13.01.2021  |   Advisory Report

Sustainability progress remains slow in the public sector

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Social, economic and environmental impacts are not or not adequately embedded in nearly half of the decisions made by federal government departments.

Federal government departments must act in a sustainable way

In the German Sustainability Strategy (Strategy), the Federal Government has committed itself to sustainable development as a guiding principle. This guiding principle is applicable to all and any policy actions and administrative decisions. The Strategy is based on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the member states of the United Nations in 2015 and its 17 sustainable development goals. The Strategy sets forth what contribution Germany intends to make towards achieving these goals.

There is a clear framework for responsibilities...

Within the Federal Government, the Federal Chancellery has lead responsibility for sustainable development. The central body in charge of implementing the Strategy is the State Secretaries’ Committee for Sustainable Development (Committee). All federal ministries are represented on the Committee. The Committee coordinates the implementation of the Strategy. However, as a rule, the federal ministries decide themselves how and by what means they intend to deliver their contribution to the Strategy (departmental autonomy principle). In addition, departmental coordinators for sustainable development have been designated at all ministries.

...but implementation is lacking

We carried out a horizontal audit to study whether the federal government departments acted in a sustainable way. We found that so far, the scope of actions taken by the ministries had fallen short of duly meeting their departmental sustainability responsibilities. Departmental strategies and frameworks for implementing the Strategy were still lacking. These gaps had not yet been bridged by overarching mandatory guidance or clear instructions for action. As a result, often the ministries were not even aware of what regulations needed to be applied to act in a sustainable way. At the same time, we found cases in which the ministries did not want to embed sustainability in their work although they were required to do so.

We recommend urging the ministries to do better and more

In our report, we demand that the federal government departments adopt a more consistent approach to comply with the guiding principle of sustainability. The federal ministries should develop their own departmental strategies for this purpose. Such strategies should include specified guidance for departmental staff. Furthermore, the Federal Chancellery should take more rigorous leadership than has been the case so far and engage with the Committee to ensure better monitoring of the Strategy’s implementation in the public sector.

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Advisory ReportSustainability