Who does what

Sustainable development cannot be delivered by one Government department alone: sustainability is relevant to the policies and operations of all departments and bodies, while many departments have key responsibilities for its delivery.

The following have key responsibilities for aspects of sustainable development and its implementation across Government:

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

Defra has overall responsibility for championing sustainable development, leading on the cross-government Sustainable Development Programme. Working closely with DECC and the Cabinet Office, Defra is responsible for developing policy, mechanisms and governance arrangements to ensure that all Government policies, operations and procurement take account of sustainable development, balancing social and environmental considerations as well economic ones.

Specific aspects of Defra’s work on sustainable development include developing the action plan for operations and procurement (with DECC, the Department for Transport and the Cabinet Office), ensuring that policy appraisal takes account of sustainable development and natural capital, development of the Government Buying Standards, and measuring progress through indicators.

Defra’s Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman, has made clear her intention to take a personal lead in mainstreaming sustainable development across Government, strengthen the government’s performance and put processes in place to join up activity across government more effectively.

Defra is also directly responsible for a number of key areas of sustainability, identified in the three key priorities of its business plan, to:

  • Support and develop British farming and encourage sustainable food production;
  • Help to enhance the environment and biodiversity to improve quality of life;
  • Support a strong and sustainable green economy, resilient to climate change.

Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC)

The Department for Energy and Climate Change plays a lead role on sustainability alongside Defra.

DECC is working with Defra and the Cabinet Office to develop the policy framework, mechanisms and governance arrangements to help drive forward sustainable development across Government. DECC also plays a particular role in mitigating climate change and ensuring a low carbon, resource efficient world.

DECC’s business plan sets out four priorities:

  • Save energy with the Green Deal and support vulnerable consumers;
  • Deliver secure energy on the way to a low carbon energy future;
  • Drive ambitious action on climate change at home and abroad;
  • Manage our energy legacy responsibly and cost-effectively.

Cabinet Office

The Cabinet Office is responsible for the Government’s efficiency and transparency agenda, and ensuring that it addresses sustainable development.

The Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement (CESP) was established within the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) in 2008 along with a Chief Sustainability Officer to provide leadership on environmental sustainability across government. The team works with key stakeholders to share information and experience to drive through the changes needed to meet these commitments. The OGC is now part of the Efficiency and Reform Group within the Cabinet Office.

Sustainable Development Research Network

The SDRN contract is managed by Defra’s Sustainable Development Team and delivered by the Policy Studies Institute Environment Group. SDRN membership is free and open to everyone with a professional interest in UK sustainable development research and policy. Most of almost 2,500 members are in government or researchers.

Advisory Committee
The SDRN has an Advisory Committee comprised of high-level representatives from government and the research community. It advises on the SDRN’s priorities and direction, and is a forum in which issues related to government priorities for sustainable development research and policy can be discussed. It is classified as a Stakeholder Group and is not a Non-Departmental Public Body under Cabinet Office guidance (pdf).

Following the appointment of Richard Wakeford as the SDRN Advisory Committee Chair in December 2011, the Policy Studies Institute and Defra have worked to update the committee’s membership to ensure it is fully aligned with the SDRN’s objectives, and includes a comprehensive range of departmental and research interests. The committee’s updated membership will be published on the SDRN website shortly.

The SDRN’s work
SDRN’s work to July 2014 will include:

  • Producing rapid and responsive research and evidence reviews and scoping reviews relevant to the Government’s sustainable development policies.
  • Developing the SDRN Case Study Database, which is a ‘Research and Practice’ Library and easy-to-access database of real world examples of sustainable development in practice, which includes a snap-shot of community-led initiatives.
  • Producing a fortnightly electronic mailing to members (including news on reports, publications, events, new research calls, advertisement of government research competitions, and direct calls from policy-makers for evidence from researchers).
  • Holding a series of seminars and workshops and an annual Sustainable Development Research Conference.
  • Holding annual workshops with the Devolved Administrations to expand SDRN’s reach and promote exchange of ideas on policy and practice between devolved and UK governments.

You can find out more information about:

Sustainable Development Commission  (SDC)

The Sustainable Development Commission served as the UK Government’s and the Devolved Administrations’ independent advisor on sustainable development, providing policy advice, acting as a watchdog to ensure government progress against the Government’s sustainable development strategy, helping develop understanding and skills for sustainable development in Government, and fulfilling an advocacy role.

Caroline Spelman announced to Parliament on 22 July 2010 that she would withdraw funding for the SDC from 1 April 2011, following a Government-wide review of Arm’s Length Bodies, in order to contribute towards increasing the transparency and accountability of Defra’s public bodies and reduce public spending. On sustainable development, Defra and DECC are working across Government to mainstream sustainability, strengthen the Government’s performance in this area and put processes in place to join up activity across government much more effectively.

Some parts of the SDC’s capability building and stakeholder network functions have been transferred to Defra. The Devolved Administrations have made arrangements to meet their needs for sustainable development.

Page last modified: 4 October, 2012

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