آیا واقعا حسابداری برای توسعه پایدار است و ما چگونه خواهیم دانست ؟ اکتشاف روایات سازمان ها و سیاره
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی||تعداد کلمات|
|45||2010||16 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید||محاسبه نشده|
Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Accounting, Organizations and Society, Volume 35, Issue 1, January 2010, Pages 47–62
The emergence of sustainable development as the complex notion through which social and environmental issues must be addressed – whether at policy, personal or organisational levels – has had a growing influence in the accounting literature. In addition to explorations of what sustainability may mean for accounting and finance, we have experienced a growth in both critiques of sustainability reporting (sic) and in experiments and speculations on how accounting for sustainability might advance. This growth – as with social and environmental accounting before it – has very properly attracted critique. One convergent theme in that critique has been a challenge that much of the realist and procedural baggage associated with conventional accounting is no longer apposite when seeking to account for sustainability. What may be required, is a more nuanced understanding of what ‘sustainability’ actually is and how, if at all, it can have any empirical meaning at the level of the organisation. This essay seeks to initiate an auto-critique of accounting for sustainability via an examination of meanings and contradictions in sustainable development which, in turn, leads towards a suggestion for the development of multiple and conditional narratives that whilst no longer realist or totalising, explicitly challenge the hegemonic claims of business movements in the arena of sustainability and sustainable development.
The language by which people justify their behaviour when challenged by another social actor… is an ‘account’…[T]he idea of accounts has been widely used … to study the ways in which … deviants attempt to deny or to reduce their responsibility for behaviour which is regarded as untoward or socially unacceptable. The use of accounts is a method of avoiding the stigma of an accusation of … deviance (Abercrombie, Hill, & Turner, 1984, p. 13).1 The development of social and environmental accounting and reporting over the last 40 years or so has resulted in a wide range of actual and potential accounts of (typically) organisational interactions with society and the natural environment. For all their strengths and weaknesses (Tinker et al., 1991, Owen et al., 1997, Lehman, 2001, Everett, 2004 and Cooper et al., 2005), such accounts can be understood – to some degree at least – as narratives of local events articulating (with varying degrees of thoroughness and misdirection) the relationships of the organisation with (what have become to be regarded as) its “stakeholders” and/or its immediate substantive environment. When, sometime during the 1990s, we began to see organisations speak about “accounts of sustainability”, this linguistic turn, deliberately or not, drew our attention to a global scale. No longer were accounts potentially parochial things, loosely articulated through ill-specified notions of accountability and responsibility – they had become the contested terrain of global planetary desecration, of human and other species suffering and of social justice addressed through the language of sustainability, sustainable development and commerce. The concerns we may have over social and environmental accounting – whether it be the failures of organisational accounts to (say) discharge accountability or the failures of its proponents to embrace realpolitik or to sufficiently embrace the contested nature of any such accounting ( Tinker et al., 1991, Lehman, 2001, Everett, 2004 and Cooper et al., 2005) – are certainly not trivial ( Gray et al., in press, Owen et al., 1997 and Gray, 2002). Such disputes and concerns take us to the heart of what we might seek in terms of balances of power and responsibility, what democracy might mean and whether capitalism needs to – and can be – reformed. Important though this might be, such concerns do not (usually) directly confront us with system-wide threats to do with life and death. And yet it is this plus matters as crucial as species extinction; what it is to be human; how we should engage with our humanity; and our responsibility to the planet that these appeals to sustainability and sustainable development raise. It is increasingly well-established in the literature that most business reporting on sustainability and much business representative activity around sustainability actually have little, if anything to do with sustainability. (Beder, 1997, Gray, 2006b, Gray and Milne, 2002, Milne et al., 2006 and Milne et al., 2003). Indeed these accounts might most easily be interpreted as how organisations would like to understand sustainability and how, in turn, it would convenience them if the body politic would accede to such a view. In doing so, business is in the process of constructing the dominant discourse around sustainability but in a way which – at best – ignores discourse in both the development literature and the development community