Monday, 18 June 2018

Meet the Members: Madlen Sobkowiak & Lee Parker

Madlen Sobkowiak, PhD Student, University of Birmingham

I am currently in my second year of PhD research at the University of Birmingham, looking at biodiversity accounting and in particular national biodiversity indicators. Before starting my PhD I did my MSc in International Accounting and Finance also at the Birmingham Business School, after graduating with a BSc in Business Administration from the Technical University of Freiberg in Germany.

My current research focuses on the construction of national biodiversity indicators within the public sector, especially the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and how the are being used in decision and policy making.

I was able to attend last years CSEAR conference thanks to a CIMA bursary and had the opportunity to present my work at last years CSEAR Emerging Scholars Colloquium. This was really valuable in terms of feedback as well as getting to know other PhD students as well as academics in SEA. It was great meeting all of you at last years conference and to get an impression of all the different work going on within the CSEAR community. I am really looking forward to the next CSEAR conference in August and hopefully I will have the chance to present at this years ESC as well. In addition, I received a "Universitas 21" scholarship to visit the University of British Columbia for two months last September and October, which was a great opportunity to see different interdisciplinary research around the issues of sustainability and biodiversity.

I am lucky that with my two supervisors, Ian Thomson and Tom Cuckston, I have found two highly knowledgeable academics to support me during my PhD. They have both been excellent mentors, but I would be delighted to connect with other academics working in this area.

Lee Parker, Distinguished Professor, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
Research Professor, Glasgow University, Scotland
Honorary Fellow & Distinguished Expert Advisor CSEAR

I have been involved in CSEAR since its earliest days in the early 1990s, having been associated with Rob Gray, James Guthrie, Reg Matthews and David Owen (among others) right at the beginnings of the social and environmental accounting research movement to build an international research literature and community of scholars in this field. In 1976 my first publication on social accounting appeared in the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland magazine The Accountant's Magazine, titled "Social Accounting - Don't Wait For It". To see the field and its community of scholars grow into today's cohort, and to see CSEAR and all its associated groups around the globe brings me considerable satisfaction. The 2018 thirtieth anniversary conference at St Andrews stands as a hallmark of the movement's ongoing development.

Unlike some social and environmental research colleagues, my research spans not only the social and environmental fields, but includes corporate governance, strategic management, professionalisation, accounting and management history (and more). However my published social and environmental research includes over 20 research journal papers (attracting Google Scholar citations currently exceeding 5000) extending from the mid-1980s to today. They have covered social reporting, professional ethics, environmental cost management, social and environmental research developments, corporate social accountability history, and social and environmental management and accountability in the international hotel industry. 

It is self-evident that the social and environmental accounting research field is a matter of priority for global humanity and ecology. Yet so many of our accounting research community members and journals have still not recognised the challenges and important of these issues despite the regular attention they now attract across media, governments and communities. We also see the entrance to this research field of some new researchers who are unacquainted with decades of prior research produced by the CSEAR community and risk repeating well-worn foci and themes that previously focussed purely on stockholder interests and the business case. WE have moved on from such narrow preoccupations to embrace the wider issues and stakeholders upon which our field should rightly focus. As a research community we have both significant opportunities and challenges to embrace qualitative engaged research approaches; identify strategic, historical, and emerging industry areas; return to engage with policy issues and debates; refresh our attention to social as well as environmental responsibility; and present and promote our work across specialist, interdisciplinary and general conferences and journals. The greatest challenge remains one of avoiding being locked into a ghetto of self-referential conversations between ourselves within our research conferences and literature. If we do that, we become voices lost in the wilderness. I am reminded of a conversation I had with the late Professor Reg Matthews, one of the founders of our field. When asked why he was choosing to take one more academic position beyond what might have been a logical retirement point, he replied "because I want one more shot at making a difference!" 

