Environmental Audit Committee shows lack of government progress

The latest Sustainable Development in Government annual report from the Commons environmental audit committee has warned that Ministerial departments appear to have abandoned monitoring their own green government initiative.

This initiative was designed to assess how each department performs against a range of indicators including waste management, use of environmental management systems, and purchase of renewable energy.

The report shows that environmental performance across Whitehall departments varies wildly, and in some cases little or no data was available to make an assessment. Examples of the variation include:

  • The percentage of staff covered by a certified EMS system ranged from 0% (in the Cabinet Office, Dept. for Education, Dept. for International Development, Export Credit Guarantee Dept., and the Treasury) to 70% in for the Dept. of Work and Pensions, 80% in the Office of National Statistics and 100% for Dept. of Culture Media and Sport.
  • The percentage of waste recovered. Six departments were unable to produce any data, while the remaining departments ranged from 0% (ECGD) to 79% (DTI).
  • The percentage of renewable energy purchased. Six departments purchased 10% or more from renewable sources, while by contrast, six other departments purchased between 50% and 90% from such sources.
  • The proportion of desk-top paper purchased which met recycling specifications ranged from 0% in the Cabinet Office and ECGD, to 100% in Dept. for Culture Media and Sport. The performance of the Ministry of Defence and the Dept. for Work and Pensions was 2% and 3% respectively.
"The government should conduct a detailed analysis of the reasons for the large variations in departmental performance as it is unlikely that they relate to inherent differences in their estates and activities. Future Sustainable Development in Government annual reports should comment in more depth on the reasons for such variations," the report recommended.

According to the audit committee, the report this year is also far narrower in scope than previous ones. It focuses only on operational management issues, and does not cover the mainstreaming of environmental objectives in policy development.

The committee also said it was "regrettable" that the government appears to have abandoned monitoring policy and awareness aspects of the greening government initiative in such a systematic and objective manner.

"Our findings indicate that, although progress continues to be made in some departments on some aspects of the greening government initiative, there is a perceptible loss of overall momentum - particularly in embedding sustainable development within policy making. This report provides a timely opportunity for the government to demonstrate a new commitment to the initiative and ensure that the Sustainable Development in Government annual report does indeed live up to its name," the committee said.

Commenting on the EAC report, Sue Doughty MP, Liberal Democrat member of the committee, said: "The government has an important duty to lead the way in moving towards environmental sustainability. Its failure to do so is undermining its authority."

"Until the government performs better on areas like renewable energy, waste recovery, and sustainable procurement, it will not have the environmental credibility it needs to persuade industry and individuals to change their ways," she added.

The report recommends that, in future, the government collect information systematically from departments on a range of issues relating to greening policy and awareness, and report on these in the Sustainable Development in government annual report.

By David Hopkins



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