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The pre-history of sustainability reporting: a constructivist reading

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

Published
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2/06/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number9
Volume34
Number of pages20
Pages (from-to)131-150
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

Purpose
The aim of this paper is to provide an account of the period prior to the creation of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI): a body that was critical to the institutionalization of sustainability reporting (SR). By examining this “pre-history,” we bring to light the actors, activities and ways of thinking that made SR more likely to be institutionalized once the GRI entrepreneurship came to the fore.

Design/methodology/approach
The paper revisits a time period (the 1990s) that has yet to be formally written about in any depth and traces the early development of what became SR. This material is examined using a constructivist understanding of regulation.

Findings
The authors contend that a convergence of actors and structural conditions were pivotal to the development of SR. Specifically, this paper demonstrates that a combination of actors (such as epistemic communities, carriers, regulators and reporters) as well as the presence of certain conditions (such as the societal context, analogies with financial reporting, environmental reporting and reporting design issues) contributed to the development of SR which was consolidated (as well as extended) in 1999 with the advent of the GRI.

Research limitations/implications
This paper theorizes (through a historical analysis) how SR is sustained by a network of institutional actors and conditions which can assist reflection on future SR development.

Originality/value
This paper brings together empirical material from a time that (sadly) is passing from living memory. The paper also extends the use of a conceptual frame that is starting to influence scholarship in accounting that seeks to understand how norms develop.