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Meet the Members: Martin Freedman & Aurélia Heurteux

Professor Martin Freedman, Towson University, USA

In 1978 when I returned to the US after 2 years on a kibbutz in Israel I started to look for an academic job. When I interviewed at SUNY Binghamton (now Binghamton University) Bikki Jaggi said he would be happy to do research with me on social accounting. Although Bikki left Binghamton a few years later, we managed to collaborate until last year when he retired. With Bikki and with A.J. Stagliano (with whom I am still collaborating), I found colleagues willing to do research in this nascent field. However, when we were looking for outlets for our earlier work, there seemed to be no accounting journals that believed that social accounting was really accounting.  Eventually a few new accounting journals more devoted to social/environmental accounting were created and eventually CSEAR was formed. Rob asked me if I would like to join and he made me one of the North American representatives. I was excited that a community of scholars focusing on social and environmental research existed and that I was asked to be a member.

The research that I have done with Bikki, Stag, and a number of other colleagues has focused mainly on social and environmental disclosure. Although many of the earlier papers were concerned with occupational health (working with asbestos or cotton dust), most of our publications are about pollution (air, water, toxic wastes, and climate change). We began with the hypothesis that firms that were best at curbing pollution in a given industry do best economically. No one to our knowledge has ever disproved the hypothesis.

I have attended all the CSEAR North American meetings and have found them to be stimulating affairs. When I was on sabbatical a few years ago, Jan Bebbington (and Rob) organized a workshop for me to present some findings concerning climate change at St. Andrews, and they both treated my wife and I royally. I plan to attend the annual meeting in the next few years.

Our role as researchers is to help to make the world a better place for its inhabitants. Studying methods to reduce pollution, improving working conditions, eliminating discrimination at the workplace, and forcing corporations to be good citizens are endeavors that I feel are worthwhile to study. I would be happy to mentor people who focus on these issues and are not hung up on ideology. Ideological battles are important for understanding the issues, but in my mind, they seem to slow the process of making a healthier planet.

Miss Aurélia Heurteux, PhD Candidate, Nice-Côte d'Azur University
Second Year in CSEAR

I became a CSEAR member last year before my participation in the CSEAR France 2017 Conference held at Toulouse Business School, where I met mentors and researchers from several countries. My research interest includes Sustainable Development, Accountability and Public Policy. So it is important for me to be part of different associations.

The last decade in particular has seen sustainability come of age. Many companies, states and countries now recognise sustainability to be strongly linked to business growth and sustainable development still a hot topic. For me, it was interesting to compare the different methods of local authorities to integrate Sustainable Development in management tools. Some are more advanced than others. It is my last year of thesis but I want to continue my research in this area to study political behavior or to create management tools adapted to Public Sector.

Sustainable Development and global performance are a logical evolution for the transparency of local authorities. Citizens have become much more aware of its issues and local authorities must be accountable to follow all these new expectations. So research in social and environmental accounting fields are important.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Meet the Members: Rob Gray

Professor Rob Gray, Emeritus Professor, University of St Andrews
Founder of CSEAR

What circumstances brought you to start CSEAR?  

Beware of revisionist histories! Trying to develop "social accounting" (whatever that was) in the 1970s and 1980s was a very lonely enterprise until I met Dave Owen, Keith Maunders, Lee Parker, James Guthrie and Reg Mathews and suddenly we were a gang - which is much more fun.  By 1990 we were beginning to be appointed to chairs and we realised we could do more. For me, the turning point was 2 Australian academics turning up in my office in Dundee complaining about being lonely and pretty beaten up: introducing them to each other and trying to scrape a bit of money together to set up a network seemed like an inevitable next step. The first Summer School funded by the BAA was a week long and a truly extraordinary experience for everybody who needed to come out as a social accountant!  People simply refused to go home at the end of the week - I have never experienced anything like it. We decided to experiment to see if there was an appetite for another summer school and we set up a (temporary?) network to support delegates….. hello CSEAR: which has been vastly more successful than we could have ever anticipated.

Why do you think it is an important organisation? 

Ken McPhail called CSEAR a "community of faith" and George Harte referred to it as the "place where we recruit guerrillas in the social and environmental wars". It is a tolerant and safe place where ideas can be explored with others who think similarly… but it must not become an echo chamber/nursery that folk cannot leave. The world in general and the academic world in particular are arguably as malevolent as they ever were and CSEAR would be a failure if it didn't match its nurture with the encouragement to tackle real issues.

What publication (of yours) are you most proud of, why?

