GRI reporting: Public sector possibilities
05 December 2012

​Recently-published research commissioned by GRI’s Focal Point Australia suggests that GRI’s Guidelines can be used by government and public agencies to remove the clutter and reduce the burden of their reporting.
​Government and public agencies face different reporting requirements to those of business. Legislation often mandates these bodies to report environmental and other sustainability information, including for topics like the use of public funds, human resources, service delivery, and procurement.

Focal Point Australia commissioned Manidis Roberts to research the use and potential of GRI reporting in the Australian public sector. As well as looking at the practices of existing GRI reporters – like Sydney Water Corporation, Melbourne City Council and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation - the research examined how GRI’s Guidelines might fit the reporting requirements generated by state and federal legislation. The state of New South Wales was used as a case study.

Public sector bodies in New South Wales – like government departments and health services - need to report with a variety of instruments. Some are localized: the Annual Report Compliance Checklist of the NSW Treasury Guidelines, the NSW State of the Environment Report, and the NSW Sustainability Policy. Others are national initiatives and legislation: the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme, the Energy Efficiencies Opportunity Act, and the Environmental Protection Licenses Act.

These reporting requirements were analyzed for their compatibility with 126 disclosure items from the G3.1 Guidelines; the 84 Performance Indicators and 42 Profile Disclosures. The analysis concluded that there is significant crossover between G3.1 and the various Australian instruments. In particular, existing data collection systems allow the reporting of 60 GRI disclosures, either directly from mandatory information (25) or with some modification (35). A further 29 items can potentially be answered by using readily-available organizational information.

The findings are especially significant given the national and global variety of public sector reporting tools. Applying a common sustainability reporting framework to the public sector – in Australia and elsewhere – could lead to two key outcomes.

First, a much wider picture of sustainability performance could be provided by the public sector, covering a full range of topics and going far beyond the issue-specific information that is currently covered in many countries’ requirements.

Second, it should become possible to compare the sustainability performance of public sector agencies – nationally and internationally. In a sustainable global economy, comparability - and common standards and measurements - are just as important for public sector bodies as they are for international business.

Ultimately, the research shows the feasibility of using the GRI Sustainability Reporting Framework to achieve these outcomes; the example of New South Wales shows clear alignment between current requirements and GRI.

The research has led to three strong national recommendations from the Focal Point Australia, that:

• Government at all levels – local, state, federal – leads by example, and reports with GRI’s Framework
• Government reports follow a minimum set of sustainability disclosures, based on GRI’s Framework
• The Council of Australian Governments adopts a common sustainability reporting framework for the public sector in Australia