainable Procurement Flexible Framework, and in departmental Sustainable Development Action Plans, where SDC assessment has been something of a tick box exercise. The processes have not allowed for departments’ differences in maturity of understanding of sustainability and its embedding in departmental thinking. Indeed, having a separate SDAP, instead of sustainability being part of normal planning and monitoring processes, positions sustainable development as an add-on to everyday good practice. This centrally driven phase may have been necessary to raise awareness across Government departments, but should now evolve to reflect the different priorities and potential impact of each department in each of operations, procurement and policy. For example, a small department with a large public sector can have more impact on sustainable development (and UK carbon emissions) through influencing others than it can by even the most sustainable possible operation of its estate (although we do recognise the presentational importance of the latter).

A simple development of the current system would be to require departments to set sustainability priorities and report against them annually demonstrating progress. Alongside this should be explicit sustainability accounting as part of financial reporting, not only on the information currently covered by SOGE, but also the department’s assessment of its contribution to reducing carbon emissions against its carbon budget. This would be in line with the Coalition’s aim for transparency in public affairs and ensure that all data published by public bodies is published in an open and standardised format, so that it can be used easily and with minimal cost by third parties .

The purpose of being "the greenest government ever" must be to leave a fair and equitable legacy to future generations. This means we must value the natural environment in relation to its contribution to society. This is not only the resources the environment provides (both finite and renewable) that meet our day to day physical needs, but also the impact on the health and wellbeing of individuals from exposure to the natural environment. There is a wealth of evidence on the latter (including the SDC publication Every Child’s Future Matters), but work would need to be done on how we could measure improvement.

Specific responses on the Committee’s questions

1. What procedures specifically initiated in the department have been most successful in improving sustainable development in your department? Why have these worked well? Which procedures have not worked and why?

The department has had a close relationship with the SDC since 2005 (governed by a memorandum of understanding). Advisers from the SDC have worked alongside staff to build capacity and understanding of sustainable development, how our policies can help to underpin sustainable development and also be enhanced by taking a sustainable approach. The arrangement has been successful, for example the development of the internationally regarded sustainable schools work. The relationship has evolved over time to require less input from SDC as sustainability has become better embedded in the department’s work. The input from SDC has reduced over the last 18 months and was planned to end this year.

Without a clear mandate in the form of commitments from each Directorate (published in our SDAP), the SDC advisers and the Sustainable Development team in the department struggled to get traction with colleagues. From the second SDAP (2006-08), the commitments and the knowledge that the department had to report on them to the SDC watchdog team, provided a lever for action. Setting up a Sustainable Development Programme Board and a series of Directorate delivery plans alongside SDAP 2008-10, strengthened that further. However, the additional bureaucracy of this structure becomes counterproductive over time, and the more sustainable development is embedded in the department’s thinking, then the more integrated it should be in normal departmental processes. Going forward, we think that sustainable development should be reported in the departmental annual report.

Operationally, SOGE targets and ISO14001 have worked well at embedding sustainable development in to the work of Estates and Facilities management. The targets have acted as a catalyst for action and led the estates staff to a more thorough examination of the environmental impacts of operations and have facilitated project works aimed at minimising these impacts. ISO14001, although continually developing, has formalised the reporting, monitoring and auditing of EFM activities from an environmental perspective.

The fact that Permanent Secretaries have been expected to have a sustainable development objective in their personal job plans has been very influential – raising the profile of sustainable development with senior managers. This has given the Sustainable Development Unit in the department authority to challenge colleagues on how sustainable development is an outcome of the delivery of their policies. We have monitored this through delivery plans which underpinned the SDAP, reporting to a departmental Sustainable Development Programme Board chaired by the Director General for Finance and Corporate Services, and including external members from SDC, OGC and PFS.

2. To what extent are civil servants in your department made accountable for working more ‘sustainably’?

All operations and procurement staff are expected to have sustainable development objectives in their job plans and this improved from 80% to 100% between 2009 and 2010. Some members of policy teams, where relevant, also have sustainable development objectives. In the last two rounds of the staff survey, staff have been asked to rate the statement "I know how to incorporate sustainable development into my work". This improved from 44% to 56% positive rating between 2009 and 2010.