as well as the growing body of scientific consensus. ( Bebbington, 2001, Spence and Gray, 2008, Milne et al., 2008 and Gray and Bebbington, 2007). But there are more complex issues at work here. The most immediate is probably that any simple assessment of the relationship between a single organisation and planetary sustainability is virtually impossible. The relationships and interrelationships are simply too complex. Furthermore, to assume that the notion of “sustainability” has tangible meaning at the level of organisation is to ignore all we know about sustainability. Sustainability is a systems-based concept and, environmentally at least, only begins to make any sense at the level of eco-systems and is probably difficult to really conceptualise at anything below planetary and species levels. So whatever else organisational ‘accounts of sustainability’ are, they are probably not accounts of sustainability. (Gray and Milne, 2002, Gray and Milne, 2004 and Milne et al., 2008). The same reasoning, however, also applies to the proposals and experiments – predominantly academic – that have sought to challenge current organisational reporting practices and offer something that looks more like an account of – or report upon/narrative about – sustainability. In all probability, these are unlikely to be accounts of sustainability either. And, if they are probably not ‘accounts of sustainability’, what, indeed, are they? This brings us to the principal thrust of this essay: To what extent, if at all, can we account for sustainability at the organisational level? More especially, what is this sustainability that we wish to account for and why would we wish to undertake such an accounting? Should we, in fact, seek to construct accounts about it (whatever it turns out to be)? The initial departure point for this paper is a concern about the un-sustainability of current global human organisation. That concern is exacerbated by a commensurate concern that western, expansive, international financial capitalism in particular is implicated in this un-sustainability2. (Gladwin, 1993, Gladwin, 1999, Gladwin et al., 1995a, Gladwin et al., 1995b, Gladwin et al., 1997, Zimmerman, 1994, Kovel, 2002 and Gray, 2006a). However, rather than take this starting point for granted – as the social and environmental accounting literature has tended to do to date (see, for example, Everett and Neu, 2000 and Lehman, 2006) – this essay seeks to expose a more nuanced understanding of sustainability. More especially I wish to begin an exploration of what sort of sustainability it is that concerns us and, in so doing, to try to better understand how we might claim to know about (un)sustainability. Such an examination will raise some difficult and uncomfortable questions about the claims of an implicitly realist ontology and the epistemology(ies) that employ(s) it, (Quattrone, 2006). Indeed, it will transpire that the very notion of sustainability has a troubled relationship with modernity and it may well be that we need to enter, for instance, the unstable ontological territory of the aesthetic in order to understand how we know about sustainability. If we embrace such a level of doubt in our ontological and epistemological attachments we may need to more explicitly embrace the recognition that accounts of sustainability will both communicate and construct reality (as Hines, 1988; reminds us). Our challenge then becomes how to arbitrate between the claims of the purely rhetorical and those of the purely objective as humankind seeks to determine how it might engage more sensitively with this planet and its denizens. Consequently, the paper is structured as follows. ‘What does accounting for sustainability look like?’ lays out what we might understand to be the current state-of-the-art in accounting for sustainability, considering both organisational and academic claims in this direction. ‘Sustainability? Conflicts, ambivalence and modernity’ delves into the complex and conflict-laden relationship that sustainability has with modernity. This provides a basis from which to explore a more nuanced understanding of sustainability in ‘So what is sustainability?’. ‘Organisations and sustainability?’ then tries to relate sustainability to the organisation: something which is great deal more difficult than typically assumed. ‘Accounting for sustainability?’ reintroduces accounting and then makes an attempt to discuss issues that might be thought to have emerged from the essay. What does accounting for sustainability look like? …“[accounts] are always engaged in interpreting a complex reality, partially, and in a way that is heavily weighted in favour of what the accountant is able to measure and chooses to measure, through the particular scheme of accounting to be adopted”.Morgan (1988, p. 480). It has been said more than once that if one was looking to solve the problems of the world one would be unlikely to choose accounting as one’s starting point. However if we are to consider narratives of sustainability at the organisational level, then it is accounts – in the broadest sense of the term – at the organisational level that we need to embrace.3 Accounts – or narratives – of ‘business sustainability’ are legion and it seems apposite to briefly rehearse some of this plethora here. It will prove to be convenient to consider the range of “sustainability accounts” in four loose categories. These categories are: general discourse in and around business; corporate reporting itself; initiatives ostensibly designed to advance the corporate sustainability (and/or environmental and/or social and/or responsibility and/or accountability) agenda; and, finally, and most substantially for our purposes here, the range of experiments (typically academic) designed to provide an articulation of sustainability at the organisational level. The language and meanings implicit in the terms “sustainability” and “sustainable development” are widely recognised as highly contestable and it is no surprise therefore that the discourse surrounding the terms is crucial in developing its signification in the political economy broadly, (Dresner, 2002, Gladwin et al., 1995a, Gladwin et al., 1995b, Livesey and Kearins, 2002, Buhr and Reiter, 2006 and Milne et al., 2006). The issue of concern is that through uncritical repetition the term(s) may be thought to be entering common discourse emasculated and largely trivialised. For illustration, we find textbooks with titles like TheBusinessGuideToSustainability:PracticalStrategiesAndToolsForOrganisations (Hitchcock & Willard, 2006); articles in influential journals entitled “Developing Value: The business case for sustainability in emerging markets” (Thorpe & Prakash-Mani, 2003); business representative groups like the World Business Council for Sustainable Development would have us believe that “Sustainabilitypaysoff” (Oberndorfer, 2004); and Accountancy (the professional journal of the ICAEW) feels no apparent qualms in claiming “…thereisanundeniablebusinesscaseforhavingasustainabledevelopmentstrategy” (Accountancy December 2008, p. 89). There is no shortage of such examples (see, for example, Erusalimsky et al., 2006 and Gray, 2008) but what they have in common is that they rarely, if at all, consider “sustainability” in any explicit sense and so any truth claims are entirely rhetorical. Consequently, through repetition, “sustainability” comes to be synonymous with other notions such as “social responsibility” or “environmental management” and, and most especially, becomes a term that offers no threat to corporate attitudes and activity, ( Gladwin et al., 1995a, Gladwin et al., 1995b, Livesey and Kearins, 2002, Buhr and Reiter, 2006 and Milne et al., 2006). This has the effect of presenting a suite of increasingly pervasive narratives/accounts of sustainability comprising some relatively benign, win–win cocktail of economic achievement, managerial excellence, environmental probity and social responsibility. This tantalising recipe shows every sign of populating business and management discourse – and probably political discourse – largely unchallenged. Naturally, such narrative, has great appeal within corporations, (see, for example, Gray & Bebbington, 2000) and finds one of its most tantalising outlets in corporate reporting. Here we discover that corporations are keen to persuade us of their harmonious embracing of sustainability and sustainable development: “Our vision is that the principles of sustainable development will become an instinctive part of everyday business. We must deliver fair value to shareholders based on competence, vision, minimising risks and maximising opportunities” (Anglo-American Report to Society 2005: Anglo American – a climate of change, p. 7). “Our approach: As an organisation, we believe that sustainable growth in shareholder value is best achieved through sustainable business practices” (United Utilities plc Our Company 05: Stakeholder Report 2005, p. 4). Such claims are widespread (see, for example, Milne et al., 2006, Milne and Gray, 2007, Tregidga and Milne, 2006, Erusalimsky et al., 2006 and Gray, 2006b) and, like the broader business discourse, offer no evidential basis for the statements whilst tantalising us with the prospect of a world of harmony and consumption. Lurking within these claims, in all probability, lies an additional signifier for “sustainability” – that of the “sustainability” of the business. Whilst this notion is also rarely dealt with explicitly in the claims reviewed here, it is a notion which adapts more comfortably with the preconceptions of “business as usual”. In essence, what seems to be being claimed is that “the business” will continue for the foreseeable future (although this itself is contestable at many levels). Additionally, as current business parlance likes to take for granted that no business can succeed without the approval of its stakeholders as a socially and environmentally responsible entity, there is, consequently, an unexamined presupposition that the business is indeed so responsible. Furthermore, we are invited to accede to the notion that as all good businesses (tautological though this may be) are, in this sense “sustainable”, then a planet dominated by “good” businesses can probably be assumed also to be sustainable. The notion that collectively business is probably a principal cause of un-sustainability and that a seriously un-sustainable planet is unlikely