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‘Policy vacuum’ hinders sustainable government travel

traffic-jamHow can Government make its travel practices more sustainable? A range of suggestions — from “quick wins” to longer-term strategies — are offered in a new report, “A review of Government travel — Sustainable travel engaging the public sector” (PDF).

The report was commissioned jointly by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) and the Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement in the Office of Government Commerce (OGC). The study was prepared by JMP Consultants.

“Travel is widely recognised as one of the most difficult areas from which to reduce carbon emissions and embed sustainable practice, but government should not view sustainable operations and travel as an insurmountable challenge,” writes Gordon Baker, chairman of JMP Consultants, in the foreword to the report. “To achieve sustainable operations and travel government needs to fully understand its sphere of influence and the impacts of its operations, policies and programmes. This will require a conceptual shift in the way services are delivered to citizens and the way travel is managed. If government tinkers around the edge this will result in only one thing — more of what we have now.”

The first step government needs to take, the report finds, is to “expand its sphere of influence from administrative vehicles to consider all modes of business travel, employee commuting, visitor travel and working practices. This
will enable government to understand the relationship that exists between travel and its operations, policies and programmes.”

Key to developing sustainable travel practices, the report adds, is better leadership and communication:

“There appears to be a policy vacuum with a lack of leadership and management of sustainable travel in government’s own operations. As a result we found public sector officials and suppliers were unsure of government’s sustainability policy or travel targets.”

One way to address that, the report states, is for each department to appoint a mobility communications manager.

Other recommendations include:

  • Government should prioritise action and identify where interventions in the travel category could deliver the greatest sustainability gains;
  • Government should examine how it can influence the behaviour of staff travelling on business or the commute; and
  • Government should take action now through “quick wins” and “first steps” to evidence the benefits of sustainable operations and travel.

“The issues of climate change and the United Kingdom’s obesity epidemic pose threats to the economy, our society and quality of life,” Baker states in the foreword. “The evidence is now clear and there is no room for complacency.
Government, business and citizens all have a part to play in delivering solutions.”

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