Environmental Audit Committee

13 November 2003
Greening Government 2003

13 November 2003
Greening Government 2003


Greening Government is the process of incorporating environmental objectives in both operational aspects of departmental performance and policy appraisal and development.

As part of its audit role in holding departments to account, the Environmental Audit Committee today published its latest report on this topic, Greening Government 2003,  HC 961 of Session 2002-03.

Commenting on the report, the Chairman of the EAC, Mr Peter Ainsworth MP, said:

"Central government departments have a crucial role to play if the UK is to move towards a sustainable future. They are major employers and estate mangers, but also exert huge influence through the policies they are responsible for developing and implementing. Yet we found that departments have few staff devoted to this agenda, have little in the way of environmental objectives and targets, and are still unable to report adequately on operational aspects of their performance.   In our view, this demonstrates a lack of commitment by senior management and a failure to exploit the potential within many departments to mainstream sustainable development more radically."

"There is an impressive range of policy documents and guidance relating to sustainable development. But much of the work undertaken on this agenda occupies a limbo existence which has little impact on departments' real priorities. The Government needs to examine critically the impact which its Sustainable Development Strategy has had on departments in the light of our findings."

He also looked forward to the assistance of the National Audit Office in analysing the next annual report on Sustainable Development in Government, due shortly, and exploring some of the issues arising in greater depth.

For further information on the Committee's report, journalists may phone the Chairman of the Committee, Peter Ainsworth, on 020-7219-5078, or EAC staff (Eric Lewis), on 020-7219-5776.

Key messages of the report

The Committee's report contains 30 conclusions and recommendations covering a wide range of areas, including staff resources, the incorporation of environmental objectives in policy development, operational management of departments, and monitoring and reporting.   Key themes from its work are these:

• Most departments devote little in the way of staff resources to the Sustainable Development agenda, while the grade of the most senior staff working on these issues is relatively low. This reflects a lack of commitment by senior management and a failure to exploit the potential within many departments to mainstream sustainable development more radically.

• Objectives and targets agreed within Public Service Agreements act as key drivers for departments. Yet, with the exception of DEFRA, these agreements contain hardly any environmentally related targets-fuelling the impression that sustainable development is a relatively low priority. As the EAC does not have access to the Sustainable Development Reports which departments submitted with their bids for pending Review 2002, it cannot assess what impact this new requirement has had.

• Many departments cannot provide lists of new policies and the results of screening them for environmental impacts-some three years after the Government set this as an objective. Poor progress here partly reflects the lack of effective environmental management systems covering policy aspects. But  it is also symptomatic of a lack of commitment and awareness at higher levels within departments.

• There are huge variations in operational performance - for example, in the amount of renewable energy or recycled paper departments purchase.  Many departments are also still unable to report adequately on their operational performance in reducing waste or water consumption.  More generally, departments could do much more to report on their environmental impacts by publishing their own environmental or sustainable development reports.

Notes for Editors

The Committee's report, Greening Government 2003, is available on the Committee's website.

It offers a critical analysis of the Governments Sustainable Development in Government:   First Annual Report , published in November 2002.