Accounting for sustainable development: reflections on an emerging field
Sustainability, Responsibility & Ethics/Centre for Research into Sustainability joint event
Prof Jan Bebbington, Professor of Accounting and Sustainable Development
School of Management, University of St Andrews
Prof. Jan Bebbington (St Andrews) and Prof. Carlos Larrinaga (Universidad de Burgos)
As the impacts of the anthropocene have become more evident, the critical role of sustainable development as a central organising principle in a variety of policy contexts has been cemented. This has also created new spaces for the academy to invent and explore in terms of how knowledge is created and validated. In addition, the questions that academics are called upon to answer require both innovation and agility in our modes of thinking. In short, the emergence of wicked problems has led to the development of a post normal approach to knowledge for sustainable development, much of which is now considered under the guise of the field of sustainability science.
This paper starts with an formal articulation of the how we might characterise accounting for sustainable development and then combined that with an exploration of sustainability science as a basis from which one might expect accounting for sustainable development to further evolve. The paper closes with an attempt to illustrate, using two specific fields of inquiry, how accounting research could be shaped by sustainability science in the future and how this may increase the relevance, reach and contribution of accounting.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the work of Rhona McLaren at the University of St Andrews in the preparation of an earlier version of this paper. The comments made by participants at the Critical Perspectives on Accounting conference in 2011, the Spanish, South American and St Andrews CSEAR conferences of 2011, faculty of Queens University Belfast and the University of Sydney as well as colleagues at the University of St Andrews and two anonymous reviewers for Accounting, Organizations and Society are gratefully recognized as is more detailed input from Nick Barter, Jesse Dillard, Bob Frame, Richard Laughlin Louise Reid, Lorna Stevenson and Ian Thomson.
Centre for Research into Sustainability CRIS