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Planning for a Sustainable Future:
A Federal Sustainable Development Strategy for Canada

Sustainable Development Office
Environment Canada

November 2013

Environmental sustainability priorities--structure and approach

Reaffirming our priorities

The 2013–2016 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) includes four priority themes:

The image of the letter A above a leaf represents Theme I: Addressing Climate Change and Air QualityTheme I. Addressing climate change and air quality;

The image of the letter W above a leaf represents Theme II: Maintaing Water Quality and AvailabilityTheme II. Maintaining water quality and availability;

The image of the letter N above a leaf represents Theme III: Protecting Nature and CanadiansTheme III. Protecting nature and Canadians; and

The image of the letter G above a leaf represents Theme IV: Shrinking The Environmental Footprint, Beginning with Government Theme IV. Shrinking the environmental footprint – beginning with government.

It retains the overarching structure of goals, targets and implementation strategies that was introduced in the first cycle and aligns with common practice in government sustainability reporting.

The 2012 FSDS Progress Report provides detailed information on actions and achievements within each of these themes during the first cycle, as well as remaining challenges.

Key updates to the four themes between the first and second cycles include:

  • Broadening Theme I to include a new target and implementation strategies on climate change adaptation;
  • Revising targets under Theme II to better explain their linkages to social and economic effects;
  • Broadening Theme III to include actions to protect the health of Canadians, by including a target on chemicals management (consolidating two targets that previously appeared in Themes I and II); expanding the target on environmental disasters, incidents and emergencies to ensure all relevant federal programming is captured; adding a new target on sustainable agriculture; and consolidating two previously separate goals under this theme to demonstrate the interrelationship between wildlife and habitat; and
  • Revising the goal structure and updating targets within Theme IV to provide a more complete view of the Government of Canada's environmental footprint and the actions being taken to minimize it.


The structure of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy: Goals, targets and implementation strategies

The 2013–2016 FSDS sets out one or more goals within each of its four themes. In the second cycle, as in the first, the Government of Canada strives to ensure that FSDS goals:

  • Are aspirational;
  • Take a long-term view;
  • Address important challenges and problems;
  • Remain attuned to environmental information, data and indicators;
  • Encourage flexibility in the choice of strategies for achievement; and
  • Reflect domestic and international priorities and commitments.

Under each goal, one or more targets have been established. FSDS targets are more specific in nature than goals and, to the extent possible, are intended to:

  • Meet the SMART criteria:
    • Specific - Clearly articulated, well-defined and focused.
    • Measurable - Able to determine the degree to which there is completion or attainment.
    • Achievable - Realistic and practical; attainable within operational constraints dependent on resource availability, knowledge, and timeframe.
    • Relevant - Tied to government priorities and mandate; contributes to a desired outcome in Canadian society, economy or environment.
    • Time-bound - Expresses clear deadlines.
  • Take a medium-term view;
  • Fall within federal jurisdiction and departmental mandates;
  • Remain informed by environmental baseline data and indicators;
  • Be consistent with Government of Canada priorities; and
  • Reflect the precautionary principle.

Each target is supported by implementation strategies--specific federal actions for achieving them. While all implementation strategies support FSDS targets, they may be indirectly rather than directly linked to environmental sustainability outcomes. Implementation strategies should:

  • Strive to meet the SMART criteria;
  • Take a short-term view;
  • Fit within the reporting and planning structures of the federal government;
  • Identify resources and activities; and
  • Contribute to the related target.

Figure 4 (below) illustrates the structure of FSDS themes, including goals, targets, and implementation strategies and their relationships.

Figure 4 – Theme structure: goals, targets and implementation strategies

This figure illustrates the structure of the FSDS (long description is located below the image).

Long description

This figure illustrates the structure of the FSDS, showing the relationship between themes, goals, targets, and implementation strategies, using the theme "Addressing climate change and air quality" as an example. It indicates that, in the context of the FSDS, themes are overarching issues; goals are aspirational, long-term objectives; targets are medium-term objectives that, wherever possible, meet the SMART criteria of specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound; and that implementation strategies are specific actions that may also meet the SMART criteria where appropriate. The figure shows that each theme is addressed by one or more goals; that one or more targets are established under each goal; and that implementation strategies are established to support the achievement of each target. For example, "Goal 1: Climate change" has two targets that are established under this goal --Target 1.1 Climate change mitigation and Target 1.2 Climate change adaptation. Target 1.1 has a sample implementation strategy that supports it entitled 1.1.1 Develop domestic climate change strategies aligned with the U.S. as appropriate for Canadian circumstances as part of Canada’s commitment to meet its national Greenhouse gas emissions. For illustrative purposes, there are also two targets established under Goal 2: Air Pollution. Target 2.1 is Outdoor air pollutants, and Target 2.2 is Indoor air quality. Progress on goals and targets under each theme is tracked using indicators selected for their policy relevance, utility, soundness, and data availability and integrity. An example of an indicator under Goal 1 is National greenhouse gas emissions.

