Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Would-be Environmental Accountant meets Mother Nature in a Pub: A Dialogue

By Guest Blogger Dr Jack Christian

Life is full of coincidences.  For years, I have been aware that I operate from a different worldview or metatheory than probably most other attendees at the annual CSEAR conferences.  At last week’s conference, I began to wonder how many other people might feel the same, so I asked Colin Dey (editor of the CSEAR blog) if I could publish this dialogue via the blog.  It is actually taken straight from my PhD thesis.  It is one of the chapters in fact.  My PhD was effectively an investigation into the worldviews of people who, in some way or another, account for nature.  My aim in putting it on the blog is to show how my own worldview has been/is being constructed, and maybe get some response about why others choose to work in the SEA paradigm.

The coincidence is that in the last session of the conference, Rob Gray spoke about the various worldviews held by CSEAR attendees, and his concern that these worldviews are never made explicit.  He saw this as a problem, if we did not fully understand each other we could not work together to achieve our generally shared goals.

My hope in attaching my dialogue to the CSEAR blog is that it will encourage others to investigate and share their own worldviews and make for greater understanding among our community.

The whole dialogue is quite long (20,000 words) - however, it is made up of five Acts and so it is possible to dip into each one individually.  Each Act is shown separately on my own blog, the first of which can be found at https://jackchristian4sl.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/would-be-environmental-accountant-meets-mother-nature-in-a-pub-a-dialogue-act-one/.  I also list the writers and thinkers who helped me build my worldview in my blog.


Mother Nature                                                   Mr Commerce
Professor Science                                              Religious Man
Young Englishman                                             Soren Kierkegaard
Martin Heidegger                                             Unidentified Frenchman
Librarian Lady                                                  Young German
Carl Gustav Jung                                              Friederich Nietzsche
Psychologist Lady                                             Ecopsychologist
Arne Naess                                                        The Romantic
Michel Foucault                                                American Academic 1
American Academic 2                                       Geographern the CSEAR 
Sociologist                                                        Policy Maker
Angry Voice                                                       Reconciliatory Voice


Our hero, an ex-management accountant, has recently read stories of environmental management accounting and despite many years in the field of management accounting he has never heard of, let alone witnessed, this phenomenon.  He is now on a journey to find what people mean when they refer to accounting and to the environment and, indeed, what he means.

In the course of this journey he now finds himself in a large dimly-lit hostelry which has one large reception lounge in which guests can congregate.  It is an ‘Open-Mic’ night with a ‘Nature’ theme. Would be minstrels are playing songs, reciting poetry and telling tales.  A fire burns in a hearth to the side of the bar, away from the bar and the hearth the room gets progressively darker.  In the darkness there are an indistinguishable but seemingly large number of tables, most of which are occupied.  


Act One - Who am I and what can I know?
Act Two - Deep ecology and belief systems
Act Three - Exploring the limitations of science
Act Four - Knocking at the foundations of capitalism
Act Five - The nature of nature

Thursday, 14 January 2016

2015 CSEAR Case Study Competition Award

By guest blogger Christian Herzig, University of Kassel

Suzana Grubnic, Jean-Pascal Gond
and Christian Herzig at the 27th
CSEAR at Royal Holloway
(not on the photo: Jeremy Moon)
My colleagues Dr Suzana Grubnic, University of Loughborough, Professor Jean-Pascal Gond, Cass Business School, and Professor Jeremy Moon, Copenhagen Business School, and I are very grateful to have been awarded the 2015 CSEAR Case Study Competition award. We very much appreciated the invitation to present our teaching case study “A New Era – Moving from Climate Action to a Broader Sustainability Agenda: The Case of Commercial Group” at the 27th International Congress on Social and Environmental Accounting Research, held at Royal Holloway in late August 2015 and to publish the case (including a teaching note) in the latest issue of the Social and Environmental Accountability Journal. The case, we feel, can support lectures dedicated to CSR, sustainability or sustainable development in numerous types of accounting and management modules at different levels.

I still remember when Simon Graham, Environmental Strategist at Commercial Group, delivered his first talk as a guest speaker in my module on ‘Sustainability Accounting and Reporting’ at Nottingham University Business School more than five years ago. Students enjoyed his informative and thought-provoking lecture, his passion for the environment and positive attitude towards the impact business can make towards sustainable development. It was the beginning of a long-term relationship in terms of both welcoming him as a regular guest speaker at Nottingham and deepening our collaboration through case study research initially funded by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (some findings from this research have also been published in our CIMA study ‘Management Control for Sustainability Strategy’).

