Government promises to beef up green procurement efforts

Responsibility for ensuring the government delivers on its new promises for sustainable procurement will lie with the head of the civil service, according to the government’s sustainable procurement action plan.1

The action plan responds to last year’s report by the government’s Sustainable Procurement Task Force and to criticism of the government’s record from the National Audit Office, the Sustainable Development Commission and the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee.

In its initial response when the task force report was published, the government promised to make the government estate carbon-neutral by 2012 and set a range of "sustainable operations" targets including a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 (ENDS Report 377, pp 36-37 ).

The action plan describes how the government and departments will achieve the targets.

  • Leadership: The government agrees with the task force that there is a need for clear leadership on the issue of sustainable procurement but disagrees that the role should be given to the Office of Government Commerce because "sustainable development is a cross-departmental agenda and no part of it can be delivered by any one department acting alone".

    Instead, the action plan’s delivery will be overseen by the head of the civil service, cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, and permanent secretaries will be accountable for their department’s progress and ensuring staff have performance objectives and incentives that drive the plan’s implementation.

    The head of the OGC - which has recently been given powers to require departments to meet procurement objectives - will be accountable for "embedding agreed procurement policies through the profession so that they become part of normal procurement practice".

    SDC chairman Jonathon Porritt said it was "enormously important" that permanent secretaries have been given responsibility for procurement. "Proper, senior-level accountability, combined with the restructuring of the OGC, should get the government back on track."

  • Budgeting: The government accepts that it needs to better explain its value-for-money policy, which involves a combination of whole-life costing and quality. Simplified guidance on value for money and sustainability is available on the Treasury’s website.

    This summer, the Environment Department (DEFRA) will produce updated guidance on environmental appraisal, and "if necessary" update the DEFRA/OGC note on environmental issues in purchasing.

    DEFRA is also examining whether funding could be provided by Salix, a not-for-profit company set up by the Carbon Trust, to help deliver the government’s sustainable operations targets.

  • Building capacity: DEFRA will consult this year on proposals for a centre on sustainable procurement excellence to provide guidance to "practitioners, policy-makers and potentially to suppliers".

    Basic guidance for consumers on the environmental impacts of products is available on the Directgov website. More detailed data will become available, says the government, when DEFRA establishes a products unit (ENDS Report 378, p 43 ).

    This will "analyse the life-cycle impacts of products, develop road maps for reducing these impacts, and build up a knowledge base that will inform consumers, businesses and policy-makers. It will also propose standards that could be used and developed for public procurement activity with a view to removing the worst-performing products from the market place and promoting the best."

  • Product standards: Following consultation 18 months ago (ENDS Report 369, p 21 ), the list of "quick win" mandatory product standards has finally been updated and extended to include products such as glazing, low-flush toilets and air conditioning.2 Later this year, DEFRA will consult on further standards for a wider range of products.

    "Stretching, forward-looking" standards will also be identified to provide longer-term signals to business and to encourage innovation. For example, says the government, a stretching standard defined in 2007 might be set as a mandatory standard for 2009.

    New contracts must take account of the new standards immediately and existing contracts must do so "as soon as practical".

  • Timber: Currently departments are required to "actively seek" timber from legal and sustainable sources. In addition the European Commission is negotiating bilateral voluntary agreements with timber-producing countries, as proposed in its action plan on forest law enforcement, governance and trade (FLEGT).

    From 1 April 2009 "only timber and timber products originating either from independently verified legal and sustainable sources or from a licensed FLEGT partner will be demanded for use on the government estate" and "appropriate documentation will be required to prove it".

    From 1 April 2015, only legal and sustainable timber will be demanded.

  • Cars: Later in the spring, the Department for Transport will publish an updated target for average CO2 emissions from new government cars. The target will ensure that the rate at which new car emissions improve in the government fleet exceeds the rate at which emissions improve nationally and in the EU.
  • Suppliers: Starting with construction and moving on to other priority sectors such as food, energy and healthcare, the government will "encourage key suppliers to have plans in place to reduce the carbon footprint of their activities and their supply chains".