Always an amusing question. I guess Corporate Social Reporting (1987) with Dave Owen (and Keith Maunders) because we actually did it! Put together a semi-coherent field that could be taught and could be shown to have purpose. Most publications represent something of a personal achievement of one sort or another and I have been proud of many of them - because they at least advanced what I thought of as my understanding of the subject and lots of them were really hard! If I am allowed two then I suppose I would choose {Gray Rob (2006) "Trustworthy plc" Green Futures  March/April p45} because it is very short, still makes me laugh and kind of says all I have to say!

What work are you presently interested in?

Mostly, in the sense in which the question is probably intended, I am interested where the next burst of outrage and innovation is going to come from. I remain involved in work with a few colleagues; I am enjoying writing the odd speculative chapter for the more wacky books; and I continue to try and read around (what I suppose we might summarise as) cognitive dissonance. I remain obsessed by the puzzlement as to how intelligent and informed people with no particular obvious self-interest can continue to ignore the very real possibility that their/our/my work is entirely missing the point and makes fiddling whilst Rome burns seem focused and pro-active. I have enjoyed looking into the possibilities offered by the extinction of humanity!

Where do you see the social and environmental accounting research will grow to in the future? 

I am not sure I currently have any particular views on that. I think it would be sad if we let normal science - which is a really important theme of course but inevitably immanent - come to dominate work which was explicitly grubby, painful, which dealt with dead animals and starving babies, which drew from the anguish of intolerance and refused to take the myths of international financial capitalism for granted.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Is Impact Assessment the New Black? And if so… Should we teach it?

By Dr Diane-Laure Arjaliès, Assistant Professor, Ivey Business School, Western University, Canada

Discovering the buzz around impact assessment is usually a source of anxiety for any social and environmental accountant who tries to catch up with the field. What? A new standard? I have not yet finished reading the last update of the GRI I am teaching next week, not even started to look at this report on natural capital (which I planned to read in the plane, but which got somehow stuck in my luggage) and I am still working on this CSEAR blog on integrated reporting I promised, already 18 months ago. So, a new standard?  Thank you, but no, thank you.

But impact assessment is relentless. Newsletter, after newsletter, report, after report, it never stops. And comes the day when zeroing in Facebook, you eventually click on "Is Impact Assessment the New Black?" You secretly hope that you will finally get a sense of what all this is about, and be reassured that indeed, you definitely do not need to spend time on it. At this moment, your anxiety reaches its peak: there is no standard.

Impact assessment is everywhere. The United Nations, B-Corporations, non-for-profits, investors: all want to show that they are making a difference. Governments obsessed with transparency are no exception. In a market-driven world, infused with dreams of open democracy nurtured by big data, if money gets used it has to trigger change, on the ground. What change means, what ground comprises, and how both relate to each other, however, are pretty unclear. What matters is the ability of an organization to demonstrate an impact, of some sort, on some people, possibly with some numbers.

When faced with this horrendous discovery, the social and environmental accountant often envisions three options. The first one, rooted in a somehow pessimistic Foucauldian approach to life, leads you to conclude that "those political numbers are only here to increase the power of finance in our society - damned." Nurtured by the despair that years of academic rejections and pointless A papers published by colleagues who did not deserve them (ours are always fair and useful of course), you send an email to your old friend, asking "Do you do something about impact assessment? Just wondering."

Since you care about the planet and its inhabitants - otherwise you would not do this job, you are actually already envisioning the second option, "maybe I should have a look after all, United Nations, that's something." It is 4 pm, you do not have time to start something big anyway, so you eventually do it: You open the folder "To Read" in your mailbox. The folder where you put all these newsletters and mails sent by colleagues you plan to look at, but that you have never read: Yes, this folder. And as you are skimming the reports, the third option slowly appears: "is impact assessment a way for people to think about what they do and what they want, instead of stupidly applying frameworks?"

This is it: you have just opened Pandora's box! You realize that impact assessment is not completely different, not yet quite the same, as social and environmental accounting. Impact assessment appears to you as a sort of post-modern form of accounting, that would have digested ANT and institutional theory, to be able to acknowledge that "yes, global warming is a fact, but no, financial performance does not exist 'out there.'" As any form of accounting you may think? Yes, but this time, it's official. No need to pretend that measures are objective or that you could shape any reality you want, just because metrics are performative. Impact assessment does not look for neutrality or utopia, but for real change, whatever real means, whatever change is.

