Sustainability accounting, reporting and practices in Public Sector Organisations

Submissions open 31st March 2023

The sustainability accounting and reporting landscape is constantly changing, with organisations required to be fluid and responsive to ensure that their accountability and reporting satisfy multiple stakeholder groups. Whilst the change in the regulatory space advocating enhanced accountability and more useful reporting practices is a predominant discourse among practitioners and regulators, sustainability accounting and reporting practices are continuing to emerge within the public sector space across the globe (Ball & Bebbington, 2008; Cohen, 2022). According to Ball and Bebbington (2008, p.323), “heightened awareness of anthropogenic climate change has reinforced this message with politicians and citizens understanding the necessity for development to be both socially and ecologically sustainable.” This argument is still valid now following the ongoing and diverse climate-related debates that emerged from the COP26 conference held in Glasgow UK in November 2021. However, it is still uncertain how the evolving sustainability discourse is being or would be captured to inform practices and policies in public sector organisations (PSOs), in both developed and developing nations.  

PSOs play an important and even crucial role in building a sustainable future (Guthrie & Farneti, 2008; Larrinaga-Gonzélez & Pérez-Chamorro, 2008; Thomson, Grubnic, & Georgakopolous, 2018). PSOs have a significant impact on national and international progress towards sustainable development due to their size and scope, being a significant employer, provider of services and consumer of resources (Kaur & Lodhia, 2019) and PSOs are slowly adopting sustainability reporting practices to capture and report on their sustainability performance and impacts on the environment (Cohen, 2022). The 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) developed with the aim of tackling global challenges need PSOs in order to support their implementation and achievement (Bebbington & Unerman, 2020). The actualisation of the SDGs requires the adoption of communal and inclusive accountability (dialogic accountability) and governance mechanisms to shape and protect diverse public interests (Killian & O’Regan, 2020). Whilst the role of the private sector in implementing the 17 SDGs has been discussed at various fora and by academics, it is still unclear how the SDGs have been or are being implemented by the public sector to promote the public interest.  

Although harmonisation of diverse sustainability frameworks and reporting practices have dominated recent sustainability reporting discourse for the private sector (Adams & Abhayawansa, 2021), the implications of these ongoing debates for PSOs and their reporting of and accountability for sustainability performance is not clear (Cohen, 2022).  In May 2022 the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB) published a consultation paper on advancing public sector sustainability reporting, with plans to release initial guidance by the end of 2023 which will draw on the work of the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB). There are potential issues around a conceptual framework, including the extent to which the IPSASB will use the ISSB concept of enterprise value. In the meantime, the absence of a clear reporting framework means that sustainability performance measures are unlikely to be adopted whilst they remain voluntary and there is no competitive advantage to their adoption (Adams, Muir, & Hoque, 2014). At the micro level, it is suggested that a lack of data availability, resources and skills could pose further difficulties for sustainability reporting by PSOs (CIPFA, 2021). In particular, accountants may require up-skilling in order to fully understand and implement sustainability reporting (Williams, 2015). Furthermore, there may be resistance to change existing practices, so that underlying values and genetic codes of the organisations remain unchanged (Broadbent & Laughlin, 2018). These potential macro and micro issues suggest a research gap that practitioners, sustainability accounting and public sector accounting scholars need to explore, in order to understand more clearly the challenges faced by PSOs, and provide suggestions for improvements to sustainability practices, policies and reporting mechanisms.  

To this end, we invite contributions to this special issue. Submissions are welcome from a wide range of theoretical, methodological, and empirical approaches – provided they are consistent with the core objective of SAMPJ, to provide practical and policy solutions in order to improve the impact of organisations and societies on sustainable development. Possible themes include, but are not limited to: 

  1. The role of accounting and accountability in shaping and reshaping sustainability discourse, practices and performance measurement in PSOs in both developed and developing countries.  

  1. The identification of reporting boundaries and how the impacts of PSOs are evaluated against stakeholder expectations. 

  1. Accounts of PSOs sustainability reporting practices and the wider implications, for example relating to impacts on human rights, the environment and intergenerational and intragenerational equity.  

  1. Governance and accountability mechanisms adopted by PSOs in/when implementing the SDGs, including for example awareness of the trade-offs incurred in addressing sustainable development and how PSOs might undertake the discharge of accountability whilst recognising these trade-offs. 

  1. The implications of the evolving change in the sustainability regulatory space and reporting for PSOs in both developed and developing countries. 

