Government slow to improve on sustainable buying practice

25 February 2010

10 April 2008

Progress on sustainable procurement in the public sector has been "pretty disappointing", according to the organisation monitoring the government's performance.

A report by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) said progress was slow and that missed opportunities outweighed success stories.

Of the 123 contracts examined by the SDC, only 53.7 per cent contained a sustainability clause. Implementation in different types of contracts varied hugely - 99.9 per cent of FM contracts contained a clause, compared with only 3.1 per cent of catering spend, despite a large government focus on sustainable food procurement.

There was some success in timber procurement, with 10 out of 17 departments reporting that 100 per cent of their contracts complied with targets for sustainability.

"Despite the high level of attention afforded to sustainable procurement over the past 18 months, performance on the ground signals there is a lot to do to turn words into action," the report said.

"While there are some pockets of good practice, some of them significant, departments on the whole are not yet making the efforts needed to embed sustainability into procurement decisions.

"The whole area is littered with missed opportunities."

Anecdotal evidence suggested many staff still regarded sustainable procurement as simply buying from a list of recommended goods and services. Lack of awareness, skills, high-level co-ordination and supplier engagement in some departments were blamed as barriers to improvement.

The SDC was disappointed by the government's low use of "quick wins" - mandatory sustainability targets on products such as IT, paper and construction products.

It said it was "staggering" that nine of the 21 departments still did not incorporate quick wins standards into relevant contracts, despite being mandatory since 2003.

The SDC said the government needed to set out exactly how its recommendations in the Sustainable Procurement Action Plan, published last March will be "prioritised, taken forward, by whom, and when".

The government responded to the report, repeating that it is to set up a Centre of Expertise for Sustainable Procurement within the OGC (news, 15 March 2007).

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