to have any place for business appears to be inconceivable. Such linguistic devices help move our attention entirely away from any notion of connections between corporate activity and responsible or sustainable activity. (Gray and Bebbington, 2000, Tregidga and Milne, 2006, Milne et al., 2003, Milne et al., 2006, Milne et al., 2008 and Bebbington et al., 2001). Such attempts in business discourse or in reporting itself, look a lot like explicitly misleading appropriation of the terms ‘sustainability’/‘sustainable’ to mean, typically, some blandly under-defined notion of (corporate) responsibility. These are the narratives of “sustainability” to which this paper is addressed – they must be challenged and, were it possible, their warranty removed. For the purposes of this paper they do not constitute genuine accounts of sustainability, but powerful fictions; fairy tales to help the children sleep at night.4 More apparently nuanced attempts have been the acts by a range of bodies, individuals and institutions to begin to offer some articulation of what an account of sustainability might mean at the organisational level. Such attempts have a not-insubstantial history (see, for example, SustainAbility, 2002, ICAEW, 2004, ACCA, 2002 and AICPA, 20035) and, with the probable exception of the calculations of Ecological Footprints (to which we will return later), probably the most influential of these have been the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI, hereafter: see, for example, Adams & Narayanan, 2007) and the UK’s Prince of Wales AccountingforSustainability Project (Hopwood, 2008; AccountingforSustainability6). The AccountingforSustainability project seeks to embed business-centred notions of social and environmental probity within the organisation as an initial step along the way toward some unspecified but clearly desirable outcome. No link with planetary or social sustainability is explored. The GRI initiative seeks to offer a means of producing a narrative which can be thought to approximate a notion of sustainability through some variant on ‘the Triple Bottom Line’ (TBL). Once again, no attempt is made to derive substantive relationships between the exigencies of global sustainability and organisational activities and the bases of the claims to be an account or a report of sustainability are therefore primarily rhetorical. More substantively, it has been argued that there is no basis on which to suggest that sustainability can be approximated by reports of an entity’s economic, social and environmental activities. Furthermore there is equally little evidence to suggest that models such as the GRI offer a substantive approximation of the TBL. (See, for more detail, Gray, 2006b, Henriques and Richardson, 2004, Milne and Gray, 2007, Milne et al., 2003 and Moneva et al., 2006.)7 Such narratives are offerings of moves towards a broader and richer notion of corporate activity, decision-making and accountability but, on the whole, they are not tentative reachings towards assessments of the sustainability of organisations. For that we need to turn to the range of experiments that we find in the business and academic literature. Those attempts to offer narratives which are explicitly tied into some notion of sustainability may be conveniently categorised as those which focus upon: indicators; financial narrative; and other non-financial quantitative narratives.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
Thus, I suspect, we can provide a case of some substance for pursuing narratives of sustainability at the organisational level – despite the difficulties (impossibilities) inherent in that task, (Lamberton, 1998). That very difficulty must, especially when it is built upon the epistemological uncertainties that we have reviewed above, lead us to repudiate any notion of there being any possibility of “a” or “the” account of organisational sustainability. There can only a plurality of such things and, on balance it seems, a plurality of narratives of un-sustainability – rather than futile attempts at sustainability – as Spence and Gray argue (2008). The key, it seems, will therefore be to re-habilitate the experiments considered in ‘What does accounting for sustainability look like?’ as potential sources of counter-narratives, as part of a multiple and plural expression of sustainability in organisations. Additionally, if we can begin to explicitly acknowledge that some of the more modernist, realist accounts need to be given voice alongside Lehman’s calls for more processual – perhaps even dialogic (Thomson & Bebbington, 2005) – accounts; then, in all probability, the project of preparing and sharing multiple and conditional accounts of organisational (un)sustainability alongside accounts of irresponsibility and un-accountability may well be encouraged to flourish. And, in so doing, I think it allows us to offer some counter to the challenge of (for example) Everett (2004) and Everett and Neu (2000) and to recognise that we will only derive a range of multiple voices if we are allowed to develop voices at all – albeit voices which can provide substantiation of their claims to speak the world anew and provide new narratives of (un)sustainability.