Getting the message out

Sustainability reporting within the public sector is on the rise. And the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy wants to highlight its importance. Rhiannon Soper reports

It is often perceived that public-sector organisations are not as good as their private-sector counterparts at reporting their sustainability initiatives.

The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (Cipfa) recently published a sustainability reporting framework that was, for the first time, solely for public-sector organisations. It was jointly authored with the sustainability charity Forum for the Future.

Cipfa hopes this will raise awareness about sustainability initiatives and policy in the UK public sector. And it aims to encourage organisations to report on their current sustainability activities, demonstrating good accountability and good governance.

The framework has been designed for use in any public-sector organisation - for example in local and central government or the NHS - but acknowledges that many organisations are at different stages of developing sustainability policy.

The publication has two main target audiences. It is intended to help officers responsible for sustainability to communicate effectively to stakeholders. And it attempts to raise awareness among senior officers who may not be fully aware of, or engaged with, the sustainability agenda.

The framework itself is split into two parts. The first half provides a background to sustainability in the public sector, and identifies the important policy initiatives that are driving the agenda. The second half offers guidance if an organisation decides it wants to produce a sustainability report.

One feature of the publication is flexibility. It does not prescribe what a sustainability report should include, but it encourages organisations to identify what is important for them and to prepare a relevant report which reflects this.

Cipfa sees local authorities as the main target of the framework. The publication refers to a number of indicators and performance measures which are collected by local authorities, and some of the case studies used are local authorities. In fact, there are an ever increasing number of local authorities now pursuing sustainability reporting activities.

Some organisations are already reporting their sustainable indicators and initiatives. They base reports on existing performance information and indicators. Woking Borough Council, for example, produces an annual sustainability report focusing predominantly on information already collected and monitored, such as best-value performance indicators.

There are examples of local councils already using the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines to assist in their sustainability reporting. Wolverhampton City Council became the first local authority in England to publish a sustainability report in accordance with GRI guidelines.

Wolverhampton wanted to demonstrate that it was contributing to a sustainable city for future generations. This report is a baseline, and will be determining challenging targets that come with future reports.

It is hoped that the good practice demonstrated by Woking and Wolverhampton could be followed by other local authorities, and that sustainability reporting could be developed on a wider scale.

Rhiannon Soper is from Cipfa.
To buy copies of the framework, email publications@cipfa.org
or call 020 7543 5605. The first copy costs £60 and subsequent copies are £25

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