It was Simon and the sister of a sister-brother team (who together with an old school friend established the business in 1991) who set up the measurement systems at Commercial Group and sought to connect with staff members in order to empower them to make a difference. The success of Commercial Group’s journey towards a more socially responsible business since then has been remarkable and has been recognised in the form of awards including Business in the Community Big Tick 2012, Guardian Sustainable Business Award 2013, and various other prestigious awards. Commercial Group will also celebrate the tenth anniversary of its annual CSR Day next year, which serves to reach out to both customers and suppliers and engender further changes.

What makes Commercial Group an interesting case is the gradual extension of its CSR agenda. Commercial Group has always understood itself as a “caring” company, built strongly upon family principles and paying attention to valuing staff as individuals, then inculcating an impressive green agenda (e.g. achieving carbon neutrality and zero waste status) and most recently concentrating on the creation of corporate sustainable value with investment in a new social agenda four times the financial resource originally put into the environmental cause. An interesting lens through which the case can be looked at in class is the management of tensions, trade-offs and potential contradictions relating to the co-existence of the company’s multiple (economic, social and environmental) sustainability objectives. Managing tensions in corporate sustainability has become an increasingly popular topic in the management literature (see for example Hahn et al.’s recent work published in AMR or JBE). However, what role we should attribute to calculative and control practices for managing tensions appears to be a largely under-researched question. At least for debate in class, we provide some suggestions in our teaching note on how this can be reflected on and discussed together with management and accounting students.

The case, we feel, is also interesting because teaching cases often revolve around ir/responsible practices of large, usually globally operating companies which do (or do not) respond to external expectations of powerful stakeholders such as consumers, NGOs or investors. In contrast, our case is about a medium-sized business services company, independently owned, which is not up there on the high street or in the world of consumer orientated businesses. It is thus neither driven by media nor is it massively on the radar of non-governmental organisations. Instead, a mixture of moral obligations, duty of care for staff, operational efficiency and market positioning in the B2B world has driven Commercial Group’s aspirations to become a leading CSR company in its sector. The case study describes how the company has drawn upon management by measurement and management by inspiration to pursue and implement its sustainability objectives and strategy.

A related topic for discussion with students emerges from the challenges associated with the continuous growth of the organization, the difficulty of maintaining its ‘sustainability competitive advantage’ with the consolidation of its competitors, and the complexity of retaining a relationship with all workers which has largely been based upon informal and personal networks. Whilst management, on the one hand, would like to maintain the inspirational drive that was initially behind the sustainability strategy, it has on the other hand also started to debate the option of formalising and integrating measurement systems to a greater extent in the future. Initiatives that could help maintain both elements are outlined in the case and can be discussed further in class.

We genuinely hope that the case will prove helpful for others as a vehicle to provide students with practical insights into and knowledge about “accounting and control for sustainability”.

We would be grateful to receive your feedback on the case and to what extent it might have helped you in your own teaching to raise critical awareness, for example, of the role and use of management conceptions such as management by measurement and by inspiration to implement sustainability strategies.

Case Report:

Grubnic, S., Herzig, C., Gond, J-P. & Moon, J. 2015) A New Era – Extending Environmental Impact to a Broader Sustainability Agenda: The Case of Commercial Group. Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 35(3): 176-193.

Links to Other Resources:

Arjaliès, D.-L. & Mundy, J. 2013. The use of management control systems to manage CSR strategy: a levers of control perspective. Management Accounting Research, 24(4): 284-300.

Epstein, M.J., Buhovac, A.R. & Yuthas, K. 2015. Managing social, environmental and financial performance simultaneously. Long Range Planning, 48(1): 35-45.

Gond, J-P., Grubnic, S., Herzig, C. & Moon, J. 2012. Configuring management control systems: theorizing the integration of strategy and sustainability. Management Accounting Research, 23(3): 205-223.

Hahn, T., Preuss, L., Pinkse, J. & Figge, F. 2015. Tensions in Corporate Sustainability: Towards an Integrative Framework. Journal of Business Ethics, 127(2), 297-316.

Hahn, T., Preuss, L., Pinkse, J. & Figge, F. 2014. Cognitive Frames in Corporate Sustainability: Managerial Sensemaking with Paradoxical and Business Case Frames. Academy of Management Review, 39(4): 473-487.

Moon, J., Gond, J.-P., Grubnic, S. & Herzig, C. 2011. Management control for sustainability strategy’, in Research Executive Summary Series 7(12), Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. [online]

Unerman, J. & Chapman, C.S. 2014. Academic Contributions to Accounting for Sustainable Development. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 39(6): 385-394.