Progress on the Sustainable Procurement Flexible Framework is included in the annual SOGE performance report and this includes reporting progress on leadership, staff competence and awareness of sustainable procurement. The Department has achieved level 4 (from 5 levels) for this area by December 2009 in advance of the December 2010 target to be at level 3.

The department is working to improve the quality of policy making with training for staff and a "Making Policy" site with advice and support for policy development and impact assessment. Sustainable development and sustainable procurement are integral parts of this.

3. What would help Department for Education engage more effectively with the bodies set up by Government to deliver sustainable development targets?

Liaison with OGDs has been very effectively managed both by SDC and by OGC/CESP, but it is not helpful to have to report on overlapping ranges of operational data on different returns. We suggest that ePims, or an upgrade of it, could be developed into a single portal for operations data.

Imposing generic targets for the operation of the estate, applied to all departments, does not reflect starting positions or local circumstances. For example, the target to achieve 10% CHP across the estate is not the most sustainable energy option for any of our four headquarters buildings and targets need to be sufficiently flexible to reflect this. In addition, the impact of this department on the wider public sector has the potential to deliver far more in terms of sustainable development. Targets should relate to departmental objectives in addition to requiring ongoing improvement in sustainable operations.

4. How has the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) contributed towards improving the sustainability of your department? How much money has Department for Education saved, over what period, by implementing measures recommended by the SDC?

This is a complex issue. We have taken advice from more sources than the SDC, and often on the advice of SDC (e.g. to have Carbon Trust undertake an energy audit) so to separate out which actions were triggered by SDC advice would be contrived. In total on sustainable operations, we have spent £910k, over 2008-2010, on invest to save measures with an expected payback period of 3-4 years. We have approximately £330k savings to date and should realise a saving of 2,698 tonnes of CO2 per annum.

Of greater impact, but difficult to measure, are the savings from influencing action in the school sector by publishing information on the sources of carbon emissions in the sector. The most recent update of this joint 4 year project with SDC was published in March and included the following pie charts:

The publication also recommended actions that should be taken at school, local authority and national level. Along with the information that the school sector is responsible for 15% of public sector emissions, we know from the reaction of audiences of heads, school business managers and local authority staff that these pie charts really bring home the message that schools should be taking action to reduce their impact on the environment.

In addition, the SDC have undertaken work relating to the department’s policy development, for example in the publication of Every Child’s Future Matters and most recently Improving Young People’s Lives: How the environment builds their resilience, responsibility and employment chances.

6. To what extent does the SDC’s Sustainable Development in Government (SDiG) reporting process provide an effective means of monitoring the Department’s performance?

It’s an important example of public accountability, but it is limited in scope to operation of the estate (see comments in General observations above).

7. How does the Department verify the data it submits on Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate (SOGE) targets? How might the submission and verification procedure be improved under the new SDiG process?

Utilities consumption, waste creation and recycling are verified through the contracts in place for provision of these services. For waste these contracts have legal obligations and are regularly audited under ISO14001. With regards to utilities consumption, all sites are extensively metered and this data is interrogated on site and used to corroborate the invoices received by suppliers thus also ensuring accurate financial accounting.

Travel mileage for air and rail travel is provided and verified through the travel contract in place. Private vehicle mileage travel figures are calculated from analysing internal financial management information. The department no longer has fleet or pool cars.

Energy management has been examined by the Carbon Trust and endorsed as adopting the CT carbon management programme. Estates and Facilities Management have managed carbon practices through the EMS environmental impacts and supporting action plans audited for ISO14001 certification.

The Department’s sustainable procurement performance is improved through the Flexible Framework and actions confirmed for progress against each element. Compliance with Government Buying Standards has been mandated and any move away from the standards requires a robust business case before purchase. Regular compliance checks are conducted and an exercise to scrutinise indicated that all purchases follow the standards.

To improve the submission and verification procedure under the new SDiG process, the electronic data capture needs to be extended and streamlined. The current ePIMs process is used for estates reporting and SOGE forward planning but is creaking under the demands being made of it. In addition it does not collect information covering the whole range of sustainable development activity.

18 October 2010