Engaging with Organisations in Pursuit of Improved Sustainability Accounting and Performance

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Engaging with organisations in pursuit of improved sustainability accounting and performance The Authors
Carol A. Adams, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia
Carlos Larrinaga-González, Universidad de Burgos, Burgos, Spain Acknowledgements
The authors are grateful to James Guthrie and Lee Parker for their guidance in the preparation of this special issue (and for arranging the refereeing of this paper) and to those who supported the special issue by reviewing or submitting papers. Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to present a case for research in ethical, social and environmental (or sustainability) accounting and accountability which engages with those organisations claiming to manage and report their sustainability performance. In addition, the paper reviews the contributions in this special issue.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper provides an analysis and critique of the extent of engagement research in the field of sustainability accounting and accountability. It draws on the fields of management, management accounting and critical accounting to present a case for further research engagement with sustainability accounting and accountability practice.

Findings – The paper finds that the extant literature in the field of sustainability accounting and reporting, in contrast to the fields of management accounting and management, has largely ignored practice within organisations. The lack of “engaging research” is found to be due to concerns about increasing the breadth of participants in the social accounting agenda and “managerial capture”. The paper argues that further research engaging with organisations is needed in order to identify how accounting and management systems might reduce their negative sustainability impacts. The paper argues that such research can benefit from the methodological and theoretical insights of other disciplines.

Research limitations/implications – The paper suggests where further contributions might be made by future research endeavours engaging with organisations.

Practical implications – Engagement research in sustainability accounting and reporting has the potential to improve theorizing, practice and the sustainability performance of organisations.

Originality/value – Drawing on the methods and theories of other disciplines and the papers in the special issue, the paper presents a way forward for researchers engaging with organisations practicing sustainability accounting and reporting. Article Type:

General review
Keyword(s):
Accounting standards; Economic sustainability; Financial reporting; Business ethics; Organizational analysis; Research methods. Journal:
Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Volume:
20
Number:
3
Year:
2007
pp:
333-355
Copyright ©
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
ISSN:
0951-3574
Introduction
Much of the research in the field of “sustainability” accounting and accountability[1] has been motivated by a concern for the natural environment (see Milne, 1991; Gray, 1992), the exploitation by rich nations of poor nations or peoples through the activities of multinational corporations (see Arnold and Hammond, 1994), human rights and equity issues (see Adams and Harte, 1998, 2000; Adams and McPhail, 2004). It is not our purpose here to make a case for this research. This has been done (see, for example, Gray, 1992) and that case is overwhelming. What is in doubt is the extent to which the research to date can effect changes which address the concerns of those conducting it. This concern led some scholars (see, for example, Gray et al., 1987, 1988) to conceive ways in which social and environmental accounting research could be mobilized as a way of encouraging organisational change within the capitalist system. This intent raised severe critiques from a conflict-based perspective that accounting plays an important role in the perpetuation of exploitative social relations (see, for...
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