NAO warns UK government to miss green purchasing targets
Government departments have made some progress in their adoption of sustainable procurement policies, but the vast majority are yet to roll out green purchasing practices right across their operations and as a result the government is now likely to fall short of green procurement targets for 2009.
That is the conclusion of a new report from the National Audit Office (NAO), released today, which found that despite a 2005 pledge to establish the UK as a European leader in sustainable procurement, the government is yet to set quantifiable green purchasing targets for departments.
"In 2008 progress was made by departments, but only some are on target to be practising sustainable procurement across their business by the end of this year," said Tim Burr, head of the NAO. "Procurement decisions need to be supported by a more thorough understanding of environmental benefits and costs, so that departments can show that their procurement meets the twin requirements of sustainability and value for money."
The study found that rather than having to adhere to clear targets, government departments are measuring adoption of green procurement policies ' whereby suppliers of products and services are required to meet certain environmental standards ' against a "Flexible Framework" model.
According to departmental self-assessments for 2007-08, eight out of 22 departments reported that they are still only on level one of this five-level framework, while of the six departments the NAO examined in detail, only the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency reported it is practising sustainable procurement right across its operations.
Moreover, out of 21 departments, six were not compliant with mandatory minimum green purchasing standards ' known as "Quick Wins" ' while a further six admitted that they did not have systems in place to measure whether or not they were fully compliant with the minimum standards.
The report found that adoption of green purchasing policies in some areas had delivered significant cost savings for the public sector. It cited the example of the Department of Work and Pensions, which delivered cost savings of £3.6m and a reduction in annual carbon emissions of 3,000 tonnes by reducing the number of miles travelled by department staff in their own vehicles.
However, the report also found that methods for assessing the environmental costs and benefits of green purchasing policies were "not being used frequently by departments", and as a result many departments were missing out on green products and services that could deliver long-term cost savings.
Shadow environment secretary Nick Herbert accused ministers of allowing too many departments to waste resources and "not even putting simple [green purchasing] measures in place".
"When the government is spending nearly five pounds out of every 10 in our economy, it is vital that it takes a lead in achieving high environmental standards," he said. "Ensuring we have sustainable procurement by the public sector is the obvious way to make big strides towards minimising the environmental cost of government and helping to green our economy."
Article Date: 30 April 2009
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