Sustainability must be in hearts and minds of government

Sustainability urgently needs to be put at the heart of all government policies, a report by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) has stated.

The government's attempts to modernise public services will not be successful unless it pays more attention to environmental issues, social justice and quality of life, according to Sharing the value: A sustainable approach to the modernisation agenda.

By using sustainable development as a baseline for its agenda, the government would be able to guarantee long-term improvements to public services, as well as real benefits for tax payers, the report states.

"With G8 and the EU Presidency coming up, this is a vital year for the government, but you can't have a huge global campaign for sustainable change and development if you do not have sustainability at the heart of your domestic agenda," Jonathon Porritt, chairman of the SDC told edie. "What's needed is an effort to get some seriously joined-up thinking between international and domestic policies."

As well as providing greater value for money both for the long and short terms, the SDC report points out that integrating sustainable development into the government's modernisation programme would also bring a better balance between economic, environmental and social benefits, rather than crude trade-offs.

"Looking at best practice, we know how much money and energy can be saved, and the difference between best practice and bog-standard practice, both in terms of construction and operation, is still enormous," Mr Porritt explained.

The UK currently has half a dozen iconic examples of sustainable construction, but Mr Porritt said that if it could be done once, then constructing sustainable, energy-efficient buildings should now become the standard, not the rare exception.

"Thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions could be saved, and by employing best practice, the government would be sending an extremely strong signal to the construction industry," he continued. "The government must use its huge power as a central procurement agency to send signals through the public and private sectors."

Environmental benefits of integrating sustainable development into government policies would include a direct reduction in energy consumption and material flows. Indirectly, carbon emissions would also be reduced by more energy efficient buildings, as well as by a better public transport system that would cut down heavy dependency on cars.

"The government needs to think in an integrated way," Mr Porritt added. "The public sector must be obliged to operate in an environmentally responsible manner. It is wrong that, for instance, healthcare facilities at the NHS get off the hook when companies in the private sector are becoming more heavily regulated and forced to do more to reduce their environmental impact."

"We have suggested in the report that the healthcare commission and the NHS are given a new management programme so that they also become 'good corporate citizens', managing all their facilities with an eye to reducing environmental and social impacts, as well as becoming an exemplar of sustainable development to the rest of the sector."

Despite admissions from Environment Minister Elliot Morley towards the end of last year that the public sector would be led by example from the inside out on sustainable procurement and development (see related story), Mr Porritt told edie that he felt the government was holding fire for the announcement of its new strategy, which is due to be unveiled on 1 March 2005.

"Sustainable procurement will be integral to the new strategy, which has a much stronger push on sustainable procurement, for local authorities and government departments alike, improving guidelines and support," he said.

"But the government needs to stick to its guns - sustainability must become a mainstream imperative, not an afterthought."

By Jane Kettle



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