  1. Factors affecting the harmonisation of PSO sustainability reporting frameworks. 

  1. The extension of frameworks of accountability and representation to include groups impacted by the daily activities of PSOs, but who may typically be beyond the reach of PSO sustainability reports (e.g. children, non-human others; cf. Dillard & Vinnari, 2019). 

  1. The engagement of PSOs with assurance providers, including the implications and challenges of assurance.  

  1. The links between external sustainability reporting and internal strategies and decision-making and the challenges of providing sustainability reports.  

  1. Accounts of PSO reporting and whether it can reflect real underlying changes in organisation systems or whether there are elements of camouflage or greenwashing. 


Submission and review process 

Authors are invited to contact the Guest Editors should they want to suggest a theme of inquiry or validate whether a research topic falls within the scope of the call for papers. 

The submission system will open on 31st March 2023. The closing date for submissions to this special issue is 30th June 2023. It is anticipated that this special issue will be published in 2024. 

Submitted papers will be assessed in line with SAMPJ’s objectives, originality, their amalgamation of related literature, methodology, and relevance to accounting and management practice and policy. Predominantly papers will be selected based on their contributions to advancing understanding of the sustainability research field. Full papers will be subject to the SAMPJ standard double-blind review process. All submissions should be made through the Emerald Editorial System for Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal: 

Submissions must adhere to the format and style guidelines of the Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal:  

Submissions will be subject to an initial screening by the Guest Co-editors of the special issue and papers which fall outside the scope of the special issue, or which are considered unlikely to be suitable for the special issue will be desk rejected. The remaining papers will then be subject to double-blind refereeing. There is no submission fee. All accepted papers must have originality in their contributions and have attained the high standards of the Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal. The Editors of the Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal will oversee the final set of accepted papers prior to publication. 

Any queries or enquiries about the special issue should be directed to any of the guest editors at the following addresses:  

Professor Josie McLaren, Newcastle University Business School, Newcastle University [email protected]  

Dr Mercy Denedo, Durham University Business School, Durham University [email protected]

Dr Franklin Nakpodia, Durham University Business School, Durham University, [email protected]  

Dr Kenneth Weir, Edinburgh Business School, Heriot Watt University, [email protected]  



Adams, C. A., & Abhayawansa, S. (2021). Connecting the COVID-19 pandemic, environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing and calls for ‘harmonisation’ of sustainability reporting. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, (xxxx), 1–13. 

Adams, C. A., Muir, S., & Hoque, Z. (2014). Measurement of sustainability performance in the public sector. Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, 5(1), 46–67. 

Ball, A., & Bebbington, J. (2008). Editorial: Accounting and reporting for sustainable development in public service organizations. Public Money and Management, 28(6), 323–326. 

Bebbington, J., & Unerman, J. (2020). Advancing research into accounting and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 33(7), 1657–1670. 

Broadbent, J., & Laughlin, R. (2018). Accounting as colonisation. In R. Roslender (Ed.), The Routledge Companion to Critical Accounting (pp. 205–224). London: Routledge. 

CIPFA. (2021). Evolving Climate Accountability : A global view of public sector environmental reporting. Retrieved from…;

Cohen, S. (2022). Debate: Climate change, environmental challenges, sustainable development goals and the relevance of accounting. Public Money and Management, 42(2), 55–56. 

Dillard, J., & Vinnari, E. (2019). Critical dialogical accountability: From accounting-based accountability to accountability-based accounting. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 62, 16-38. 

Guthrie, J., & Farneti, F. (2008). GRI sustainability reporting by australian public sector organizations. Public Money and Management, 28(6), 361–366. 

Kaur, A., & Lodhia, S. K. (2019). Sustainability accounting, accountability and reporting in the public sector: An overview and suggestions for future research. Meditari Accountancy Research, 27(4), 498–504. 

Killian, S., & O’Regan, P. (2020). Accounting, the public interest and the common good. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 67–68. 

Larrinaga-Gonzélez, C., & Pérez-Chamorro, V. (2008). Sustainability accounting and accountability in public water companies. Public Money and Management, 28(6), 337–343. 

Thomson, I., Grubnic, S., & Georgakopolous, G. (2018). Review: Time machines, ethics and sustainable development: accounting for inter-generational equity in public sector organizations. Public Money and Management, 38(5), 379–388. 

Williams, B. R. (2015). The local Government accountants’ perspective on sustainability. Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, 6(2), 267–287.