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Measurement of sustainability performance in the public sector

Carol A. Adams (Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University, Clayton, Australia)
Stephen Muir (Office for Sustainability, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia)
Zahirul Hoque (Department of Accounting, La Trobe Uni, Melbourne, Australia)

Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

ISSN: 2040-8021

Article publication date: 11 February 2014



This article identifies current performance measurement practice within state, territory and federal government departments in Australia with a particular emphasis on the importance of sustainability performance measures. Whilst voluntary sustainability reporting by private sector organisations aligned, for the most part, with Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines is growing, there is little sustainability reporting by organisations in the public sector. This raises questions as to the extent to which public sector sustainability performance is managed. This research aims to assess the use of sustainability performance measures for supporting organisational performance improvement.


A mail out survey approach has been adopted within government departments.


The performance measures utilised by organisations to a great extent were in the areas of cost efficiency and quality measures and those utilised to least extent were for learning and growth measures and to satisfy legislative requirements and manage programs. Sustainability, environmental or social responsibility measures are the least used performance measures, and those utilised are mainly measures of employee diversity and non-financial economic aspects that are identified.

Practical implications

The public sector is unlikely to adopt comprehensive sustainability performance measures while they remain voluntary and while there is no perceived need to be competitive in these areas. Either mandatory reporting is required or some form of competitive process based on performance measures implemented.


The findings make a contribution to the academic literature on sustainability performance measures in public sector organisations and point to policy measures that may lead to improvements in practice.



The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support provided for this study by CPA Australia. The authors would also like to thank the participants at the Sixth One-day Symposium for public sector managers on Accountability, Governance and Performance: Meeting Sustainability, 2008, Brisbane for their feedback.


A. Adams, C., Muir, S. and Hoque, Z. (2014), "Measurement of sustainability performance in the public sector", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 46-67.



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