Sustainability reporting in the public sector

Information on sustainability reporting for public finance professionals

"Sustainability reporting in the public sector is in its infancy, and there is an evolutionary journey to be embarked upon – sooner rather than later."

Rob Whiteman, CIPFA Chief Executive, in the foreword of Evolving Climate Accountability: A Global Review of Public Sector Environmental Reporting, July 2021

Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and the call for global climate action has never been so crucial. The public sector has a big role to play in the fight against climate change and part of that is adopting better sustainability reporting practises.

Sustainability reporting is the recording and disclosure of an organisation’s environmental impact caused by its activities. It has been widely adopted in the private sector, but in the public sector it is not the same story.

Having a clear understanding of the overall carbon footprint of the public sector is vital if we are to tackle climate change, find solutions and encourage sustainable development.

Public sector sustainability reporting: time to step it up

‘Public sector sustainability reporting: time to step it up’ provides answers and positive steps to addressing the most pressing challenges around public sector sustainability questions. The current patchwork of public sector sustainability reporting frameworks are inconsistent and confusing. The report draws on already existing standards and frameworks that are relevant and useful to the public sector, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.

Alignment to financial reporting

The report recommends an approach that aligns sustainability reporting with the wider practice of financial reporting. The four key areas in this approach are governance, the management approach, performance and targets, and strategy. ‘Public sector sustainability reporting: time to step it up’ provides public finance professionals with a good understanding of what information needs to be disclosed and the process in producing a high quality report.

By using already existing standards that align with the public sector’s unique needs we believe will be the most efficient and easiest way of improving public sector sustainability reporting.

Time is running out for us to achieve net-zero and keep global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees Celsius. It’s time for the public sector to step up and lead from the front when it comes to disclosing their sustainability impacts.

ICAS logo

“ICAS is delighted to endorse the CIPFA publication “Public sector sustainability reporting: time to step it up”. Sustainability reporting is paramount in holding organisations accountable for their contribution to sustainable development. We strongly support this timely call to action for the public sector to improve efforts in reporting sustainability information.”

Cover of the Sustainability reporting time to step it up report

Time to step it up

Public sector sustainability reporting needs to step up. In this report, we look at already existing frameworks and standards that can be used by public sector bodies to disclose their environmental impact. We also provide best practice and suggested approaches to help the public sector deliver successful and useful sustainability reports.



Download the Public sector sustainability reporting: time to step it up report

Evolving climate accountability: a global review of public sector environmental reporting

In June 2021 we set out to identify what, if anything, international public sector organisations were doing to understand and report their impact on their climate impact. We surveyed a number of public sector professionals from around the world.

We published the results of these findings in ‘Evolving climate accountability: a global review of public sector environmental reporting.’ The report is intended to provide a baseline from which the evolution of public sector sustainability reporting can be measured.

The report found that while public sector sustainability reporting was lagging behind the private sector, there was an appetite for action. The report identified several barriers to widespread adoption of sustainability reporting in the public sector, including:

  • clarity on the definition and scope of sustainability reporting
  • accelerating the alignment and harmonisation of existing frameworks
  • committing to public sector sustainability reporting at an institutional and organisational level
  • recognition of the key role of assurance in sustainability reporting
  • prioritising the development of broader skill sets, expertise or assurance activities
  • integration with wider forms of reporting
  • promoting and strengthening institutional arrangements for oversight and scrutiny

Evolving climate accountability report cover image

A Global Review of Public Sector Environmental Reporting

Public sector sustainability reporting significantly lags behind the private sector, despite the public sector having the biggest environmental impact in most economies. In this report, we examine the reasons behind this gap and argue that the public sector should be leading the way.

Download CIPFA's sustainability report (PDF, 12.5MB)


Contact us

To discuss the report in further detail or if you have any queries please email Amit Verma, CIPFA's Sustainability Policy Manager:


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