Friday, 26 September 2014

Emerging Scholars Colloquium - Questions Posed by Participants

Prior to the 26th International Congress on Social & Environmental Accounting Research, CSEAR organised a very successful one-day Emerging Scholars Colloquium which aimed to introducing emerging scholars into the social and environmental accounting research community, and provide them an opportunity to present and discuss their research projects alongside a cohort of distinguished international faculty.

At this event, a number of important questions were raised by emerging scholars. CSEAR's council members felt it would be helpful to use the blog to explore these questions and generate some dialogue around the issued arising from them.

The questions were:

  • In a field such as social and environmental accounting there must be periods where you feel deflated by the issues we write about. How do you avoid losing your passion?
  • This is a stupid question, but in my whole academic career I've never heard anyone explain it. How does academia fit in society? Does it influence society, and, if so, how? It´s a question that could provide more meaning to the academic pursuit of knowledge.
  • What can be the contribution of research in promoting the correct use of social and environmental reporting instruments?
  • Is it too ambitious to think that accountants will play a central role in saving the world from environmental disaster?
  • How can you give your time as a PhD student?
  • How can we have publish work out of this colloquium as PhDs? 
  • Do you think it is necessary to defend social and environment accounting against mainstream accounting? Why or why not?
  • As a PhD student without a funding grant, how can we avoid the lack of financing to endanger our passion?

Over the coming days, members of CSEAR's executive council and others will offer their perspective on these questions. However, if you have your own views, we would welcome these too, either by commenting on the blog, or via CSEAR's facebook page. Please join in the conversation!

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
  • 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

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.

Monday, 21 July 2014

From counting money to counting CO2 emissions: the role of management accounting

By guest blogger Martin Quinn

As a management accountant and a researcher, what I am going to say here might be quite obvious. I completely appreciate the work of CSEAR members as well as efforts made by some companies to produce some form of environmental or sustainability reports.

I have a rather dull view of financial reporting of any kind to be honest – it is only done because it has to be, primarily to satisfy legal requirements and shareholders. I am in the middle of reading Capital Wars by Daniel Pinto. In the book he notes that the average period of holding a share in US public companies is now 5 months (see also here: ). This give us some idea of the relevance of financial reports. So, yes I would say this, but isn’t management accounting then more important? Perhaps what we need is companies to not only take sustainability and environmental reporting seriously – and it will probably take laws to do this – but also to instil the same issues into their internal accounting. In my experience, it does not take much for a management accountant to change their skills from counting money to counting CO2 emissions, waste or energy consumed for example.

Maybe people like myself should specifically teach such things in a standard management accounting course, but as I said, management accountants are good at counting things and controlling things – we just need to encourage them somehow. For example, over a decade ago I worked for a paper company. Every piece of waste paper was captured, baled, weighed and ultimately sold on for recycling. The primary reason for the relatively complex control system was we could generate about €300,000 per annum in revenue. Then, at some stage we had to join the Green Dot initiative and account for waste to an authority. With the system already in place, the changes needed were easily made. Basically, we had to define the type of waste in more detail – cuttings of paper, waste sheets, and even dust. These changes, along with the fact that the more waste we generated, the more we paid to Green Dot , made managers focus on waste reduction and keep an eye on the reports to see what was happening.

Taking my example above, it would be very easy to report externally on waste generated, recycled or sold. But, in my opinion there is a difference between this example and an externally imposed report. As my example comes from within, it is accepted and used by all and taken seriously. Something imposed from outside might not be as easily accepted – well at least that’s what my research on organisational routines tells me.

Martin Quinn is Lecturer of Accounting at Dublin City University, Ireland, where he teaches at the undergraduate and postgraduate level. He is also a registered Chartered Management Accountant. Martin’s blog on accounting related topics can be found at He is also a co-author of a major new Management Accounting textbook – further details can be found at

Thursday, 8 May 2014

New issue of the Social and Environmental Accountability Journal published

The first issue in 2014 of the CSEAR journal is a special issue on “Carbon Accounting: The Contribution of Social and Environmental Accounting to the Debate”, guest edited by myself, featuring three main contributions by Francisco Ascui (University of Edinburgh), Martin Freedman and Jin Dong Park (Towson University) and Begoña Giner (Univesity of Valencia).

Ascui’s paper is a review of carbon accounting literature that provides insight into the directions in which SEA research should move to make a more ambitious contribution in the area. He contends that the focus of carbon accounting research is relatively confined to content analyses of corporate disclosures, opening the opportunity to conduct research in other areas, such as the interplay between carbon markets and financial accounting.

Freedman and Park examine the compliance of certain public US firms with mandatory disclosures on climate change, concluding that the regulation produced an increase in disclosure, but also a diversity of disclosure practices among companies.

Begoña Giner, member of the Advisory Council of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and former member of the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG), examines the evolution of carbon financial accounting regulation and uses a suggestive currency metaphor to suggest an alternative carbon financial accounting approach based on considering emission allowances as payment instruments.

As usual, this issue also contains a series of articles reviews and book reviews that researchers interested in social and environmental accountability might find a useful introduction to relevant recent literature.