Sustainability Accounting - Summary and Outlook

Summary and Outlook

Neverless, the development of regulatory frameworkes is getting closer in several countries; accountants will need to broaden their knowledge and to establish a common dialogue with social and ecological professionals. The formation of independent transdisciplinary sustainability teams to prepare and audit sustainability accounts would add credibility to the process.

Like the sections above illustrated sustainable accounting resulted in different interpretations and intended uses of accounting. The development of a pragmatic set of tools for corporate practice is to progress. Future research needs to address the real challenge to corporate management to develop pragmatic tools for a well described set of business situations. This need to address the decision and control needs of corporate managers, whether the case they are responsible for environmental, social or economic issues associated with corporate activities. The trade-offs and complementary situations need to be identified, analysed and accounting that provides a basis for movement towards corporate and general sustainability developed.

It is to recognise that to fall short of a convincing conceptualization will leave sustainability accounting as a broad umbrella term, with little practical usefulness. The linkage between sustainability accounting and sustainability reporting needs to be extended as well. In this context, sustainability reporting as well remains at an unfinished stage of development and at present is still more of a buzzword than a well defined approach. The debate remains open to challenge this goal on the premise of sustainability, its operationalisation and its accountings.

In view of these aspects Geoff Lamberton provides a promising framework for the various forms of accounting. It draws together the five general mayor themes evident in social and environmental accounting research and practice, including the GRI Sustainability Accounting Guidelines. He depicts a comprehensive sustainability accounting framework which displays the complex interconnections between the various components and dimensions of sustainability. It balances the need for integration of the variety in information, measurements and reporting with the differentiated unitary information effects between the dimensions of sustainable development. The multiple units of measurement include narratives of social policy and procedures as well traditional accounting principles and practice.

Assumptions underpinning the specification of this framework are:

  1. the objective(s) of the sustainability accounting framework and the reporting model;
  2. the principles underpinning the application of the model;
  3. techniques like data capture tools, accounting records and measurements;
  4. reports used to present information to stakeholders;
  5. and qualitative attributes of the information produced and reported.

It is unrealistic to expect business to voluntarily commit the resources required for full sustainable accounting implementation. For financing the implementation of sustainability accounting and reporting one option would be to use environmental taxes to raise revenue and to discourage negative environmental impacts. Once the sustainability accounting system is established tax rates could be linked to (sustainability) performance outcomes to encourage the transition to sustainability at the organizational level.

A promising trail in similar way may be the concept of the community welfare economics (German: "Gemeinwohl-├ľkonomie") by Christian Felber. More like a framework for sustainability accounting it is a framework or an alternative way of economics and the society in general. It suggests that business should measure its contributions of economic success according to the benefits reimbursed to the society as social and ecological factors. Similar to tax principles, the business performance is specified by an accounts of points (representing the contributions to overall well-being) and therefore the company receive (tax) benefits or support in other various form, or even not.

A further interesting example is provided by the Sustainability Flower which was developed in 2009 by an international group of prominent pioneers and innovators of the organic movement. The Flowers performance indicators were defined on the basis of the GRI Guidelines and looks to unite four dimensions of sustainability (economic life, societal life, cultural life and ecology with six sub dimensions) in a model.

A further promising approach toward the measurement of human, social and natural capital including environmental quality, health, security, equity, education and free time is made by the Buddhist foundation and the Bhutan Government toward operationalising the objective of Gross National Happiness. These innovative projects may demonstrate that an alternative cultural perspective is needed as well to inform an accounting that is capable of making a genuine contribution to sustainability. The future direction of sustainability accounting and sustain economic development should continue to display the essential quality of diversity. Humankind has much to lose if this transition does not take place.

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