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The Greenhouse Gas Protocol for the U.S. Public Sector

Interpreting the Corporate Standard for U.S. Public Sector Organizations

This report provides tailored guidance to interpret the GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard specifically for the public sector.

For more information on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, please visit http://www.ghgprotocol.org/

Executive Summary

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol Initiative

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol Initiative was launched in 1998 with the mission of developing internationally accepted greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting and reporting standards and to promote their broad adoption. Designed as a multistakeholder partnership of businesses, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and governments, it was convened by the World Resources Institute (WRI), a U.S.-based environmental NGO, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a Geneva-based coalition of international companies.

The GHG Protocol Corporate Standard

The cornerstone document of the GHG Protocol Initiative is the revised edition of the GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard (Corporate Standard, 2004), which provides a step-by-step guide for quantifying and reporting GHG emissions.

Published first in 2001 and revised in 2004, the Corporate Standard has been widely accepted and adopted around the globe by businesses, NGOs, and governments. Widespread adoption of the Corporate Standard is attributable to the fact that it is robust, practical, and builds on the experience and expertise of numerous practitioners. The Corporate Standard was designed to be program and policy neutral, allowing users the flexibility to adapt the core methodology and concepts to specific accounting and reporting needs. To provide guidance on how to build GHG policies, reporting programs1, and tools based on the concepts of the Corporate Standard, the GHG Protocol Initiative developed two accompanying documents:

  • Measuring to Manage: A Guide to Designing GHG Accounting and Reporting Programs (2007), and
  • Designing a Customized Greenhouse Gas Calculation Tool (2007).

Why A GHG Protocol For The U.S. Public Sector?

Government organizations worldwide have identified the need to start tracking and managing their GHG emissions, both to demonstrate environmental leadership and to prepare for future reporting policies and regulations.

While the Corporate Standard provides the basic means by which any type of organization can create a GHG inventory, many public organizations have sought tailored guidance to interpret the Corporate Standard specifically for the public sector context, especially when coordinating GHG reporting requirements across multiple government organizations. All stakeholders benefit from accounting and reporting GHG emissions in a way that makes it easier to calculate, track, and compare progress over time. In the United States, public sector activities often involve shared resources between multiple organizations and leasing arrangements for buildings, vehicles, and land that can pose challenges attributing ownership or control of GHG emissions. Public organizations have asked for case studies reflecting the experiences and challenges of public sector GHG accounting and reporting, acknowledging the ways decision-making approaches and priorities differ in the public sector versus private sector (e.g., greater public accountability and freedom of information requirements) and providing examples of best practices. For governments that already monitor and report energy use and other environmental metrics, GHG emissions reporting represents a new and integrative performance indicator.

Interpreting the Corporate Standard

As reflected in its title, The GHG Protocol for the U.S. Public Sector: Interpreting the Corporate Standard for U.S. Public Sector Organizations does not include substantively new or different accounting or reporting requirements from the Corporate Standard and does not constitute a separate or different “standard.” Instead, it interprets the content and structure of the Corporate Standard for the context of the public sector. It is referred to interchangeably in this document as the U.S. Public Sector Protocol.

Much of the text in the U.S. Public Sector Protocol is taken from the Corporate Standard, but most chapters and diagrams include modifications in wording, examples, or structure in order to improve clarity and applicability to the public sector.

Focus on the United States

The structure and responsibilities of the public sector vary widely across countries and the time and resources available for the development of this protocol did not permit a comprehensive engagement with public organizations and other stakeholders worldwide. The recent emergence of GHG reporting programs and policies for government organizations in the United States further elevated the priority of this region. Therefore, this U.S. Public Sector Protocol was developed primarily for U.S. government organizations. However, since it is based on the internationally accepted Corporate Standard, it should have applicability to governments worldwide.

Objectives of the U.S. Public Sector Protocol

This U.S. Public Sector Protocol was designed with the following objectives in mind:

  • To help public organizations prepare a GHG inventory that represents a true and fair account of their emissions, through the use of standardized approaches
  • To simplify the process and reduce the costs of compiling a GHG inventory
  • To provide public sector organizations with information for use in building an effective strategy to manage and reduce GHG emissions
  • To support voluntary and mandatory GHG reporting
  • To increase consistency and transparency in GHG accounting and reporting among public sector organizations and GHG programs.

How This Protocol Was Developed

To engage the public sector and provide a robust interpretation of the Corporate Standard principles, in 2008 WRI partnered with the LMI. LMI is a not-for-profit consulting company that primarily serves U.S. government organizations. Throughout this process, LMI worked with the Department of Energy Federal Energy Management Program and EPA Climate Leaders to ensure that this protocol could function as the background for U.S. Federal government GHG reporting requirements related to Executive Order 13514.

Like the Corporate Standard, this protocol was developed through a multi-stakeholder process. The U.S. Public Sector Protocol involved the input of over 60 experienced public sector managers, technical experts, and consultants across a range of organizations (see the Contributors section). Several government organizations also “road tested” the protocol, including many U.S. federal agencies whose participation was coordinated by LMI and the Department of Energy.

Who Should Use This Protocol?

The “public sector” is a broad term that includes any organization owned, controlled or operated by the government, including government agencies, school systems, quasi-governmental organizations and utilities, as well as public-private partnerships. This protocol is applicable to all levels of government in the United States, including federal, state, regional, and municipal/city government. The protocol will help managers of organizations at all government levels design and develop a GHG inventory. Policymakers developing new regulations and organization- level GHG management strategies can also look to the case studies highlighting successes in implementing and administering GHG management programs. For organizations that have already created GHG inventories through voluntary or mandatory programs that are based on the Corporate Standard, this protocol can provide useful background information and clarify the rationale behind key accounting issues.


This report was written with LMI, a government consulting firm committed to helping government leaders and managers reach decisions that make a difference. As a not-for-profit organization, LMI is a trusted advisor to the government—free from commercial or political bias and dedicated to the mission of advancing government management.

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