The Ministry of Justice has spelled out its plans to become more environmentally friendly after a damning report accused it of not being ambitious enough in terms of improving sustainability.
In January, MPs on parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee said there were “significant gaps” in the department’s commitment to “embed sustainability in everything it does”. They flagged an increasing use of air travel by MoJ staff, a failure to monitor the green-build credentials for new buildings, and a failure to buy ultra-low emission vehicles in any significant quantity.
The committee said it was particularly concerned that the department had failed to collect Building Research Establishment BREEAM certificates for 64% of its new or refurbished buildings over the past eight years, and that just two of the MoJ’s 1,483 vehicle fleet were classified as ultra-low emission.
The MoJ also drew fire for failing to routinely assess the environmental impacts of new policies; for the pace at which it is introducing renewable energy technology on its estate; and for failing to improve the environmental status of its Sites of Special Scientific Interest, eight of which were deemed “unfavourable”.
Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh said that as the department had the second-largest estate across central government, it should be a “leading from the front” in reducing its environmental impact.
“Our report highlighted significant shortcomings in the Ministry of Justice’s approach to sustainability,” she said.
“We called on ministers to set more ambitious targets and improve their approach to environmental issues relating to its estate, activities and contracts.
“I welcome the government’s positive response to our report and that ministers accepted many of our recommendations, and are acting on some of them. It remains frustrating, however, that reports such as ours are required to ensure sustainability remains at the front of departmental agendas.”
In its just-published response, the MoJ said its clear policy on air travel was that flights should only be used when there was a “business justification” because of cost advantage, official time saving, or urgency. But it added that 70% of the domestic air travel undertaken by staff involved business in Scotland, Northern Ireland, or the UK’s other islands.
On its missing green-building credentials, the MoJ said it was "actively seeking to obtain copies of BREEAM certificates for 126 properties", and had set out a new policy in March that committed it to MoJ published its new BREEAM policy in March 2018.
The department said it was increasing the number of low-emission vehicles within its fleet and was now operating 21, with plans to increase the number to 51 over the next 12 months. It added that factoring in around 320 electric vehicles that were used on different sites, 18% of its fleet would be low-emission by 2019.
“MoJ has investigated the potential to increase capital spend on low emission vehicles, and has reviewed options to increase the proportion of low emission rental cars,” its official response said. “As technology improves, the operating performance of battery powered and hybrid-powered vans will also support MoJ’s efforts to meeting the 25% target by 2022.”
On impact assessment, the department said it was “increasing training and communications” so that its policy teams and analysts could “understand environmental impact assessment requirements more fully”. The ministry added that it accepted accepts the committee’s recommendation to publish environmental costs, benefits and any mitigation of new policies on an annual basis.
In answer to concerns about its deployment of renewable energy technology, the MoJ said it was working on a range of measures including individual projects such as photo-voltaic installations and biomass boilers at specific sites as well as looking at sources of funding for new initiatives in conjunction with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
The ministry added that it expected to “finalise its energy strategy for new prisons and prison house blocks” later this month in a way that would “embed the requirement for renewable sources”.
In relation to the concerns about its Sites of Special Scientific Interest, the MoJ said it had increased its ecology team by 50% and was securing additional expertise to carry out habitat and species surveys later in the year.
“To support this core team, a ‘biodiversity champion’ will be appointed for each SSSI who will monitor progress locally, and report successes and any issues to MoJ’s principal ecologist,” it said.
The SSSIs are typically home to secure establishments, such as HMP Frankland, in County Durham, and HMP North Sea Camp in Lincolnshire.