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

Sustainable Development Office
Environment Canada

November 2013

Advancing the government's sustainable development approach in the second cycle

Plan, do, check, improve

The three-year cycle of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) is grounded in the commitment to identify opportunities to improve subsequent strategies with the aim of making environmental decision making more transparent and accountable to Parliament.

The three-year cycle establishes a system of "Plan, do, check, improve" that supports change over time. Successive strategies will review gaps and reflect policy changes supported by improved transparency. A great deal has already been accomplished, and work will continue in this and future cycles of the FSDS.

The second three-year cycle of the FSDS, which covers the period 2013–2016, provides a key opportunity to build on the three key improvements made in the first cycle and continue to improve the transparency and accountability of environmental decision making.

A best practice in sustainable development is public engagement, which is integral to the FSDS approach and essential to the success of the "Plan, do, check, improve" system.

Figure 3 – The "Plan, do, check, improve" model

The figure illustrates the cyclical "Plan, Do, Check, Improve" model (long description is located below the image).

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.

Stakeholder feedback and how it was used

In recognition of the importance of consultation, and in accordance with the Act, development of the final 2013–2016 FSDS was informed by a 120-day public consultation period. From February to June, 2013, the government received significant input on the strategy from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD), the Sustainable Development Advisory Council (SDAC), Parliamentarians, provincial and territorial governments, First Nations, municipalities, non-governmental organizations, professional and industry associations, and Canadians. A full consultation synthesis report can be found on Environment Canada's website. This feedback has informed the development and finalization of the 2013–2016 FSDS.

Public and stakeholder comments indicated support for the whole-of-government FSDS approach and acknowledged significant improvements since the 2010–2013 FSDS. These include adding a target on climate change adaptation; presenting indicators in the strategy; providing a more balanced and effective framing of sustainable development; and better articulating FSDS themes on protecting nature (Theme III) and greening government operations (Theme IV). The final 2013–2016 FSDS builds on the strengths noted in stakeholder comments by, for example, expanding the range of departments and agencies that contribute to the strategy and increasing environmental issue coverage.

The following sections identify key comments and observations that have emerged over the course of the first FSDS cycle and in the recent second cycle public consultation period, and summarize how they have influenced the final 2013–2016 FSDS.

General comments and advice

In finalizing the 2013–2016 FSDS, the government received comments emphasizing the importance of the environment and sustainable development, and on specific environmental issues. Stakeholders and Canadians also provided advice and recommendations for new programs, new policies, scientific research, new collaborations, and other initiatives. Policy advice addressed issues such as climate change adaptation, greenhouse gas emission reduction, air and water quality, nature, and government procurement. While the second strategy continues to reflect existing federal environmental decision making, general comments and advice have been provided to relevant departments and agencies for consideration in future policy and program development.

Improving targets and implementation strategies

In response to comments noting the potential for improvement in the specificity, measurability, and achievability of some FSDS targets, ten targets have been improved by, for example, adding baseline information, quantitative benchmarks, and timelines. Examples include targets on air pollutants (Target 2.1); on-reserve First Nations water and wastewater systems (Target 3.1); Great Lakes Canadian Areas of Concern (Target 3.3); and sustainable aquaculture (Target 5.2).

In addition, a number of implementation strategies have been elaborated more fully to clarify their meaning, add relevant information, and ensure they can be assessed, including Implementation strategies 1.1.2, 2.1.9 (which now includes an example of a program to advance clean technologies); 3.12.7 (which now includes more information on federal involvement in domestic and international water boards); and 4.3.4 (which now includes more information on habitat protection).

Improving coverage of environmental issues

In response to gaps noted by stakeholders, the final 2013–2016 FSDS includes greater coverage of environmental issues and relevant federal priorities, as well as an expanded whole-of-government picture that includes more federal departments and agencies.

The government has broadened existing FSDS targets and implementation strategies to increase coverage and provide a more complete account of relevant federal actions in several horizontal priorities. For example, since the FSDS 2013–2016 Consultation Paper was released in February, the number of federal departments and agencies that have been identified as contributing to the target on environmental disasters, incidents and emergencies has increased from three to twelve. The strategy now also provides a more comprehensive picture of actions on federal contaminated sites (see Implementation strategies 4.8.1 and 4.8.2).

The 2013–2016 FSDS increases the number of departments responsible for implementation strategies in Themes I–III from 17 in the first cycle to 26. This is attributable in part to participation in the FSDS by seven federal organizations not bound by the Act: Statistics Canada (Implementation strategies 2.2.2, 3.12.5, 4.3.8), National Research Council (Implementation strategy 2.2.3), Canadian Food Inspection Agency (Implementation strategies 4.6.2, 4.6.7, 4.6.8, 4.6.9, 4.6.10, 4.6.11), Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Implementation strategy 4.8.1), Correctional Service of Canada (Implementation strategy 4.8.1), Standards Council of Canada (Implementation strategy 1.2.5), and the National Energy Board (Implementation strategy 4.7.6). The government will continue to promote voluntary participation and ensure all relevant federal actions are reflected in future strategies.

