Accounting and sustainable development: an exploration

Jan Bebbington*, Carlos Larrinaga

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    191 Citations (Scopus)


    As the social and environmental impacts of human activity have become more evident, the role of sustainable development as an organising principle in a variety of policy contexts and over multiple scales has become central. There are, at least, two implications that emerge from this observation. First, morally infused problems that need to be addressed have become more intractable, requiring innovation in our modes of thinking. Second, new spaces have emerged where the academy might explore how knowledge is created, validated and translated (or not) alongside policy and practice settings. One outcome of these trends has been the emergence of a stream of work (sustainability science) which investigates how disciplines might develop knowledge that progresses sustainable development. The aim of this paper, in line with the focus of the special issue, is to explore what possibilities emerge for accounting in light of a sustainability science approach. To achieve this end the paper starts with an exploration of the frustrations expressed in the literature over the perceived lack of progress made by social and environmental accounting towards addressing sustainable development. The paper then introduces sustainability science with the aim of imagining how an accounting for sustainable development might emerge. The paper closes with two illustrations of how a sustainability science approach to accounting could develop.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)395-413
    Number of pages19
    JournalAccounting, Organizations and Society
    Issue number6
    Early online date11 Feb 2014
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014


    • Social-responsibility disclosure
    • Environmental assessment tools
    • Post-normal science
    • Ecological economics
    • Cost-benefit
    • Stakeholder
    • Carbon
    • Organizations
    • Technologies
    • Governance


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