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Mechanisms of Vertical Integration

  United Kingdom

National — sub-national linkages

National — sub-national linkages

There are important links between the UK Government’s strategic position on sustainable development and activities at the sub-national level: the public sector, communities, civil society and social enterprises. LA21 initiatives are regarded by the Government as mainly local activities. 


The public sector has a significant role to play in ensuring decisions are taken to deliver long term value for money, by taking into account social, economic and environmental factors.

Green Government

The UK Government aims to lead by example by reducing the impact of its estate and purchasing sustainable goods and services. In 2010, the Prime Minister announced his commitment to ensure the ‘greenest government ever’ and reduce carbon emissions from Government departments by 10% in a year. Each Government department now publishes live data on its energy use and spending.

Sustainable development in the wider public sector

Many local authorities and public bodies also have sustainable operations and procurement targets. The public sector can help to meet these commitments through its work practices and wider behaviour.

Reducing the impact of the way government and the public sector operates is vital to delivering sustainable development: the decisions made on policies and programmes and their real world outcomes are significant.

The UK is committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 as well as ensuring that we are resilient to the effects of a changing climate: to achieve this all policies must take this into account through carbon reduction and adaptation plans. Climate change is just one of the symptoms of unsustainability and the Government is committed to safeguarding the wider environment, fairness and ensuring quality of life in all decisions.

Defra is leading work across government to ensure that the value of natural and social capital can be factored into central government policy making, and has produced guidance and tools for policy makers in completing impact assessments and business cases to ensure sustainability is at the heart of decisions.

Each public sector organisation will have different initiatives for reducing the impact of its buildings and operations.

The public sector as a whole is committed to reducing the financial deficit and delivering value for money. Sustainable development can play an important part in that through efficiency savings and delivering multiple benefits. Some examples of this are:

Sustainable procurement: 

• Government Buying Standards provide guidance for government and public sector buyers to purchase sustainably.

• Defra is developing buying standards for food procurement, taking account of the Department of Health’s experience of piloting the Healthier Food Mark. 

• The National Sustainable Public Procurement Programme (NSPPP) seeks to make it clear to government employees that sustainable procurement is simply good procurement practice which can generate significant benefits, including: increased efficiency; reduction in carbon; cost savings. The programme explains public procurement and demonstrates how to apply sustainable procurement good practice throughout the purchasing cycle. During 2010-11 it was rolled out to local authorities, and piloted in the following sectors: higher and further education, National Health Service, central government and local authorities in Scotland.

Energy efficiency: the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme is a mandatory energy efficiency scheme aimed at improving energy efficiency and cutting emissions in large public and private sector organisations. The Energy Saving Trust provides guidance to the public sector on reducing energy consumption.

Resource efficiency: possible initiatives include encouraging employees to switch off unused lights and appliances, and to “think before you print”. 

Sustainable travel: teleconferencing can reduce business travel and incentive schemes can encourage employees to use alternative forms of transport. 

Sustainable policy and decision making: Defra provides guidance to policy makers on sustainable development impact assessments.

Citizens, communities and the voluntary and community sector are at the heart of the Government’s ambitions to create a Big Society and can play a key role in supporting people, particularly those who might struggle to find a voice, in finding better solutions to social problems. The Big Society is a key part of the Government’s sustainable development agenda, and can be defined as delivering change through decentralisation and localism, with a correspondingly reduced role for central government in terms of regulation, direct support or guidance. 
The Government published a new strategy in October 2010, for voluntary and community groups, charities and social enterprises called Building a Stronger Civil Society in October 2010. It presents opportunities for communities across the three main parts of the Big Society agenda:

Empowering communities: giving local councils and neighbourhoods more power to take decisions and shape their area; 

Opening up public services: the Government’s public service reforms will enable charities, social enterprises, private companies and employee-owned co-operatives to compete to offer people high quality services;
  • Promoting social action: encouraging and enabling people from all walks of life to play a more active part in society, and promoting more volunteering and philanthropy. 
The Government is supporting communities to take a lead in improving local quality of life, including local environmental quality and access to services such as education, healthcare and transport.
Defra engages with civil society at two levels: the policy-specific and the strategic. Most Defra policy teams have an active working relationship with the civil society organisations of most relevance to their specific area of work. Maintaining an effective relationship with civil society at the strategic level is a key component of Defra’s wider approach to stakeholder management.

Defra’s Civil Society Advisory Board (CSAB)
To facilitate high level engagement Defra has a Civil Society Advisory Board, which acts as the department’s strategic interface with civil society. The Board is classified as an Ad Hoc Advisory Board, accountable to Defra Ministers. It was established in May 2009 and its remit runs until March 2014. The Board has 16 members from a wide range of civil society organisations which cover the breadth of Defra’s agenda – currently including the natural environment, sustainable development, resource efficiency, farming, rural interests, community engagement and social enterprise. Board members are appointed by Ministers on the basis of their personal expertise and experience; they attend the Board in a personal capacity and do not formally represent their organisations. The Board’s provides advice to Defra Ministers and officials on: the most effective ways of engaging with civil society on Defra’s policies, their delivery, and the civil society implications of Defra’s operations. The main focus of the Board’s activity is a collaborative dialogue with Ministers and policy officials, to foster mutually improved understanding of how government and civil society can work together. 

Social Enterprise
The social enterprise sector are trading organisations which use the majority of their profits to fulfil their social (or environmental) purpose. To facilitate Defra’s strategic engagement with social enterprises we have established a Social Enterprise Strategic Partnership (SESP). Its membership comprises organisations including The Plunkett Foundation, Locality, Co-operatives UK, the Social Enterprise Coalition, and REalliance; and it is task-orientated and the relationship is contractual.

EU linkages

The renewed EU Strategy for Sustainable Development (EU SDS) that was adopted in June 2006 foresees that Member States bi-annually report about how they address the priorities of the EU SDS. The UK has published its first national report on implementing the EU SDS in June 2007.


This Country Profile has been last updated on: Thursday, 04 October 2012

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