My Department's sustainable development strategy 2003-2005 is built around four pillars. Three of these relate to reducing the environmental impacts of business in the areas of climate change, competitive sustainability and corporate social responsibility. The fourth pillar addresses the issue of departmental sustainability. I am pleased to report that very significant progress has been made across all four pillars.
In the area of climate change, for example, my Department had a very significant involvement with the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government in regard to negotiations at EU and national level on the development and implementation of the EU emissions trading scheme which commenced on 1 January 2005. Through their participation in emissions trading, Irish companies are making a significant contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, which will facilitate Ireland in meeting its Kyoto target.
In the area of competitive sustainability, key activities include my Department's involvement in negotiations on the energy using products directive. This directive, which was adopted in July 2005, establishes a framework for setting ecodesign requirements for energy using products. My Department is also participating in the EU environmental technologies action programme, ETAP. The ETAP is a broad ranging programme which is designed to stimulate the development and uptake of environmental products and services. In addition, my Department supported the work of Sligo County Enterprise Board in regard to improving the competitive sustainability of micro-enterprises. My Department established a multi-stakeholder working group to promote the uptake of environmental management systems, EMSs, by SMEs.
In the area of corporate social responsibility, CSR, significant progress has been made at both national and EU level. It is widely acknowledged that implementing corporate social responsibility in workplaces requires the closer involvement of employees in dialogue with employers to manage change and develop more sustainable ways of working. The implementation of the national workplace strategy, which was launched by the Taoiseach in March 2005, is being overseen by a high level group chaired by the Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs, Deputy Killeen. The strategy aims to develop the supports that are required for the development of workplaces that are adaptable, flexible, participatory and highly productive. My Department is also contributing to EU corporate social responsibility policy through continued involvement in an EU high level group. A European Commission communication on corporate social responsibility is expected shortly, and I look forward to considering the details of the document when it is published.
The fourth pillar of my Department's sustainable development strategy relates to departmental sustainability. Over the period of the strategy there have been many achievements in this area, including the establishment of a departmental green team to promote the incorporation of best environmental practice into the Department's operations and the adoption of a departmental environmental management plan. Some achievements in the area of departmental sustainability include the introduction of paper recycling and ensuring that the Department's new building in Carlow incorporates high environmental standards. In addition, the Department provided training for key departmental and agency staff on the EU strategic environmental assessment.
One of the commitments in the CSR pillar of the strategy relates to green consumerism, which is about supporting sustainable consumer choices through ensuring the provision of accurate and credible social and environmental information on products and services. In 2000 the European Commission engaged consultants to assist it in identifying specific issues on which guidance for making and assessing green claims, in the light of the international standard ISO 14021, would be useful, and to develop informal guidelines on the subject. This work culminated in December 2000 with the publication of informal guidelines for making and assessing environmental claims. These informal guidelines are available as a support to those wishing to apply good practice in making environmental claims.
One of the key actions in ETAP, in which my Department is involved at national and EU level, is raising consumer awareness, with a particular emphasis on product labelling in order to ensure consumers have the necessary information to make informed choices. Enterprise Ireland recently participated in an ETAP seminar specifically targeted at raising business and consumer awareness of environmental products and services. Another way in which my Department is continuing to promote green consumerism is by promoting the uptake of environmental management systems, EMSs, by SMEs through a multi-stakeholder working group which it has established. EMSs facilitate more informed consumer choice, as the EMS is a clear demonstration of a company's commitment to reducing its environmental impact.
I should also mention that the new National Consumer Agency, whose establishment has been approved by Government, will have specific statutory functions in the area of consumer education, awareness, information and advice to help ensure that consumers are sufficiently empowered to make informed choices about the goods and services they buy and use in their day to day lives.
I consider the significant progress made over the period of the strategy has resulted in my Department addressing the challenges posed by sustainable ways of doing business, while maximising the business and competitiveness opportunities presented.