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Stepping Up: Public Sector Leadership on Sustainability

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on April 5th, 2010

Source: Forum for the Future

Download the report Stepping Up: A Framework for Public Sector Leadership on Sustainability

As we begin to see signs of recovery in the private economy, the hard times are just beginning for the 5.8 million public servants in the UK and millions more around the world. Faced with severe budget cuts, can public sector organisations stay true to their commitments to carbon reduction, sustainable regeneration, ethical procurement, greener healthcare and a wealth of other new practices and initiatives?

In theory, yes. If sustainable development thinking is no use in times of austerity, it is no use at all, and hard times should be when it proves its worth. But for providers of public services, it’s very tempting to drop expensive-looking ‘green’ activity when you have to cut spending overall.

It’s much braver to use sustainability principles to guide where to make cuts, and to use the same thinking to find efficiency gains, new ways of working, and deliver greater public value.

That means understanding how sustainability relates to the core business of the organisation and its success in the long term. So it’s a paradox that whilst the business case for sustainable development is regularly articulated and used to justify corporate investment, the public value case for similar action is seldom expressed. This leaves public bodies with only patchy and partial arguments for their sustainability commitments in tough times.

We want to redress this, and our new report, Stepping Up, sets out how public sector organisations can create better services for their citizens and customers by taking a sustainable approach.

Stepping Up sets out a plan for public sector organisations wanting to take the lead in using sustainability to deliver better services. It starts by ‘making the case’; it examines linking policy and delivery; and goes all the way through to building a learning culture and running demonstration projects. And there’s a self-assessment tool to check where you are on the journey, from ‘at risk’ – of failing to comply with legal obligations and suffering financial and reputational hits – to ‘systemic’ – using sustainability principles to maximise efficiency and public value creation over time.

We believe any organisation can be a leader on sustainable development, and those that grasp the challenge in difficult times will emerge strongest from the recession, with more efficient services, more productive relationships with their communities and partners, and better prepared for the environmental shocks that lie ahead.

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