Sustainable development: a review of the international development, business and accounting literature

Kathryn Jan Bebbington

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This paper has been written in response to the perception that ‘sustainable development’ (hereafter SD) and its derivatives are being used in, amongst others, the accounting literature in a way which equates SD development with ‘good environmental management’. Further, the paper assumes that such usage of SD arises, at least in part, from a lack of awareness of the origins of the concept and of the debates which surrounded its origin. The paper, therefore, seeks to remedy this perceived problem by sketching the origins of debates about SD. The literature focused on is the international development literature because it was from this that the Brundtland Report originated. The paper then goes on to briefly outline how SD has been used in the business literature and in the accounting literature and contrasts this usage with its origins. As this task progresses it becomes evident that the meaning of SD is not at all fixed. Rather, SD has been moulded by various discourses to mean a variety of, often mutually exclusive, outcomes. In addition, as the concept has moved from one literature to the next its meaning has been modified as it has been translated into the terminology (and ideology) of the receiving discourse. The main conclusion of this paper, therefore, is that one should be careful about following the business literature and using SD to mean ‘good environmental management’. Rather, from a review of the international development literature it becomes clear that SD was originally thought to address the question: what kind of economic system would lead to everyone's needs being met in an environmentally sustainable and socially just manner? While ‘good environmental management’ is part of the answer to such a question, this paper argues that it is not the core issue at stake.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)128-157
    JournalAccounting Forum
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2001


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