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1. The Federal Sustainable Development Strategy

In 2010, the Government of Canada tabled the first Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) supporting the Federal Sustainable Development Act’s (the Act, FSDA) purpose "to provide the legal framework for developing and implementing a Federal Sustainable Development Strategy that will make environmental decision-making more transparent and accountable to Parliament." Since 2011, departments and agencies have produced annual Departmental Sustainable Development Strategies (DSDSs) integrated into their core planning and reporting processes. The government has also demonstrated its commitment to measurement, monitoring and reporting by issuing two progress reports. It has also expanded the suite of environmental sustainability indicators that support FSDS reporting, as included in the 2012 Progress Report tabled in Parliament in February 2013. Fulfilling the requirement to update the FSDS every three years, the 2013–2016 FSDS was tabled in Parliament in November 2013. 

The 2013–2016 FSDS builds on the three key improvements made in the 2010–2013 FSDS as a result of the new FSDA. These improvements include:

  • An integrated, whole-of-government picture of actions and results to achieve environmental sustainability;
  • A link between sustainable development planning and reporting and the government’s core expenditure planning and reporting system; and,
  • Effective measurement, monitoring and reporting in order to track and report on progress to Canadians.   

The FSDS brings together goals, targets and implementation strategies established through the regular course of government decision-making of 33 federal government departments and agencies under 4 priority themes:

  1. Addressing climate change and air quality
  2. Maintaining water quality and availability
  3. Protecting nature and Canadians
  4. Shrinking the environmental footprint – beginning with government

Figure 1 illustrates how FSDS goals, targets and implementation strategies relate to each other, using Theme I as an example. Overall, the 2013–2016 FSDS includes 8 goals, 34 targets, 65 indicators and 225 implementation strategies, with contributions from 33 departments and agencies as outlined in Table 1

Figure 1: Relationship between goals, target and implementation strategies (GTIS)

Figure 1: Relationship Between Goals, Target and Implementation Strategies (GTIS)

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 emissions".

Table 1: Number of goals, targets and implementation strategies in the 2013–2016 FSDS
Addressing climate change and air quality
Maintaining water quality and availability
Protecting nature and Canadians
Shrinking the environmental footprint – Beginning with government
Implementation strategies10344708225
FSDA departments / agencies158142626
Voluntary departments / agencies31617

The Act lists departments/agencies that are subject to the FSDA (Appendix 1). All of these departments/agencies are required to contribute to achieving the goals and targets under Theme IV of the FSDS (Shrinking the environmental footprint – Beginning with government), while 19 of the 26 FSDA departments/agencies have programming specifically related to one or more of the goals listed in the FSDS’ first three themes.   

The 2013–2016 FSDS also includes voluntary contributions from federal organizations not bound by the Act, including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Correctional Service of Canada, Statistics Canada, National Research Council, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Standards Council of Canada.   

The FSDS focuses on transparent and integrated decision-making--a key principle of sustainable development--by making stronger links to economic and social policy. This is achieved, in part, through applying Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA), which highlight environmental considerations that can be integrated into the larger decision-making process. The FSDS also provides socio-economic linkages to each goal through the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) program by providing contextual indicators. These two elements (SEA and CESI) also contribute to the “Check” and “Improve” parts of the system outlined below. 

Figure 2: "Plan, do, check, improve" system

Figure 2: Plan, Do, Check, Improve System

Long description

Figure 2 illustrates the cycle "Plan, do, check, improve" model of continuous improvement used to improve the FSDS. Each element of the FSDS "Plan, do, check and improve" model is represented by an arrow completing a circular pattern. The arrow representing the "Plan –Define change and approach" component of the model, focuses on developing the FSDS, consulting with other government departments, key stakeholders and public and establishing committees and working groups. The arrow representing the "Do –Implement the approach" component, includes tabling the FSDS, and developing processes to implement the approach such as the Management Framework, Measurement Framework and Departmental guidance (Reports on Plans and Priorities, Departmental Performance Reports and Strategic Environmental Assessment). The arrow representing the "Check –Analyze the results, evaluate progress and identify lessons learned" component, involves delivering the Progress Report, identifying gaps and areas for improvement and applying SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) criteria. Finally, the arrow representing the "Improve –Take action based on results and lessons learned" component, involves sharing the results of progress made towards meeting the goals and targets, and applying SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) criteria. This component also involves refining implementation processes and taking action to fill gaps and make improvements.

The first cycle of the FSDS made a significant contribution to environmental planning and reporting and led to increased transparency of the federal government’s environmental sustainability programs. Updating the FSDS every three years is guided by a system of "Plan, do, check and improve" and is a useful addition to the federal government’s approach to sustainable development. This system improves transparency and accountability of environmental decision-making. Through the three-year cycle, progress toward FSDS goals and targets is tracked and reported in the FSDS Progress Reports and in departments’ and agencies’ own departmental performance reports. The FSDS Management Framework is also one of the key elements to assuring long term progress and success of a "Plan, Do, Check and Improve" system. The figure outlines the main elements of the FSDS approach to implementing the "Plan, do, check and improve" system.

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