Sustainability through the public sector lens

Nov 27, 2020

This week, Chartered Accountants Ireland held a webinar on the important topic of sustainability and the public sector. The event was moderated by Institute President Paul Henry and also hosting was Susan Rossney, Public Policy Officer and member of the Sustainability Expert Working Group of the Global Accounting Alliance. An expert panel drawn from across the public sector discussed a wide range of topics including public/private sector collaboration; Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting and green finance. 

The webinar was particularly timely, with the publication earlier in the week of the EPA report on the environmental challenges that we face both nationally and globally, “Ireland's Environment 2020 - An Assessment”. The report called for the implementation of solutions across all sectors of society through an overarching environmental policy position providing a national vision. It predicted that a decade of action is needed to put things right.  

The panel for the webinar was made up of: 

  • JP Corkery FCA, Senior Manager – Sustainable Finance, NewERA, National Treasury Management Agency 

  • Joan Curry FCA, Head of Finance in the Department of Transport, Chair of the Institute Public Sector Members’ Committee and board member of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC)

  • Pat Fenlon FCA, Group Finance Director, ESB

  • Ciarán Hayes, CEO Sligo County Council and member of the Adaptation Committee of the Climate Change Advisory Council

  • Dr John O’Neill, Head of the Transport Energy & Climate Action Fund for the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, and Steering Committee member of the Irish Forum for Natural Capital

  • William Walsh FCA, CEO of the Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland and member of the Climate Change Advisory Council.

Collaboration in moving towards the sustainability goal was a strong thread throughout the discussion. Neither the public nor private sector can do it alone; without working together, neither can achieve critical scale. There was also broad acceptance that climate change does not recognise boundaries, so moving out of our silos, whether within our own organisations, or the wider public sector silo is a central step forward.

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) considerations also occupied the minds of panellists and attendees. A critical consideration for investors worldwide, the question arose of how we account for ESG in a consistent and sustainable way in our reporting. There was also a recognition that greater focus needs to be given to reporting in the public sector, with much focus at present on large business and the private sector. There was a strong sense in the discussion that progress along the path towards accruals accounting will assist in the gathering of richer, more reliable financial information. 

The Institute’s next webinar on the topic of sustainability on 9 December addresses this issue of ESG reporting: A guide to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Best Practice: What do investors looks for? A free webinar in association with Goodbody, it will bring together the institutional investor perspective and speakers from two world-class companies, Kingspan and Hibernia REIT, to showcase their best-practice ESG reporting.