Green Issue Article
Leaders of the Pack
by Catherine Morrison
For green government guys and gals, the news last year was less than good - a lot less.
Their top cop had looked at their work and found it wanting.
The verdict came down in Greening Government Operations, Chapter 2 of the May 2000 Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Report to Parliament.
The report concluded that, after 10 years of a green agenda for its internal operations, the federal government had no means of demonstrating - to Canadians, the private sector, other jurisdictions, or other nations - the effectiveness and progress of its greening policies and procedures.
All 30 departments' efforts to measure and report on greening their operations were looked at in the audit but the report focused on 10 key departments whose operations have the greatest environmental impact (see chart). According to the audit, no department had fully implemented all elements of the performance measurement framework outlined in the 1995 Guide to Green Government produced by the Auditor General. It also found leadership in this area was fragmented. No department saw itself as the lead in establishing a federal approach to measure and report environmental performance. The report urged Parliament to establish a requirement for aggregate reporting that could be used as a yardstick for measuring government-wide progress.
Richard Smith, the acting commissioner at the time, points out why parliamentarians should be concerned. "The federal government is the largest enterprise in Canada," says Smith. "It has 224,000 employees, 21.4 million hectares of land under direct management, 59,000 buildings and facilities, more than $8 billion annually in purchases of goods and services and 25,000 motor vehicles. How it manages these operations and assets has significant environmental and financial consequences."
Progress by key departments, highlighting the gaps in implementing performance measurement
Source: 2000 Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Shortly after the report was tabled, Johanne Gélinas was appointed Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. Previously she was Commissioner of the Québec Environmental Public Hearing Board, which consults the public on projects that are subject to environmental impact assessments and review. Between 1995 and her federal appointment in August 2000, she was also a member of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, chairing its task force on sustainable transportation for four years.
Gélinas admits to her shock upon discovering the size and complexity of the federal government, and her surprise in discovering just how fragmented the leadership on greening government operations actually was - there was no central authority charged with leading the initiative. "I got the feeling that the speed and approach that departments take are determined on a voluntary basis," says Gélinas. "While greening their operations is a requirement, there were no performance requirements against which to measure progress."
Despite the picture painted by the chart, there has been progress - in fact, says Gélinas, she was gratified to discover just how dedicated to the greening agenda many public servants are. Most of the 10 key departments have begun to implement performance measures individually, but efforts do not yet meet the Commissioner's expectations for a common approach to demonstrating progress. Gélinas cites the efforts of Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), for example, to share their performance measurement, analysis and reporting systems, but does not see much sign of these being adopted elsewhere.
But it appears that the May 2000 Report has grabbed some attention. In February, Environment Minister David Anderson tabled 28 Sustainable Development Strategies designed to "promote economic development in harmony with social progress and environmental innovation." There were also a number of "horizontal" strategies for initiatives to coordinate efforts across departments. One strategy for greening government operations is contained in a "guidance document" entitled Sustainable Development in Government Operations: A Coordinated Approach.
The guide is the work of the Committee on Performance Measurement for Sustainable Government (PMSGO), described by Bob Davidge, spokesperson for PWGSC, as an ad hoc committee reporting informally to the Interdepartmental Network for Sustainable Development and to the Federal Committee on Environmental Management Systems. The PMSGO is chaired by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and PWGSC.
The guide proposes a coordinated approach, offering a toolbox of collaboratively developed performance measures and a sample set of targets. Best practices are outlined for seven priority areas: procurement, waste management, water conservation, energy efficiency, vehicle fleet management, land use management and human resources management. The goals are founded on four commitments specified in the Guide to Green Government:
Of the seven priority areas identified in the guide, of particular interest are the objectives, targets and performance measures outlined for public sector green procurement - reducing resource consumption, waste, greenhouse gas emissions, environmental, health and financial risks and costs. Best practices, sample targets and performance measures outlined for the other six priority areas can be accessed on the Environment Canada website at www.ec.gc.ca.
The guide re-caps A Guide to Green Government's recommended best practices (see sidebar on best practices). Sample targets are laid out to give departments an idea of how they might set green procurement targets for themselves (see sidebar on sample targets). Finally, performance measures for assessing progress are proposed:
The emphasis on targets and performance measures would seem to be a promising first step. Davidge describes it as a means of "getting all the rowers facing the same way in the boat." The next step is "to get them all to take the first stroke."
This was the reason for a PMSGO workshop held in June 2001, with the stated objective "to develop consensual reporting guidelines for the preparation of a government-wide report on the Sustainable Development in Government Operations (SDGO) Initiative." The objectives of individual workshops were:
At press time, an organization or mechanism within government had yet to be identified to produce an overall report from the workshop that would present the common approach being sought by the Commissioner. So the issue of aggregate reporting - raised in the May 2000 Report - appears to be the subject of serious attention and efforts and will likely be the subject of the Commissioner's 2002 report.
On the issue of fragmented leadership, there appears to be less meeting of minds. The May 2000 Report couches its concerns in terms of the lack of central leadership and authority. It asks PWGSC to provide leadership. It asks the Privy Council Office (PCO) to designate authority. The terminology is very top-down.
The approach being taken by departments is more horizontal. There are "champions" and co-leads. The reporting structure appears to be informal. PCO, for its part, will affirm only that PWGSC, Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada are working together to produce a common reporting approach, according to spokesman Don Smith.
To those in the trenches, apparently, top-down leadership is simply not the model that makes sense. "We're supported from the top, but not dictated to from the top," says Davidge. "It's departments banding together and saying let's figure out collectively how we can do this. And progress is being made."
The rowers are facing the same way, then, and will decide as a team on the rhythm of their stroke. Come the fall of 2002, the new Environment Commissioner will tell Parliament and Canadians whether the boat without a coxswain has travelled as far upriver as she's expecting.
Best practices for achieving federal green objectives
Sample federal green procurement targets
By March 31, 2002:
By September 2004:
Catherine Morrison is a writer based in Chelsea, Quebec. Her work is also published in the Ottawa Citizen and the Globe and Mail's print and online editions, as well as in Canadian Consumer, Asia Pacific Magazine, the Edmonton Journal and C.A.R.P. Magazine. She was a full-time writer/broadcaster for CBC Network Television and CBC TV and Radio, Winnipeg and a contributing editor and columnist for Winnipeg Magazine.