Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Responsible sustainability accounting educators and transformative educational practices

By guest blogger Professor Ian Thomson, CSEAR Executive Council Convenor


Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.
(Nelson Mandela)

Unfortunately we live in a world that is in urgent need of change. The sustainability accounting research community has long recognised the importance of effective social and environmental accounting learning, and many members of that community have been involved in the delivery of social and environmental accounting education to students across the world. The CSEAR network consider education to be an effective engagement strategy to transform our collective intellectual capital into knowledge that is useful, usable and used by others in order to make the world a more sustainable place.

This blog was inspired by a recent article in Accounting Forum by Gray, Brennan and Malpas (2014), which argued for a reframing of social accounting and the construction of a more responsible social accounting academic community. Writing in a commentary piece in response to Gray et al., I reflected on the potential value of involving the student population in the co-production of sustainable accounting knowledge and in collective, targeted educational programmes of sustainable transformation. These reflections were designed to complement the efforts of dedicated individuals delivering high quality sustainable accounting educational experience to fragmented groups of students and to consider the potential of more organised, integrated and coherent programmes of sustainable accounting education. There does appear to be a need to consider reframing sustainable accounting education in a way that facilitates effective learning in sustainability and accounting for sustainability.

This blog is intended to encourage others to join in thinking about designing a collaborative educational infrastructure, creating effective learning opportunities, alternative assessments, enhanced research capacity in order to collectively leverage the sustainability accounting community’s transformative potential. I would argue that we are guilty of ignoring or under-estimating the transformative potential of our students. For example, consider the ‘waste’ of hundreds/thousands of hours of student effort producing insightful essays, projects, dissertations that remain largely unread (other than markers) sitting rotting in cupboards or taking up space in computer servers. We need to consider how to better harness the impact of the collective efforts of our students.

Here are some ideas to start this process of integrating student learning and our research in order to co-produce usable knowledge for change. The underlying concept is to co-ordinate aspects of the accounting education of all students studying sustainability accounting and share their work with others.

For example:
  • Students researching and submitting responses to consultations on new social accounting standards and/or sustainability regulations as part of their assessment. 
  • Students monitoring the human rights impact of selected organisations and submitting their findings into an open-access database of corporate human rights abuse. 
  • Students undertaking shadow accounts of the same multinational corporations and compiling these into a global library of shadow accounts.
  • Students creating a global crowd sourced map of carbon emissions/water shortages or participating in a collaborative programme of public accountability (see www.ushahidi.com
  • Students participating in a scenario planning exercise engaging in a shared dialogue on the future of social accounts.
  • Students participating in alternative reality games dealing with issues such as a world without oil, mass human migration, climate catastrophes or the collapse of capitalism (see also http://janemcgonigal.com/)

I am sure that others will have other ideas and hope you will share them with the wider sustainability accounting community. This post is a call to join in the next wave of sustainable accounting education.

Links to other resources

Bebbington J. (1997) Engagement, education and sustainability: a review essay on environmental accounting Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal 10 (3) 365-381.
Cadiz, M. and Thomson, I. (2013) Sustainability and Accounting Education, Accounting Education: An International Journal, 22(4) 303-308.
Christensen, L., Peirce, Hartman, Hoffman and Carrier (2007)  Ethics, CSR, and Sustainability Education in the Financial Times Top 50 Global Business Schools  Journal of Business Ethics, 73(4), 347-368,
Collison, D., J. Ferguson and L. Stevenson (2007) Sustainability accounting and education in Unerman J., J. Bebbington and B. O’Dwyer (2007) (Eds)  Sustainability Accounting and Accountability (London: Routledge)
Cooper, S. Parkes, C. & Blewitt, J. (2014) Can education help a leopard change its spots? Social accountability and stakeholder engagement in business schools  Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 27(2), 234-258.
Coulson A. and Thomson I. (2006) Accounting and Sustainability, Encouraging a Dialogical Approach; Integrating Learning Activities, Delivery Mechanisms and Assessment Strategies  Accounting Education: an International Journal 15(3) 261-273
Ferguson J., D. Collison, D. Power and L. Stevenson (2011)  Accounting education, socialisation and the ethics of business  Business Ethics: A European Review  20(1)12-29
Godeman, J., Bebbington, J., Herzig, C. & Moon, J. (2014) Higher education and sustainable development: exploring possibilities for organisational change,  Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 27(2), 218-233.
Gray R, Bebbington,J. & McPhail, K. (1994)  Teaching Ethics and the Ethics of Accounting Teaching: Educating for immorality and a case for social and environmental accounting education  Accounting Education 3(1) 51-75.
Gray, R. (2013) Sustainability and Accounting Education: The elephant in the room, Accounting Education: An International Journal, 22(4) 308-332.
Gray, R., Brennan, A. and Malpas, J. (2014) New Accounts: Towards a reframing of social accounting, Accounting Forum, In press.
Humphrey C, Lewis L & Owen D, (1996) Still Too Distant Voices? Conversations and Reflections on the Social Relevance of Accounting Education. Critical Perspectives on Accounting 7, 77-99.
McPhail, K. (2013) Corporate Responsibility to respect human rights and business schools responsibility to teach it: Incorporating human rights into the sustainability agenda, Accounting Education: An International Journal, 22(4) 391-412.
Owen, D., Humphrey, C., & Lewis, L. (1994) Social and Environmental Accounting Education in British Universities, (London: ACCA – The Certified Accountants Educational Trust).
Stevenson, L. and Thomson, I. (2010) Editorial, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 30(2) 51-63.
Thomson I. and Bebbington,J. (2004) It doesn’t matter what you teach?  Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 15(4-5), 609-628.
Thomson, I. (2014, forthcoming) "Responsible social accounting communities, symbolic activism and the reframing of social accounting. A commentary on new accounts: Towards a reframing of social accounting." Accounting Forum.

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