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ARCHIVE: Sustainability requirements for government departments

Suppliers should consider social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainability with reference to obligations on Defra and other Government departments where they are relevant to the subject matter of the contract. These obligations include:

The document sets out how the Government intends to significantly reduce its impact on the environment over the period to 2015 by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, reducing waste, reducing water usage and making procurement more sustainable.  It means getting better value for money, capitalising on the opportunities to make financial and environmental resource savings and working in partnership with our key suppliers to deliver on the Government’s commitment to be the greenest ever. 

The minimum level “Government Buying Standards (GBS)” are mandatory for Central Government Departments and their executive agencies and are likely to be extended to NDPBs and non Ministerial bodies.  There are also voluntary, higher level “Best Practice” and “Class Leader” GBS standards that Central Government aspires to procure.  The minimum level GBS standards are not mandatory on local authorities (LAs).  However, there is a 50% political target for all central and local government procurement to comply by the end of 2010 to the Green Public Procurement (GPP) standards set by the EU.  Defra is encouraging LAs to follow the GPP standards while the Department works to align the GBS standards with them, so that they are at least as good, if not better.

EU’s Handbook on Green Public Procurement

The handbook explains how public bodies can take the environment into account when buying goods, services and works. The third module in the ‘Training Toolkit on GPP’ (link in left hand column) includes concrete examples of environmental criteria which can be introduced in tender documents.

Parliament approved in May 2009 the first three carbon budgets: First Budget (2008-12):  3018 MtCO2e (22% reduction below 1990 levels); Second Budget (2013–17): 2782 MtCO2e (28% reduction below 1990 levels); and Third Budget (2018–22): 2544 MtCO2e (34% reduction below 1990 levels).  The fourth carbon budget for the period 2023-2027 must be set by 30 June 2011.  The budgets set the trajectory for achieving the Government’s 2050 target of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions.

The Carbon Trust Standard certification provides an independent endorsement of an organisation’s performance in measuring, managing and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.  There is an overview of the Standard’s criteria and methodology.

The Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (that came into operaton in April 2010) is central to the UK’s strategy for improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, as set out in the Climate Change Act 2008.  It is designed to raise awareness in large organisations, especially at senior level, and to encourage changes in behaviour and infrastructure.

It will operate as a 'cap and trade' mechanism, providing a financial incentive to reduce energy use by putting a price on carbon emissions from energy use. In CRC, organisations buy allowances equal to their annual emissions.

The overall emissions reduction target is achieved by placing a ‘cap’ on the total allowances available to each group of CRC participants. Within that overall limit, individual organisations can determine the most cost-effective way to reduce their emissions. This could be through buying extra allowances or investing in ways to decrease the number of allowances they need to buy.

The scheme will cover large public and private sector organisations, which are responsible for about 10 percent of the UK’s emissions.

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) has been designed by the European Commission to improve the energy performance of all buildings across the EU. The Directive will require that energy certificates be produced for buildings on construction, sale and lease. Large public sector buildings will be required to display energy certificates to the public. The Directive also targets boilers and air conditioning as major sources of energy consumption.

Energy Certificates:

  • Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) are required on construction, sale or rent for all commercial buildings since October 2008. They rate how energy efficient a property is as a building.
  • Display Energy Certificates (DEC) are required in all public sector buildings/office larger than 1000m2 and be prominently displayed where all public visitors since 1 October 2008. They rate the operational energy efficiency of a property.

The Energy Services Directive (ESD) has been introduced by the European Commission to remove impediments and encourage energy efficiency across the European Union. Work to implement the Directive will include a review of current energy metering and billing information. The Directive also states that the public sector should fulfil "an exemplary role" in energy efficiency. Defra and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) have recently run consultations on the implications of implementation.

Further information about other carbon reduction initiatives and relevant legislation.

In October 2009 Defra published: Commercial and Industrial Waste in England - Statement of aims and actions 2009 (PDF 1.4 MB). For more information see our Industrial and commercial waste statistics and waste legislation pages.

OGC's "Achieving Excellence 11: Sustainability" sets out the processes by which a public sector client can procure and deliver construction projects that best promote sustainable development, while achieving optimum whole life value. The guide must be consulted where a programme or project contains a construction element.

Measures best practice in environmental design and management. BREEAM, or an equivalent methodology, must be used in all major government construction projects. In new builds a rating of "excellent" must be achieved, in major refurbishments a rating of at least "very good" must be achieved.  

All departments are required to work towards having environmental management systems (EMSs) covering all their offices.  EMSs are designed to help organisations achieve continuous improvements in environmental performance, particularly in reducing waste, energy and water consumption. They help to improve the efficiency of management processes and ensure that data collection and monitoring is systematic and robust.  EMSs should be accredited using a national or international standard, such as ISO 14001, BS 8555 or EMAS.

The Government's policy on creating opportunities for SMEs and third sector organisations is to encourage and support these organisations to compete for public sector contracts where this is consistent with value for money policy and UK regulations and EU Procurement Directives1. SMEs can use the supply2.gov.uk web site free of charge to search the thousands of public sector procurement opportunities worth up to £100,000.

Promoting skills and apprenticeships through procurement

Government is committed to promoting skills and more apprenticeships, including through public procurement. A key initiative of public procurement is to deliver 20,000 apprenticeships over the years 2010, 2011 and 2012. For more information see Promoting skills through public procurement and OGC's Procurement Policy Information Note 14/09 - Further guidance on embedding skills training and apprenticeships in public procurement on the OGC website.

The size of the funding varies depending on the business sector and the age of the candidate - see 'Training and Funding' in the left hand column of the Employers section of the National Apprenticeship Service website. If the apprentice is aged 16-18, the candidate can receive 100% of the cost of the training; if he or she is 19+, it can be up to 50%. This is paid directly to the organisation that provides and supports the Apprenticeship; in most cases this will be a learning provider. Large employers with a direct contract with the National Apprenticeship Service may receive funding directly.

The Cabinet Office’s principles of good employment practice for Government contracting authorities and suppliers (13 December 2010) cover: (1) Government as a good client; (2) training and skills; (3) commitment to fair and reasonable terms and conditions; (4) equality; (5) dispute resolution; and (6) employee engagement.


1The BIS-Business Links web site explains the opportunities for supplying the public sector including where to find out about contracts, the procurement process, procurement regulations for public sector contracts, the role of e-procurement and resolving public sector tendering problems. It includes the guide: Tendering for Government Contracts - a Guide for Small Businesses

Page last modified: 7 March 2011
Page published: 13 January 2010

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