To enhance clarity and transparency, the FSDS categorizes implementation strategies according to the nature of the action they represent. Implementation strategies may support FSDS targets in the following ways, corresponding to the types of policy levers available to the Government of Canada:

  • Leading by example – activities that have a direct impact on federal government operations, or the management of activities by the federal government on behalf of Canadians;
  • Enabling capacity – activities where the federal government is building the capacity of others to take action, or is making strategic investments in support of goals and targets;
  • Advancing knowledge and communication – activities related to science, knowledge gathering and sharing, and public education; or
  • Demanding performance – activities, such as laws and regulations, that require industries or individuals to change behaviours.

While industry, individuals and other stakeholders also contribute to achieving environmental sustainability results, the 2013–2016 FSDS reflects only federal contributions to achieving the goals and targets. In some cases, the federal role is direct (for example, regulations), while in others, it involves supporting others (for example, by providing science and information). As a result, some targets aim to achieve environmental outcomes, while others focus on delivering information and completing actions to support other actors (for example, provincial, territorial and First Nations governments and civil society).

Our approach to performance measurement

For the FSDS to support transparency and inform decision making, effective performance measurement is essential. As described in the FSDS Management Framework, the strategy is central to the "Plan" component of the government's "Plan, do, check, improve" model of sustainable development planning and reporting. The "Check" component of this model relies on performance measurement supported by three key vehicles:

  1. FSDS progress reports;
  2. Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies; and
  3. The Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI).

FSDS Progress Reports

The Federal Sustainable Development Act requires that at least once every three years, the government table a report on its progress in implementing the FSDS, including progress toward achieving the strategy's goals and targets. The 2012 FSDS Progress Report, the first to provide a whole-of-government view of results under the 2010–2013 FSDS, includes up-to-date environmental scientific and performance information supported by indicators; highlights government actions that support the goals and targets; and links to the CESI website and to detailed performance information on departmental websites.

FSDS progress reports provide important information on environmental outcomes and the contributions of departments and agencies toward achieving them. There are limits on the extent to which progress on results can be linked directly to specific initiatives. It is important to note that the federal government supports environmental sustainability within the constraints of its jurisdiction and authorities, and that it is often difficult to make direct links between federal actions and particular environmental outcomes.

Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies

Departments and agencies named in the Act are required to develop Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies (DSDSs) that comply with and contribute to the FSDS. DSDSs are linked with core departmental planning and reporting processes. The DSDS provides detailed descriptions of the departmental contributions towards the FSDS, including a department's sustainable development vision, departmental decision making and sustainable development practices, and the implementation strategies identified in the FSDS.

Federal departments and agencies bound by the Act may contribute differently to reaching the goals and targets under Themes I–III, depending on their mandate and specific programming. However, all are required to take appropriate actions and measure results under Theme IV (Shrinking the Environmental Footprint – Beginning with Government). As a result, DSDSs include reporting on common performance measures that support standardized and consistent reporting on this theme across government.

DSDS performance reporting complements whole-of-government FSDS progress reports by providing performance information on departments' and agencies' specific FSDS commitments.

Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators

Indicators of environmental sustainability outcomes are used to measure progress on the goals and targets under the first three FSDS themes (Addressing climate change and air quality; Maintaining water quality and availability; and Protecting nature and Canadians). These indicators are largely drawn from the CESI program. FSDS indicators are the result of collaboration among federal departments and have been selected according to the following criteria:

  • Policy relevance (represents the FSDS goals and targets);
  • Utility (meets the needs of decision makers and the public);
  • Soundness (provides consistent and solid methodology, comparable over time); and
  • Data availability and integrity (uses existing high-quality data with adequate coverage).

Indicators of environmental outcomes have been selected for measuring progress on the FSDS goals and targets in order to provide information that is most relevant to Canadians and policy makers and to communicate what the strategy's goals, targets, and implementation strategies are ultimately intended to achieve or support. Using CESI as the primary basis for measuring performance on the FSDS has a number of advantages. In keeping with the purpose of the Act and the FSDS, CESI was developed to provide transparency, and its online platform makes comprehensive and objective information on environmental trends readily accessible. It is considered an authoritative source for state of the environment indicators and data, providing national-level information, a rigorous methodology that standardizes the data and makes it comparable over time, and linkages to related socio-economic issues and information.

The Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators are produced by Environment Canada with the support of other federal departments such as Health Canada, Statistics Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Parks Canada Agency, Transport Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, along with provincial and territorial governments. The indicator development and production process for CESI includes technical review by program partners, measurement network colleagues and provincial and territorial partners to ensure science and technical validity.

Further information on CESI, including comprehensive explanations of indicator methodologies and indicator data for download, is available through the CESI website and the government's Open Data Portal.

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