The final 2013–2016 FSDS improves the strategy's coverage of issues cited by stakeholders such as health, energy, responsible resource development, environmental assessment, and agriculture. Since the release of the consultation draft, the link between environmental quality and human health has been reinforced in the strategy by expanding Theme III (Protecting nature and Canadians) to include protecting Canadians' health as well as protecting nature. The strategy now presents a clearer picture of federal action on sustainable energy (including renewable energy, energy efficiency, and clean technology). It also reflects the government's commitment to put in place a comprehensive environmental monitoring program in the oil sands by including two new implementation strategies on this topic (Implementation strategies 3.12.3 and 4.3.10). The strategy now outlines recent changes to environmental assessment (see Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and decision-making) and adds more detail on the role of agriculture in environmental sustainability (for example, through protection of riparian areas – see Theme II, and Target 5.4). Finally, the 2013–2016 FSDS now identifies implementation strategies that support the government's Responsible Resource Development initiative, a federal priority with strong environmental sustainability dimensions (see "The continued importance of sustainable development" and Implementation strategies 4.7.6 and 3.8.3).

Recognizing collaboration

In response to comments emphasizing the importance of non-federal actors in achieving environmental results, the 2013–2016 FSDS acknowledges the contributions of provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal governments, municipalities, industry, international organizations, and Canadians to achieving its goals and targets. To clarify the importance of collaboration, the second strategy includes a section for each of the first three themes giving a brief overview of the roles of others in achieving environmental outcomes.

The strategy also includes multiple implementation strategies that highlight ways in which the federal government is working with other governments and stakeholders to achieve results. Examples include implementation strategies on working collaboratively with provinces, territories and stakeholders to implement the Air Quality Management System (2.1.19), restoring aquatic ecosystems in Lake Simcoe/South-eastern Georgian Bay and Lake Winnipeg (3.6.1 and 3.7.1), providing support to co-operatives (1.1.10), and supporting the development of Aboriginal knowledge and expertise in dealing with species at risk (4.1.3).

Social and economic dimensions of sustainable development

In response to comments received, the 2013–2016 FSDS better incorporates social and economic dimensions while maintaining a focus on environmental decision making. For each of its environmental sustainability themes (Addressing climate change and air quality; Maintaining water quality and availability; and Protecting nature and Canadians), the strategy provides information on the social and economic drivers and effects of environmental change as well as on how federal environmental action can result in social and economic benefits (see Themes I-III).

It also includes environmental indicators with social and economic aspects. These include indicators of air-quality related health outcomes (Theme I); drinking water advisories (Theme II); water quality and soil quality agri-environmental performance metrics (Theme II); level of exposure to substances of concern (Theme III); and the extent to which aquaculture is managed under a science-based environmental regulatory frame (Theme III).

The 2013–2016 FSDS also continues the government's ongoing efforts to apply the FSDS goals and targets in SEAs to inform decision makers of the potential effects of proposed policies, plans and programs (including those with a social or economic focus) on achieving the government's environmental objectives. Through the ongoing application of the federal Policy on Green Procurement, combined with enhanced targets to reduce the environmental footprint of government operations, the 2013–2016 FSDS also continues to integrate environmental considerations into decision making on procuring goods and services.


In response to comments recommending increased clarity and readability, the second strategy improves communication of environmental issues and priorities by providing or linking to definitions of key terms – for example, sustainable development (see The Government of Canada's sustainable development approach), beneficial use impairment (in relation to Great Lakes areas of concern – see Theme II), and sustainable forest management (see Theme III).

Following public consultations for the 2013–2016 FSDS, implementation strategy categories have been added under Target 1.1 (Climate change mitigation), enabling Canadians to quickly identify implementation strategies related to clean technology and industry, clean transportation, energy efficiency and renewable energy, and international work on climate change.

Where appropriate, implementation strategies have also been revised for clarity – examples include, under Target 2.1 (Outdoor air pollutants), Implementation strategy 2.1.13, which has been revised for wording and readability; and implementation strategies under Target 4.1 (Species at risk), which have been consolidated to reduce duplication.


In response to comments recommending steps to increase measurability (the ability to determine progress on and achievement of the FSDS goals and targets), a number of targets have been revised. These include 3.1 (On-reserve First Nations water and wastewater systems), which now includes baseline information and specific percentage improvement objectives to be achieved by 2015; and 3.3 (Great Lakes Canadian areas of concern), which now specifies the number of Canadian areas of concern to be delisted by 2018.

While the 2013–2016 FSDS will continue to use environmental outcome indicators to measure progress on the goals and targets, complementary information on departments' and agencies' specific FSDS commitments is available through departmental planning and reporting. Departmental planning and reporting on the second strategy will begin in 2014.

Future considerations

The government is committed to ensuring that each subsequent cycle of the FSDS builds on lessons learned, in keeping with the "Plan, do, check, improve" approach. Accordingly, the government will consider stakeholder comments when planning future cycles.

Future considerations raised during the public consultation period included increasing the number of departments and agencies that contribute to FSDS Themes I–III, strengthening links between human health and the environment, providing financial information in the FSDS, increasing the number of departments systematically tracking integrated decision making, expanding the social and economic aspects of the FSDS, adding more implementation strategies on ecosystem services and protected areas, and obtaining third-party verification of CESI data.

All of these issues will be considered in the development of the 2016–2019 FSDS; however, progress on several is already underway. For example, since 2010, departments and agencies have made progress toward aligning their FSDS commitments with their respective Program Alignment Architectures, resulting in improved linkages between sustainable development reporting and core departmental reporting.

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