Now, you are quite convinced: impact assessment seems interesting, at least from an intellectual perspective. Yet you wonder: "is it reasonable to teach a topic for which there is no standard, a myriad of values, many controversies and infinite decisions to make?" You hesitate: of course, you believe that your job is to teach students to be critical and you would like to do it. But you also think about the CPA curriculum, this new research project and those bad evaluations you will receive if students realize that the world is not rational and fair value is not really fair. You love challenges, but not up to that point.

Good news! Someone has already done it and will happily share her teaching material with colleagues genuinely interested in trying new things. A brand-new course on impact assessment, based on field work and case study methods, for which almost everything is available: syllabus, teaching notes, cases studies, field work guidelines, and list of available resources.

The file can be downloaded here.

Students have done a fantastic job, working with farms, Syrian refugee programs, social enterprises, investment funds and indigenous reserves. And you know what? You can give students and organizations the credit they deserve. Everybody can think, when they are allowed to: Yes, even in business schools; Yes, even in North America.

Now, you can close this blog, and go back to work.

For further information, do not hesitate to contact Diane-Laure Arjaliès, Ivey Business School. 

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Can you quantify social outcomes? A critical look at the Social Return on Investment (SROI)

by Dr Pål Vik, University of Salford, UK

It is hard to compete with the allure of precision and quantitative measures to guide investment and management efforts. On the face of it, quantitative metrics offer a comparable, intuitive, and seemingly robust and objective measure of how well an organisation or company is performing.

The not-for-profit and social enterprise sector has not been immune to this allure. In fact, there has been a distinct shift towards quantitative approaches in proving their social value added in the last few years. Social Return on Investment, or SROI for short, has been among one of the more popular quantitative approaches used by the sector. SROI generates a monetary value of social impact for each pound or dollar invested net of costs. Its' appeal is reinforced by the similarity to conventional cost benefit analysis, making it easily understandable. An important aspect of SROI is that it links the services and products of an organisation with the social outcomes for individuals and groups external to that organisation, generally by comparing the users of a service with a benchmark or control group.

In my recent paper (Vik 2017) I critically assess the viability of calculating a monetary return for social outcomes drawing on over 20 large-scale microfinance impact studies spanning over two decades. There are important lessons from microfinance as the sector has used increasingly sophisticated quantitative approaches to prove social impacts to investors and funders. The chief difficulty has been to link client outcomes to the services provided by microfinance organisations (implicit in the SROI methodology).

It all boils down to one question: How can you find a control group or benchmark that is similar in all aspects save the intervention? Turns out, this is much more difficult than one might think because of two biases. Firstly, those that decide to take out a loan with a microfinance provider are inherently different from non-clients, including in ways that are not easily observable (such as risk aversion and entrepreneurial acumen). Secondly, the clients that these organisations serve have been selected through a careful screening process. In a sense, the likelihood of success may be a precondition to rather than an outcome of the access to microfinance services. These biases are likely to lead to overestimates of social return on investment especially where interventions require a high level of initiative on behalf of the beneficiary and access is subject to a careful screening or selection process.

In my paper, I conclude that rather than striving to apply increasingly sophisticated quantitative methods to quantifying and attributing social outcomes, there should be greater recognition of the limitations of SROI and similar methods. The value of these tools lies in highlighting the value of activities with no obvious monetary value rather than calculating an accurate social return on investment. To paraphrase the British philosopher Carveth Read, it is better to be roughly right than exactly wrong.

Editor's note: This blog post is based on Pål Vik's article "What's so Social about Social Return on Investment? A Critique of Quantitative Social Accounting Approaches Drawing on Experiences of International Microfinance", for which he was awarded the Reg Mathews Memorial Prize in 2017. The Reg Mathews Memorial Prize is an annual award for the paper considered to have made the most significant contribution towards the social and environmental accounting literature published in Social and Environmental Accountability Journal (SEAJ). The paper is selected by the editorial board of SEAJ and is named in memory of Professor Reg Mathews, a leading figure in the development of social and environmental accounting.

As part of the award, Pål Vik's original paper published in Social and Environmental Accountability Journal will be available with free access until February 2019.


