Environmental Audit Committee

18 March 2008


Making Government operations more sustainable: A progress check

The operations of Government have a sizeable environmental impact. Each year central Government offices produce approximately 2.3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions (around 0.4% of the UK total) and 309,000 tonnes of waste. Government Departments and Agencies also own over 2% of the entire UK land mass, including nearly 400 Sites of Special Scientific Interest of particular importance in preserving biodiversity.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is today launching an inquiry into the efforts by Government to improve its environmental performance. This is in a long tradition of inquiries by this Committee, stretching back to its inception in 1997. In this inquiry, the Committee will give these efforts a progress check, looking back over performance to date, and forward to what needs to be achieved to meet key targets for future years. This inquiry will draw on two key publications:

  • The Sustainable Development in Government (SDiG) Annual Report 2007, published today by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC); and
  • A review by the National Audit Office, Energy consumption and carbon emissions in government departments, published November 2007.

The SDC report found that while Government as a whole is generally performing better this year than last, many individual Departments are not on track to meet all their targets, particularly on carbon emissions from offices and road vehicles. The SDC's findings on carbon emissions were in line with those of the NAO, which found that progress across Government in tackling emissions has been poor€”and that much of Government's recorded reduction in CO2 is due to the privatisation of the defence agency QinetiQ, which removed its emissions from the public sector (but which remains in the baseline figures against which Government is measuring its progress).

The Committee invites organisations and members of the public to submit memoranda setting out their views on these issues. Some specific subjects on which the Committee would welcome comments are set out below, although respondents are free to comment on any issues which they consider relevant:

Co-ordinated approach to meeting targets within and across Departments

1. How successfully is the Government providing centralised leadership, guidance, and funding for Departments and Agencies? How well are Departments making use of expertise and funding provided by central bodies, as well as each other? Should anything be done to improve co-ordination?

2. How well are Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate (SOGE) data and targets embedded into core management information systems and priorities within Departments and Agencies? How could this be improved?

Carbon emissions and energy consumption targets

3. Why has progress in reducing carbon emissions from the Government Estate been so poor? What should be done to accelerate progress?

4. Should targets for energy use be framed in terms of absolute reductions in consumption, as opposed to improvements in energy efficiency?

5. How should the Government treat the purchase by Departments of electricity from 'green tariff' contracts?

6. What should be done to accelerate progress from Departments in using combined heat and power, and sourcing electricity from onsite renewables?

7. How should Departments and Agencies make better progress on reducing CO2 emissions from their use of road vehicles?

8. What controls should the Government place on its use of carbon credits to meet its target of carbon neutrality?

SOGE targets and data

9. How does the new set of targets under the SOGE framework, established in 2006, compare with the previous set, established in 2002 and 2004? What are the advantages of the new set? Has anything important been lost? Should any new targets be added? Are the targets at the right level of ambition?

10. SOGE targets currently cover core Departments and Executive Agencies. Is this adequate, or should they be extended to cover all Executive NDPBs (Non-Departmental Public Bodies)€”especially given the growing volume of Government business covered by arm's-length bodies?

11. How well is the Government accounting for the changing shape of the Government Estate? How should it manage the changes to responsibilities and data caused when functions are transferred to new Departments or the private sector?

Sustainable procurement

12. Why are some Departments not including 'Quick Wins' clauses in their contracts, when this has been mandatory since 2003? Why do so few catering contracts have a sustainability clause? What more should be done to embed sustainability into Government procurement?

13. How well is the Government approaching the environmental management of premises and operations which are outsourced or run under the Private Finance Initiative? Could this be improved, and if so, how?

Other issues

14. What is the key to the progress shown by Departments and Agencies in reducing waste and increasing recycling? Are there any wider lessons which could improve performance in other areas?

15. Is protecting biodiversity on their landholdings a high enough priority in relevant Departments and Agencies? Does more need to be done to protect biodiversity on landholdings that are not classed as Sites of Special Scientific Interest?

The Committee asks for written submissions in accordance with the guidelines stated below by Friday 11 April 2008. A single evidence session will take place on 29 April.

For printing purposes we require written submissions via e-mail to eacom@parliament.uk in Word format. We are unable to accept PDFs except for supporting documentation already in the public domain which will not be printed by us. Although we no longer require a hard copy, it is your responsibility to check that we have received your submission if no email acknowledgement has been received by you. For further information on this inquiry, please telephone 020-7219-0248.