More companies are showing interest in sustainability reporting, and do not be surprised if integrated reporting, in which financial and sustainability metrics are disclosed in one report, gains traction this coming decade.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is now issuing guidelines advising companies on how to disclose climate change-related matters, and the recent tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico and BP’s lack of transparency certainly adds to the argument in support of greater transparency and sustainability reporting.

The political environment in the US is toxic right now, and there is a chance that California's AB32 could be repealed, but that does not mean regulations with more teeth will not occur down the road.

But if government agencies are going to require industries and companies that they regulate to offer more disclosure, perhaps these agencies should . . . issue reports so that their vendors, employees, and of course, the taxpayers, understand the impact these agencies are having in their communities?

Let’s start with the SEC.  It is a relatively small agency as far as US federal government agencies go, but they should not be immune to the rules that they require public companies to follow.  Here are some questions I have for the SEC:

  • How much money do they spend on outside consultants (on work that its own employees could do)?  How many “interns” do they hire?
  • What is their travel budget and how many conferences, symposia, and other meetings do SEC employees attend in the US and abroad?  And do they offset that travel?
  • That’s great they offer advice on climate change disclosure—but what are they doing to make their offices more energy efficient?  Are they encouraging staff to take public transport?
  • Almost all SEC forms are submitted electronically . . . so in what kind of shape is their IT infrastructure?
Much of the hyperbole over “big government” borders on hysteria.  But public officials could make a move towards quelling such fervor by answering these financial and sustainability-related questions.

Financial and sustainability disclosure should be required at all levels of government.  Take the City of Los Angeles, which is enduring a wrenching budget crisis.  But when I read “Facebook Friend” updates on fabulous parties that the mayor hosts, or hear that the city attorney’s office has volunteer attorneys working on projects that staff attorneys may very well have the capacity to complete (interning is a nice word for “work for free” in a bad economy), I think the city’s employees and residents should know how the city is treating the workforce, spending its revenues, and healing the air and land.  So why does it take so long to repair a sidewalk?  How much fuel is purchased for the city’s fleet?  How many employees retire with full benefits and then work as a consultant for the city?  How much effort has been put into the currently empty LA Clean Tech Corridor?

The city of Amsterdam issues a sustainability report—in fact, its convention center publishes a sustainability report and has a corporate social responsibility section that is easy to find—other cities should to the same, too, for that matter.

Incidentally, only one federal government agency issues a sustainability report.  The US Army.  First published in 2007, the US Army reports on all 87 recommended GRI sustainability performance metrics, indentifying whether they fully or partially report the data.

With all the talk about accountability, I find it admirable and yet odd that the US Army is the leader in transparency and disclosure.

Regulation is not a panacea, but it can be done smartly if government and business work together as partners, not as rivals.  To that end, government can up the ante by following a mantra that implies do as I do . . . not do as I say.

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.