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Is accounting for sustainability actually accounting for sustainability...and how would we know? An exploration of narratives of organisations and the planet

Rob Gray

Accounting, Organizations and Society, 2010, vol. 35, issue 1, 47-62

Abstract: The emergence of sustainable development as the complex notion through which social and environmental issues must be addressed - whether at policy, personal or organisational levels - has had a growing influence in the accounting literature. In addition to explorations of what sustainability may mean for accounting and finance, we have experienced a growth in both critiques of sustainability reporting (sic) and in experiments and speculations on how accounting for sustainability might advance. This growth - as with social and environmental accounting before it - has very properly attracted critique. One convergent theme in that critique has been a challenge that much of the realist and procedural baggage associated with conventional accounting is no longer apposite when seeking to account for sustainability. What may be required, is a more nuanced understanding of what 'sustainability' actually is and how, if at all, it can have any empirical meaning at the level of the organisation. This essay seeks to initiate an auto-critique of accounting for sustainability via an examination of meanings and contradictions in sustainable development which, in turn, leads towards a suggestion for the development of multiple and conditional narratives that whilst no longer realist or totalising, explicitly challenge the hegemonic claims of business movements in the arena of sustainability and sustainable development.

Date: 2010
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