Meet the new boss… same as the old boss

4 October 2010
I have never been a fan of the last government’s SOGE targets. For a start I was never sure how to pronounce the acronym; is it “soggy” or do I go all French and make it sound a bit like the town Limoges? The acronym stands for Sustainable Operation of Government Estates and it proposed that government estates would be “carbon neutral” by 2012. A meaningless objective set by an un-electable government that would never be held to account to deliver it, if anybody can work out what “carbon neutral” means anyway. The new government did not have a great deal to say about environmental issues during the campaign but this did not stop the headline-grabbing phrase “greenest government ever”. Encouraged by this ambition I looked forward to some inspiring new policies to lead the public sector in difficult times. So far this has failed to materialise. A target to reduce carbon emissions from government operations by 10 per cent in 2010 means the ambitions to reduce carbon do not match the ambitions to reduce the budget deficit. This is the party of “small government” that plans swingeing cuts in public services, bonfire of the quangos and generally doing less stuff. I won’t comment on the political aspects of this policy but it is pretty obvious that if you do less you will have fewer emissions; employing fewer people means they don’t use gas or electricity, occupy buildings, use computers, use the coffee machine or go to the lavatory. Based on this assumption I would nominate Woolworths for an award for their spectacular efforts to reduce carbon emissions to zero two years ago. I had the honour of chairing a sustainable procurement conference in London last week. We saw some inspirational presentations from public sector people who have been doing great things to make their supply chains sustainable for many years. Wakefield Council, DWP and the NHS all had great stories to tell. My friend and colleague Dan Epstein wowed the audience with his account of sustainability on the Olympic Park – it was like a white-knuckle ride in Powerpoint. We also had a presentation from a government official on policy. I don’t blame civil servants, they can only say what their ministers want them to say and many of them are at risk from losing their own jobs in the cuts. We were encouraged to believe that the 10 per cent target is “challenging”. The presentation got more interesting when we were told that research indicates that 78 per cent of government’s carbon emissions are not directly from operations but embodied in the supply chain. This accords with my own findings on London 2012, the NHS is coming up with similar proportions and the carbon footprinting work for Crossrail has similar findings. So, it is logical to assume that government policy is to reduce 10 per cent of 22 per cent of the emissions it is actually responsible for. That would be 2.2 per cent then! Effective sustainable procurement requires clear objectives at the top of the organisation for procurement people to translate into their supply chains. Some people in the public sector are doing some great work to deliver sustainability through their supply chains. They deserve better leadership than this.
Darmstadt-Dieburg, Hessen (DE)
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