Vik, Pål (2017). What's so Social about Social Return on Investment? A Critique of Quantitative Social Accounting Approaches Drawing on Experiences of International Microfinance. Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 37(1), 6-17.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Social and Environmental Accountability Journal (SEAJ)

Matias Laine and Helen Tregidga, SEAJ Joint Editors

SEAJ is the journal of CSEAR and an important part of our community.  Its strength relies on the CSEAR community and as such we would like to take this opportunity to update you on the journal and also outline the various ways you can contribute. 

There have been some recent changes at SEAJ.  Coming to the end of his term as Joint Editor, Carlos Larrinaga vacates the position (Helen will now join Matias as Joint Editor from 2018 – 2021).  We would like to thank him for his service in this role in which time that the journal has continued to develop.  He continues to support the journal in his role as Convenor.  We have also welcomed several new members to the Editorial Board. We are pleased to have them join the team. The SEAJ Editorial Board, we believe, is an amazing collection of scholars in our field drawn from across the globe.  Representative of the growing diversity (geographically and topic wise) of our community.  We encourage you to visit our journal homepage and view our Editorial Board members and journals scope.

While we believe the journal is in a good position, we are mindful of the increasing pressures of the publishing environment.  We need to be mindful and put strategies in place to ensure its success.  We believe one of the strengths and opportunities of the journal is its association with the vibrant CSEAR community and a supportive Editorial Board.  As such, we take the opportunity here to outline our strategy moving forward, and also how you, as CSEAR members and friends, can assist the journal in the coming period.

We know that the driver of achieving our aim of developing the journal in a way that meets the needs of the CSEAR community is an increased profile and, above all, quality submissions.  As such, we have a few ideas for doing this.

In order to raise the profile of the journal we will be starting to tweet new journal content (via the @csearUK Twitter account) and also calls for papers for the journal.  Please, if you are on Twitter, follow CSEAR and retweet SEAJ content as appropriate.  Tweet about the journal and any paper/review that you read.  We know that in the current environment this is important to raise awareness of the journals content and increase readership. 

We are also looking to increase the use of the Commentaries section of the journal.  Commentaries, outlined in the journals aims and scope, are short editorial reviewed pieces which can take the form of a polemic, debate, definitional pieces, revisiting/reviving previous issues/papers, reviews etc.  These types of publications fit with the aim and ethos of the journal and we believe are an ideal way for authors to engage on issues and topics important to our field.

To foster this section of the journal our intent is to commission some pieces from members of our community (including some of you).  We hope that if you are invited you will agree.  We also strongly invite you to contact us with possible commentaries – either ideas you think are worth exploring (ideally with possible suggestions for those we could ask) – or with ideas for pieces that you are interested in contributing yourself!

Special issues continue to be a strong contributor to content.  The special issue for this year (edited by Delphine Gibassier and Simon Alcouffe) is in the final stages of production and submissions are strong for the 2019 special issue on Sustainability Governance (edited by Leonardo Rinaldi).  For the 2020 special issue it has been decided that an appropriate theme would be ‘SEA 2020 and Beyond’. The official information for this issue along with dates for submission etc will be announced shortly, but the aim here is to attract submissions which consider the future of SEA – whether that be issues, theories, methods etc.  Once again, this theme fits the ethos of the journal and our aim to create new academic literature in the broad field of social, environmental and sustainable development accounting, accountability, reporting and auditing.  Please consider supporting this issue by reflecting on your own research in relation to the theme and consider submitting to the issue and encouraging others you know to prepare submissions. 

We also ask that you also consider the journal for regular submission pieces – and again, encourage others to submit their work.  The journal’s aims and scope note that the journal “provides a forum for a wide range of different forms of academic and academic-related communications whose aim is to balance honesty and scholarly rigour with directness, clarity, policy-relevance and novelty”.  We realise we can’t compete for some types of publications with other high ranked journals, nor has this ever been the goal of SEAJ, but we can contribute to the publishing of good quality content that comes in various forms from longer empirical papers to shorter pieces which provide novel contributions. Likewise, in line with our editorial policy and vision, we continue to have interest in novelty and innovation also when it comes to the shape and form of submissions. Interesting and insightful contributions do not always fall within a shape and style expected in most scholarly journals, and hence at SEAJ we remain open to alternative approaches. Obviously, this does not imply that anything would go, but, rather, that in our view scholarly rigour, clarity and relevance do not depend on a manuscript following a particular form or structure.

