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Sustainable development

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Full information on Government policy, action and support on sustainable development is available at

Sustainable development is about making sure that people throughout the world can satisfy their basic needs now, while making sure that future generations can also look forward to the same quality of life. Sustainable development recognises that the three ‘pillars’ – the economy, society and the environment – are interconnected.

The Government has initiated a series of growth reviews to put the UK on a path to strong, sustainable and balanced growth. Our long term economic growth relies on protecting and enhancing the environmental resources that underpin it, and paying due regard to social needs.

As part of our commitment to enhance wellbeing, we will start measuring our progress as a country, not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving; not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life.

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Government action

The coalition Government is committed to sustainable development. This means making the necessary decisions now to realise our vision of stimulating economic growth and tackling the deficit, maximising wellbeing and protecting our environment, without negatively impacting on the ability of future generations to do the same.

These are difficult times and tough decisions need to be made. This Government believes in going beyond the short term with eyes fixed firmly on a long term horizon shift in relation to our economy, our society and the environment.

Our refreshed vision and our commitments build on the principles that underpinned the UK’s 2005 SD strategy, by recognising the needs of the economy, society and the natural environment, alongside the use of good governance and sound science.

Good progress has been made in the last 16 years since the first UK sustainable development strategy was published. However, the time has come to move sustainable development beyond being considered as a separate, ‘green’ issue which is a priority for only a few Government departments.

This Government wants to mainstream sustainable development so that it is central to the way we make policy, run our buildings and purchase goods and services. In the same way as leading businesses recognise that sustainability is a core strategic issue and not just a ‘nice to have’.

Ministers have agreed an approach for mainstreaming sustainable development which, in broad terms, consists of

  • providing Ministerial leadership and oversight
  • leading by example
  • embedding sustainable development into policy
  • transparent and independent scrutiny.

New measures to support this include:

Ministerial leadership and oversight:

  • The Environment Secretary will sit on the key domestic policy committees to enforce the Government’s commitment to sustainability across domestic policy making.
  • A Ministerial Steering Group will oversee delivery of new Commitments for Greening Government’s Operations and Procurement

Leading by example

  • Reducing government’s waste generation, water use and carbon emissions. Waste will be cut by 25 per cent (approximately 74,000 tonnes) by the end of this Parliament. Best practice water efficiency methods will be put in place across government, as well as a new stretching carbon reduction commitment which builds on the current 10 per cent agreed last year.
  • Ensuring the Government buys more sustainable and efficient products and engages with its suppliers to understand and reduce the impacts of supply chains.

Embedding sustainable development in government policy

  • Defra will take the lead responsibility for reviewing departmental business plans in relation to sustainable development principles. The Minister for Government Policy will then hold departments to account through the quarterly business plan review process.

Transparency and independent scrutiny

  • Developing real and measurable indicators to monitor sustainability across government and report results publicly;
  • Monitoring by the Environment Audit Committee of sustainable operations performance data and reporting process, as well as assessing Government’s overall performance and approach to embed sustainable development
  • Real time reporting of information and statistics, rather than producing annual reports on sustainability.

Support for this new approach to sustainable development is at the highest level in Government. Leading by example through the ambitious greener government targets we will ensure sustainable development is at the heart of each government department.

Page last modified: 1 March 2011

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