Defining criteria and indicators for a sustainability label of local public services

Ana Rita Domingues, Sara Moreno Pires, Sandra Caeiro, Tomás B. Ramos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


The assessment of sustainability of public services is an important issue, especially at local level, taken into account the central role of local governments as a major public employer and provider of a diversity of services. Local governments are close to citizens and are moving faster than other public sector levels with regard to the integration of sustainability principles in their operations and strategies. A sustainability label to communicate public service performance enables to disclose information directly to service users. However, there is a dearth of research about labels addressing specific sustainability criteria for local services. The main aim of this research was the development of a conceptual framework to define a sustainability label, as a tool to assess and communicate sustainability of local public services. The approach was developed taking into account criteria of the European Union Ecolabel and indicators of the Global Reporting Initiative guidelines. The ecolabel is a relatively well-known voluntary instrument in Europe and has the potential for application in public service activities and operations, but only assess the environmental component of sustainability. The Global Reporting Initiative, in particular the Sector Supplement for Public Agencies, was then used to integrate the other sustainability components. Thirty-six (36) criteria and respective indicators were adapted for the proposed sustainability label conceptual framework. A Portuguese local public service was used as an exploratory case study to test the proposed conceptual model into practice. The overall results demonstrate that few criteria were accomplished in this local public service, stressing that new practices and public policies need to be adopted to invert the current trend, especially through the application of assessment systems. This exploratory case study research has shown how useful can be a sustainability label to support local governments in evaluating and communicating the sustainability performance of their public services. This case could drive and support other government levels, including central and regional public administration, in adopting and exploring public service labels and their associated performance approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)452-464
Number of pages13
JournalEcological Indicators
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2015


  • Communication
  • European Union Ecolabel
  • Global Reporting Initiative
  • Indicators
  • Public service
  • Sustainability label

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