And, we can’t forget the reviews section of the journal.  We want to thank many of you for supporting this section of the journal – including our emerging scholar community.  Reviews are again a great way for the journal to participate in discussions of topics of interest and critically engage with the field of research.  The reviews team (Michelle Rodrigue, Hannele Mäkelä and Lies Bouten) would be happy to hear from you with potential review items.

Lastly, we want to take the opportunity to thank you for your continued support for the journal. As we note above, a key strength of the journal is a strong and supportive community of researchers.   We aim to continue to provide a journal that supports that community – and look for ways the journal can further reflect the vibrant important research that we all do.

We look forward to working with you all to build SEAJ!

Friday, 6 October 2017

A thank you letter and report from the 4th CSEAR Emerging Scholars Colloquium, August 2017

By Ph.D students and emerging scholars attending the CSEAR Emerging Scholars Colloquium, August 2017

After a great experience at the 4th Emerging Scholars Colloquium (ESC) and 29th Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research (CSEAR) conference, some of us Ph.D students and emerging scholars would like to thank the organisers for the great opportunity they provided us with this August in St. Andrews. With this letter, we also would like to give some advice to prospective emerging scholars, as well as general comments about CSEAR and ESC UK 2017, with the underlying hope of helping others interested in attending over the coming years.

The annual CSEAR conference and ESC at St. Andrews University, Scotland, together provide a great opportunity for young scholars to present their work at an early stage and receive feedback from within the community. This is not only due to the great location Saint Andrews offers, but also because the event provides a perfect networking opportunity to interact with the faculty members that kindly host us.

The ESC began on the 28th of August, 2017 and was followed by attendance at the main conference. Forty minutes were reserved for each emerging delegate to present her/his work and collect feedback from those more experienced in the field. During CSEAR ESC 2017, the Ph.D students and emerging scholars totalled 25 and came from all over the world. For example, universities such as Stockholm School of Economics, Bristol University, the University of Leicester, the University of Dundee, the University of Burgos, Paris Dauphine, PLS Research University, Bergamo University, the University of Central Florida and Auckland University of Technology were represented, among others.

Delegates were divided into sessions that dealt with different themes and research areas. Moreover, various theoretical backgrounds and diverse methodological approaches were presented by the emerging scholars, and thereafter discussed by faculty members with different research profiles. Professors such as Charles Cho (York University), Carmen Correa (Universidad Pablo de Olavide de Sevilla), Jesse Dillard (Portland State University), Matias Laine (University of Tampere), Giovanna Michelon (Exter University), Den Patten (Illinois State University), Michelle Rodrigue (Université Laval) and Helen Tregidga (Royal Holloway, University of London) acted as the discussants.

The evening before the ESC began, we had the possibility of meeting one another during dinner at Agnes Blackadder Hall. There, some of the faculty members welcomed us, as well as introduced us to each other, allowing us to feel more at ease. Getting to know our colleagues is key for the CSEAR community and this is achieved not only during the plenary sessions in an academic capacity, but also during the evenings’ social events at the infamous pub ‘The Central Bar’ which involved relation-building in addition to some deeper academic discussions.

In our opinion, the ESC and CSEAR were successes, and a special thanks goes to those who organised the conference, as well as the faculty members who welcomed us. Moreover, we are extremely grateful to the brilliant researchers within the community for their continued work and inspiration both more generally, but also specifically when participating in the discussions. With this letter, we want to show how fruitful this 4th ESC has been for us, and we hope to see you again next year… a little older and a little wiser, and perhaps with a little more emerging scholars attending.

Thank you for welcoming us to your community of social and environmental accountability research.

