Department of Foreign Affairs
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Sustainable Development Web Site

The Guide to Green Government


Over the past decade, sustainable development has become a key goal of public policy, within Canada and internationally. Individuals, businesses, voluntary groups, the scientific community and governments have been exploring how to transform sustainable development from a concept to a practical guide for action.

The Government of Canada believes that sustainable development is not only a desirable but an essential goal of public policy. Achieving sustainable development requires an approach to public policy that is comprehensive, integrated, open and accountable. It should also embody a commitment to continuous improvement.

  • Comprehensive: Sustainable development is not the mandate of any single government department. All departments must become sustainable development departments, both in terms of their policies that influence the decisions of others, and in how they manage their internal operations.

  • Integrated: The high quality of life that Canadians enjoy reflects the combination of its economic, environmental and social strengths. These are linked to one another, and government policy cannot focus on one component without regard to its impact on the others.

  • Open: Sustainable development is a responsibility shared between governments and with Aboriginal people, the private sector, voluntary and community-based organizations, and individual Canadians. Through such partnerships, goals need to be set and respective roles determined for their achievement.

  • Accountable: Shared responsibility for sustainable development also means that we must each define what we are going to do towards sustainable development - and we should be prepared to be held accountable for doing our part. We have to measure whether our individual and collective actions are delivering progress towards sustainable development.

  • Continuous Improvement: Experience has shown that sustainable development is not a fixed state, and will not be achieved through a one-time effort. A step-by-step approach based on continuous, incremental improvement is required to make measurable progress towards sustainable development. Considerable work is already under way at all levels. We need to build on our experience and our growing understanding of the issues.

Amendments to the Auditor General Act establish the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development within the Office of the Auditor General of Canada. Within two years, Ministers will present their departments' sustainable development strategies to Parliament. These strategies will outline each department's concrete goals and action plans for integrating sustainable development into their policies, programs and operations. They will be prepared in consultation with stakeholders, partners and clients.

Departmental strategies will provide the benchmarks against which progress towards sustainable development will be measured. As outlined in Appendix 1, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development will use these to assess how well departments are doing in moving forward on sustainable development, by reviewing their progress in meeting goals and targets and in implementing action plans.

By taking this approach to sustainable development, the Government recognizes that responsibility for sustainable development is shared across government and that each Minister is accountable for making measurable progress on sustainable development within the sphere of his/her mandate. Many federal departments have already made significant efforts to integrate sustainable development into their policy development, planning and decision-making.

The purpose of this paper is to present a framework that serves to guide and assist federal departments in the preparation of their sustainable development strategies. Any framework has to be a guide rather than a prescription. Federal departments differ greatly in their mandates, the resources they have available to pursue them, and the mechanisms that they use to involve their clients and stakeholders in their decision-making processes. They also differ in their ability to influence Canada's sustainable development prospects.

For these reasons, A Guide to Green Government is set out in broad terms, and meant to be interpreted and adapted by each department. It is not intended to limit the scope of departments' sustainable development strategies, but rather to ensure that there is a degree of coherence and consistency among them.

This Guide incorporates the Greening of Government Operations initiative recently undertaken by the federal government, which establishes guidelines for all federal departments to follow in order to integrate environmental considerations into their day-to-day operations.

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