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.
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."
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.
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."
"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".
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.