GRI Sustainability Reporting in the Public Sector

According to GRI, public agencies account for less than 2% of sustainability reporters in 2009. In addition to poor uptake, this may also indicate an inconsistent and outdated approach to classification based on ownership concepts instead of sustainability profile and performance.

I have no argument with GRI’s conclusion of its recent study entitled ‘GRI Reporting in Government Agencies’ that sustainability reporting in the public sector is still in its infancy. However, I wonder if the underlying universe of reports and their classifications holds up to any scrutiny or – more importantly - if that approach and related sector supplement is really relevant today. The list of 20 public agency reporters contained in GRI’s data base is shown further below.

Here a few things which caught my eye. Take the BT Group – why is it classified as a Public Agency? BT Group’s main asset comprises the formally state owned British Telecommunication plc in the UK. By 1993, the UK Government had sold all its shareholding. The BT Group is now listed in London and New York stock exchanges. Regardless of ownership, would the sustainability and CSR risk and opportunity profile and related disclosure needs of a state owned and a publically held telecom not be very similar?

Let’s continue by looking at Canada Post, also on the 'Public Agency' list copied below. This organization is a so called ‘Crown Corporation,’ which signifies that it’s state-owned (for more detail see here). Another Canadian crown-owned corporation example with a sustainability report is the Export Development Canada (EDC), an export credit agency. EDC's report is classified as ‘Other’ in GRI’s database and does not show up in a search for ‘Public Agencies.’

But what made me really chuckle is the presence of only one entry under ‘Public Agency’ for China. There are almost 50 sustainability reports listed for China in GRI’s database. I wonder who owns and directs many of those organizations… - and wonder if the GRI study really looked at some of the more interesting questions surrounding the applicability and use of the sector supplement for public agencies.

PS: Dear GRI, thanks for maintaining and providing access to your data-base. It remains valuable, despite of some of its mistakes.

City of Melbourne Australia  
DSE Australia  
FaHCSIA Australia  
Redland City Council Australia  
System State of the environment of Minas Gerais Brazil  
Canada Post Canada  
Société de transport de Montréal Canada  
Architectural Services Department China
KED (Hellenic Public Real Estate Corporation) Greece  
TEP Italy  
Waitakere City Council New Zealand  
aT Republic of Korea  
EMC (Environmental Management Corporation) Republic of Korea  
KCSC Republic of Korea  
Korea Tourism Organization Republic of Korea  
Bilprovningen Sweden  
Vägverket Sweden  
Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce & Industry United Arab Emirates
Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) United Arab Emirates  
BT Group United Kingdom  

6 Comments to GRI Sustainability Reporting in the Public Sector

  1. Henrik says:

    You’re making an important point – the category system that is used by GRI needs to change. I myself am working for a non-profit organization, as when assigned the task of writing our first sustainability report looked at the GRI report list under the category of non-profit/other. 20 entries. When I looked around the other categories, I found several reports just at a glance that would belong in that category. Quite confusing, and unfortunately makes it harder for new reporters to find inspiration and guidance, especially for us NPO’s as so few of us report.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Henrik. The lack of reporting by NGO/NPOs is a sorry chapter. I am pleased to hear that you are helping your organization to become more transparent and accountable. I tried to help one of the NGOs I am affiliated with to pursue sustainability reporting. But that is/was not an easy task and some of the findings were not very comfortable. It seems that some NGOs continue to like to tell others what, how and why to do things (or not to do things) – but they don’t like to submit themselves to any rigorous standards…
    Good luck with your reporting efforts! Mehrdad

  3. This blog entry made it to my Top 10 for 2010. Full list posted here

  4. Readers of this blog may aso be intrested in this:
    Is GRI Too Much Transparency for NGOs? (March 2011)

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