Ph.D. Students: 
Jamiu, Muhammad, Clarence, Rebecca, Iris, Emilia, Zhifeng, Joselyne, Anees, Leanne, Teng, John, Melita, Osai, Iredele, Alexandros, Nadra, Enrique, Shamrin, Juliette, Chaoyuan, Hyemi, Madlen, Di, Rijadh, Jingjing, David, Ahmad, Sisi.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Teaching Integrated Reporting: A French Experiment

By Professor Delphine Gibassier, Toulouse Business School

When I started teaching (during my PhD and after), the topic of teaching Social and Environmental Accounting related topics, such as environmental accounting, carbon accounting or integrated reporting was not easy to bring to (French) business schools. I was told business companies did not care, or that students could at most get “an introduction” because the topic was not on the chartered accountancy exam. While I was able to teach an optional course in carbon accounting in 2013 thanks to a SEA research-focused colleague, the door remained closed elsewhere.

Integrated reporting, however, raised the interest of my accounting colleagues. For some reason, it was easier to see through the connection between accounting and sustainability thanks to this new kind of reporting. 

In my institution, I introduced the topic through a conference to our accounting major students in 2014, with Carol Adams and Lisa French (from IIRC). After this introduction, I first taught integrated reporting during a 6-hour class in 2015. However, the topic was too complex to master in this short amount of time, and I was not pleased with the outcome. In 2016, there was the option to make a new 30-hour course, in English, in our department. I proposed to develop a new course on integrated reporting, and it was accepted. I proposed to Carol Adams teaching half of the class. She helped me developed the syllabus and brought her experience in building integrated reports in practice to the class. It was great to be able to gather both our experiences for the students to be close to practice. 

When I thought about how to best introduce a topic that is still “in the making”, with little practice, I decided to develop new teaching methods. First, I wanted to develop critical thinking. I launched a twitter challenge. Students had to look for 10 articles, view points etc. for and against integrated reporting. Then they had to tweet the link with # so that everyone would be able to look for the documents. After collecting the links from all the students, they had to write an essay, in groups, on what were the positive elements of the integrated reporting trend and what could be critiqued.

Second, I needed them to master key concepts of integrated report. For this, I used an existing case study (DBS: Journey to Integrated Reporting), and built another one on “materiality”.

Third, I decided to focus on the key accounting concept in integrated reports: “the capitals”. Since there is not “best practice” yet and that it is an “ongoing” practice, I decided to built a database of existing integrated reports. Instead of finding around 300 worldwide, I went to develop a 1300+integrated reports database. From this database, I extracted around 50 reports on “business models” (with capitals), natural capital, human/intellectual/social capitals, as well as a few that reported using stakeholder voices as focus. By groups, students had to develop their own analytical grid to decide what were the “best” integrated reports on “natural capital” for example, according to them. During the teaching hours, we discussed together what were the key criteria. They wrote a first presentation after the 30-hour seminar, a second version after 3 weeks, and a final version after another 2 weeks.

Example of analytical grids used:

Group 1
Group 2
Group 3
Material issues
Standard KPIs (for each capital)
Transparency and honesty: it's not only about identify strengths but also weaknesses
Targets (to challenge and motivate management and allow comparison)
Actions: Are we going to improve our weaknesses? Are we going to develop our
strengths? How?
Comparability (evolution past/today)
Key content
Value chain

All in all, the teaching was very much based on developing students’ own understanding of integrated reporting, while still mastering key concepts behind the idea of integrated reports. Moreover, it was a subtle way to introduce the fact that value is multifaceted, and that accounting has to develop other ways of accounting for it. Finally, students questioned the notion of “accountability” that is reported in integrated reports, looking at stakeholders to which the companies were “talking”, the use of assurance, materiality, and the absence of reporting on potential negative events.

Below some resources for teaching IR to your class.

Resources for teaching Integrated Reporting

Online resources:
Carol Adams’ blog: (over 56 resources on IR)

Elaine Cohen’s blog:

Sustainable Brands Reporting 3.0 series:
Reporting 3.0’s Reporting Blueprint: Triggering a Regenerative, Inclusive & Open Economy
How to Transform Today’s ‘Senseless’ ESG Data into Tomorrow’s Actionable Knowledge
Purpose + Context = Connectedness
Integration (Data Blueprint)
Definition of Overall Success (Reporting Blueprint)
Contextualization (Data Blueprint)
Securing Scalability (Reporting Blueprint)
Activation & Acceleration (Data Blueprint)

Databases with IR reports:
GRI (choose “integrated reports” to filter)


Case Studies:
2/ Danone, will be published at Ivey Publishing (available end of 2018, write me an email if you would like to be informed)

Our resources: