Head of Science and Research for the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability, Dr Scott Rawlings, was a speaker at the Coast to Coast Conference in Hobart this week. He briefed delegates on emerging trends in environmental reporting and the review of reporting that the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability has undertaken. This review has lead to major reforms in the way the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability approaches its work. It has also resulted in the Commissioner being assigned six new reporting roles through legislation or policy for the first time since the Office was established in 2003. 

As well as feedback from Victorian decision-makers and a comparative analysis of reporting across Australian jurisdictions, the Office’s review included an assessment of 24 country, state or city State of the Environment (SoE) reports from a geographical area that spans Sweden, the USA, New Zealand, Japan, China, Singapore and the European Union. According to Rawlings, this global research added further evidence for the need to develop multiple reporting products (or tools) for multiple audiences. 

Rawlings told delegates, 'Engagement with the leading environmental managers helped us understand that delivering the next Victorian State of the Environment report was not so much about delivering a report but rather delivering a public-sector reform program.'

Rawlings highlighted the trend towards, 'reporting which goes beyond condition and extent of conventional ‘State of’ reports to include management effectiveness reporting, environmental-economic accounts and the work being undertaken by our Office to operationalise the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals at the state scale. 'We need to engage and work across coastal managers, Government, academia and all community stakeholders to prioritise our science effort to meet emerging coastal and marine management challenges,' he said.

This review has inspired a new pragmatic, future-focused approach to reporting. The Office now has a focus on influencing (government) to shift from reporting only on what we know to reporting on what we need to know.

The Commissioner is now employing a process of co-design to implement the State and Benefit framework and develop the suite of environmental reports. 'Co-design takes time, takes effort but that builds the trust between partners and produces better results for everyone,' said Gillian Sparkes, Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability.

Rawlings also briefed delegates on the resulting State and Benefit framework released by the Office in early 2018. Rawlings discussed the need to address weaknesses in environmental reporting systems. He used the State of the Bays as an example. 'All the 2018 Victorian State of the Environment and other reports prepared under the State and Benefit framework will not only provide important assessments based on available data but will propose indicators for future reporting and support a step-change in our approach to monitoring and adaptive management of the environment,' he said. 'It is all about closing this gap and improving environmental practice and outcomes to benefit all Victorians.'