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Sustainable Development UK


2010 to 2015 government policy: sustainable development (UK)


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.


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 credibly 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.


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.

Appendix 1: Timber Procurement Policy (TPP), for public sector procurers and suppliers of timber

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

All central government departments, their executive agencies, executive non-departmental public bodies, non-ministerial government departments in England and their suppliers must comply with the Timber Procurement Policy (TPP).

The policy states that the specified public sector procurers must buy all timber and wood-derived products from only independently verifiable legal and sustainable sources, including Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) licenses, for use on the government estate.

The Timber Procurement Advice Note (TPAN) and associated documents set out the requirements of the UK government’s Timber Procurement Policy (TPP).

The government also encourages local authorities, other public bodies and the private sector to adopt sustainable timber procurement policies.

Central Point of Expertise on Timber

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has set up the Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET) to advise government procurers and suppliers and support the implementation of the policy.

Devolved administrations

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have similar timber procurement policies, with some support available from CPET.

Appendix 2: improving public sector procurement of food and catering services

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Last year the public sector spent over £2 billion on food and catering services, with an estimated £0.6 billion spent on imported produce. There is a huge opportunity for British producers to access and sell food and catering services to the public sector, which will boost UK farming and food manufacturing and support local markets.

Our plan for public procurement of food will improve how public sector bodies buy food and support a healthier future for people, farmers and food processors. It follows a review by procurement expert Peter Bonfield into sustainable food procurement.

The plan proposes a new but voluntary approach to improving sustainable food procurement in the public sector.

As part of the plan: we are:

  • providing a “toolkit” which enables food procurers to consider a variety of factors when making decisions about procurement, gives suppliers better information about what the public sector is looking for and provides access to centralised procurement contracts; the key elements are a balanced scorecard and a supplier portal
  • working to encourage industry, procurers, researchers and farmers to support opportunities for British grown produce and food within the public procurement market - involving a number of pilot projects around the country to test the toolkit, sharing examples of best practice and linking with other government initiatives to improve food in schools through the School Food Plan and in hospitals through the Hospital Food Standards Panel
  • supporting the improvement of the toolkit and continuing development of the plan, through five different working groups covering procurers, suppliers, research and technology bodies (innovation), assurance schemes and Local Enterprise Partnerships
  • revising the Government Buying Standard for food and catering
  • publishing case studies of how public sector buyers and food suppliers are working together to procure food efficiently and sustainably

The Crown Commercial Service is putting in place framework contracts for facilities management, including catering services, which are consistent with the Government Buying Standards, to promote the use of the balanced scorecard.

The service is also putting in place a purchasing system which allows smaller suppliers to register for government contracts and will involve the balanced scorecard being used to select companies.



Embedding sustainability at the heart of Government (UK)

How our commitment to mainstreaming sustainable development across Government will be fulfilled.

New ambitious plans to help build a stronger green government were announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman today.

The Mainstreaming Sustainable Development package will guarantee that Government policies have been ‘sustainability-proofed’ - by making sure they help to deliver sustainable economic growth, improve our quality of life and protect our natural environment now and for future generations.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:

“The Government is determined that as we reduce the deficit, we also rebalance the economy and put it on a greener, more sustainable footing.

“In order to achieve this, we must lead by example. I am pleased to see this document sets out exactly how we can do that and take our place among the greenest governments in the world.”

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said:

“Moving to a long-term, green and sustainable economy is essential if we are to rebuild our finances, improve our quality of life and protect our natural environment. Genuine sustainability will never again be an add-on or afterthought.  It will be at the heart of everything we do - from making policy to running government buildings or purchasing goods and services.”

Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

“We’re already delivering on the Prime Minister’s promise to slash the Government’s own carbon emissions by 10 per cent in our first year, but we need to go much further beyond that.  Only by putting the low carbon agenda at the heart of everything that we do will we convince businesses and householders to do the same.”

Cross-government Ministerial leadership, tangible measuring and monitoring, as well as independent scrutiny will play crucial roles in helping to build a green economy whilst tackling the deficit.

The package will put into practice the Government’s commitment to be the greenest government ever. It includes:

  • Leading by example by:

-        reducing government’s waste generation, water use and greenhouse gas emissions. Waste will be cut by 25 per cent (approximately 74,000 tonnes) by the end of this Parliament. Best practice water efficiency methods will be put in place across government, as well as a new stretching commitment on greenhouse gas reduction which builds on the current 10 per cent announced by the Prime Minister last year; and

-        ensuring the Government buys more sustainable and efficient products and engages with its suppliers to understand and reduce the impacts of supply chains.

  • Ensuring transparency and independent scrutiny by:

-        developing real and measurable indicators to monitor sustainability across government and report results publicly.  Indicators will aim to consider the quality of the natural environment, use of natural resources, and a range of social and economic measures.  The indicators will also link with wellbeing measures being developed by the Office for National Statistics; and

-        independent monitoring of sustainability in government operations, procurement and policies by the Environmental Audit Committee. More frequent and up-to-date publishing of information and statistics online will replace annual reports on sustainability to allow constant scrutiny of progress and performance.

  • Providing Ministerial leadership and oversight by:

-        the Environment Secretary sitting on the key domestic policy Cabinet committees, including the Economic Affairs Committee, to enforce the Government’s commitment to sustainability across domestic policy making; and

-        a new Ministerial steering group driving the new commitments for greening government operations and procurement.

  • Embedding sustainable development in government policy by:

-        Defra taking the lead responsibility for reviewing departmental business plans to ensure they adhere to Sustainable Development principles. The Minister for Government Policy will then hold departments to account through the quarterly business plan review process. **