Local Sustainability Reporting Framework

The German Local Sustainability Reporting Framework (BNK) helps local authorities make their progress on sustainable development measurable, thus giving them greater control.

The local contribution to sustainability goals

Climate protection and resource conservation, the transport revolution, sustainable economy or social justice – local-government action has a key role to play in achieving the wider sustainable development goals. Without the contribution of towns, municipalities and districts, these global challenges cannot be resolved. The German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) wants to help local authorities anchor sustainability in their local administrative action across all departments and steer it efficiently throughout the entire “municipal corporation”.

BNK – steering mechanism and transparency standard

Local sustainability strategies set out goals for sustainable development in the region and signpost the way to achieving them with tangible measures. In order to evaluate the progress towards sustainable development and communicate it transparently both internally and externally, local authorities are increasingly producing their own, often regular, sustainability reports. As such, the reporting takes on a key role as a steering mechanism for sustainable development in municipalities.

Created in a participatory process by the RNE in 2020, the Local Sustainability Reporting Framework (BNK) seeks to guide local governments in Germany through the reporting process. Along with various representatives from municipalities actively involved in sustainability, the multi-stakeholder process included the mayors from the “Sustainable City” dialogue, the Regional Hubs for Sustainability Strategies (RENN) as well as other experts on the topic.

Like the German Sustainability Code (DNK), on which the BNK was modelled, the latter is a transparency standard which municipalities can use to produce optional reports. It consists of nine control criteria, nine local action points and an additional set of quantitative indicators. The criteria and action points each encompass multiple aspects with detailed guidance on what information the local authority should provide. The clear structure provides straightforward access to the topic and makes it easier to compare reports, allowing local governments to learn from each other, not least through the examples of good practice incorporated.

The BNK foregrounds the process-driven approach of the reporting. Where information from different departments and specialist offices has to be brought together in a common context, this is facilitated by cross-ministerial communication within the administration. Furthermore, if the reports are produced at regular intervals, this results in time series data, which can be used to analyse the relevant trends. These kinds of analyses help local authorities to develop sustainability strategies and subsequently to monitor them with a view to targeted readjustment. Equally importantly, regular reporting renders local-government commitment to sustainability visible, allowing municipalities to inspire citizens and local businesses to follow suit.

Highly adaptable

Robust reporting on local-government sustainability is a complex undertaking. To ensure that synergies are leveraged and parallel structures avoided, the reporting framework must be deliberately designed so as to be compatible with other local-government processes and project approaches of sustainable municipal development.

The BNK is based on the same concept as the DNK. It offers local administrations the chance to link their own reporting to information from owner-operated municipal enterprises and associate companies and identify individual ways of collaborating with them.

A number of cities, among them Freiburg and Hamburg, already require these companies to report using the German Sustainability Code.

If it is to fulfil its aim of contributing to the development and monitoring of integrated sustainability strategies, the BNK needs to be geared to their established structures. It therefore follows the action points in the Globally Sustainable Municipalities programme, through which the Service Agency Communities in One World (SKEW) supports the development of local sustainability strategies in almost all Länder, with funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). As such, a sustainable development report can serve both as a status review of an existing strategy and an evaluation of its progress.

In particular, the allocation of individual report contents to one or more of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) creates a link to the German Sustainability Code and the UN’s 2030 Agenda. Moreover, individual contents can be extracted and consolidated in statements of accounts. The integrated quantitative indicators are based on the SDG Indicators for municipalities (category 1), which can be accessed via the SDG-Portal for all municipalities with more than 5,000 inhabitants. However, municipalities can also include their own data on indicators they have defined themselves in their report.

Pilot phase

Since March 2021 in partnership with SKEW, the BNK was systematically trialled (see our report, only in German) in 20 municipalities in various Länder. The insights from this pilot phase feed into the further development of both content and methods of the reporting framework. Initial feedback from the pilot municipalities can be found here (only in German).

In North Rhine-Westphalia, the Landesarbeitsgemeinschaft Agenda 21 NRW (LAG 21 NRW) supported ten municipalities with their reporting as part of the Globally Sustainable Municipalities NRW project. In this context three Voluntary Local Reviews (VLR) were created in NRW, guided by the BNK-based sustainability report. The local equivalent of the Voluntary National Reviews (VNR), VLRs report the status of sustainable development to the UN within the framework of the High-level Political Forum (HLPF).

Until further notice, the guidelines for the current beta version of the Local Sustainability Reporting Framework are freely available to any municipalities that are interested. To have a BNK-led report authenticated with the BNK stamp, please contact the RNE office.