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Environmental accounting, managerialism and sustainability: Is the planet safe in the hands of business and accounting?

Research output: Book/Report/ProceedingsBook

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Abstract

The growth in environmental accounting research and interest in the last few years has been little short of phenomenal. For those of us with a long-standing interest in such issues, it is easy to get swept along in the euphoria of seeing environmental issues brought to centre stage in business and accounting debates. Despite wishing to encourage this growth in interest, this chapter is by way of a cautionary tale that, within this burgeoning, enthusiastic and often excellent research, there is a very real danger that environmental accounting may well end up doing more harm than good. This chapter, works from the premises that: (a) accounting (and accounting research) typically adopts a set of implicit assumptions about the primacy and desirability of the conventional business agenda — and is thus ‘managerialist’ in focus; and (b) that the conventional business agenda and environmental protection — and, especially, the pursuit of sustainability — are in fundamental conflict. If this is so then accounting is contributing to environmental degradation — not environmental protection. The chapter seeks to provide a review of the current state of the art in environmental accounting research through this ‘managerialist’ lens and then goes on to illustrate the essence of the problem through the reporting of a new analysis of data from an international study of accounting, sustainability and transnational corporations. The chapter concludes with a call for more explicit examination of the implicit assumptions held in accounting research generally and environmental accounting research in particular.