Accounting for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Managing effective corporate contributions

Guest editors

Stefan Schaltegger

Katherine Christ

Samanthi Silva

Roger Burritt

Context for the Special Issue

This special issue aims at collecting innovative, path-breaking papers with rigorous arguments, analyses and concepts on the role accounting can or does play to help management to make substantive, effective contributions (Heras‐Saizarbitoria et al., 2021) to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and possible future scenarios.

The SDGs are aspirational for the world in relation to sustainability targets for societies, economies and companies. Comprising 17 goals, 169 targets and multiple indicators, the SDGs were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 “as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity” (UNDP, 2021, p. 1).

Corporate entities are one of the key actor groups upon which faith is pinned to help achieve sustainable development (Bebbington & Larrinaga, 2014) and the 17 SDGs by 2030 (Ike et al., 2019; Rosati & Faria, 2019; van Zanten & van Tulder, 2018). Nevertheless, as one third of the allotted time has already passed by from their introduction, warnings are already ringing out that the SDGs will not be met, similar to the preceding Millennium Development Goals, which were missed. For example, a recent study found a decline in SDG performance globally (Sachs et al., 2021).

While acknowledging the Covid-19 pandemic may have resulted in a shift of immediate priorities, it also reduced impacts like CO2-emissions in the short-run and made it obvious that sustainable development is needed more than ever (Schaltegger, 2020). This raises the question of what role management accounting can play and how it needs to be developed to support companies in contributing substantially to the SDGs. To meet the SDGs requires innovative long-term sustainability management and accounting approaches if future social, economic and environmental crises are to be limited, more successfully managed and avoided (Mio et al., 2020; van der Waal et al., 2021). Thus, now is the time to account for both potential shortfalls and positive achievements and for management to take measures supported by accounting systems and information to improve corporate performance in line with the SDGs. Without these efforts, a risk persists that corporate efforts for the SDGs are largely used for marketing or reporting purposes without creating necessary changes (Williams et al., 2019). Therefore, to achieve sustainability for the future beyond the SDGs requires sustainability management accounting to measure and disclose the effectiveness of corporate contributions to sustainable development as clearly as possible (Hummel & Szekely, 2021; Silva, 2021), to be integrated in core management information systems beyond pilot projects and satellite accounts (e.g. Schaltegger et al., 2017; Sullivan et al., 2018), to use technical options fruitfully (De Villiers et al., 2021), and to support decision-makers in creating value for stakeholders through creating sustainability contributions (Hörisch et al., 2020).

In the normative quest for achieving the SDGs, accounting academics (Bebbington & Unerman, 2018; Christ et al., 2018; Kolk et al., 2017), accounting practitioners (Schaltegger, 2018) and accounting policy makers (Hörisch, 2021) have been portrayed as actors potentially enabling corporate management to contribute. By bringing together social, economic and environmental information and presenting it in an integrated way in what has been termed ‘sustainability accounting’ (Burritt & Schaltegger, 2010) managers can be better informed and be enabled to understand the larger implications of corporate decision making. It raises the issue of how sustainability management accounting might help responsible business management towards SDGs (Sinkovics et al. 2020) and how it is and can be linked to management control, strategic management and reporting. Through this understanding managers should be supported to make positive contributions to long-term sustainability in the light of the SDGs. Nevertheless, although the context for such a contribution is better understood, the ways in which accounting can deliver and demonstrate transformation of corporate entities towards achievement of the SDGs and progress beyond has received less attention.


Guidance for authors

Submissions (with a max. 12,000 words length) are welcome from all research genres including: disciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary, logical argumentation and analytical, conceptual and applied, qualitative and quantitative methods, predictive, interpretive, emancipatory, and deconstructive.

Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • Accounting support for building awareness about and creating management action for the sustainability themes addressed by the SDGs
  • Accounting support for management to set adequate priorities for the sustainability engagement of the organisation (to evade cherry-picking and the omission of key topics)
  • Theoretical perspectives explaining how or why SDGs are considered (or not considered) in the accounting systems of an organisation
  • Accounting help in pursuing contributions to different SDGs in an integrative manner
  • Accounting systems in corporate supply or value chains for managing contributions to the SDGs
  • SDG-related accounting systems, indicators and measures of multinational enterprises, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) or entrepreneurial ventures and how they are linked
  • Formal versus informal measuring, monitoring and management control approaches for achieving SDGs by corporations
  • Accounting as a network motivator of (fast) transformative contributions towards SDGs through networks (e.g., in professional accounting organisations), markets and governments
  • Accounting as an organization internal motivator of different types of manager (e.g., top management, divisional managers, production managers, logistics managers) towards achieving the SDGs
  • Behavioural implications linked to setting up SDG-related accounting, measurement and assessment approaches
  • Accounting contributions to management of SDG achievement in different countries, industries, and types and sizes of business.
  • Sustainability management accounting as a management communication mechanism align the organization and target the SDGs
  • Accounting and strategic and operational planning and control for SDG achievement
  • The role of accounting in mapping the internal-external interface between the corporation and SDGs
  • The role accounting in responsible business management of the SDGs
  • etc.


Tentative Schedule:
Submission deadline: 28 February 2022

First round of review feedback: by 31 May 2022

Further review rounds completed by: End April 2023

Final decisions on manuscripts: Early May 2023

Planned publication: Issue 4 of 2023 – early August 2023

Submissions for the special issue will be made through Meditari’s ScholarOne platform:

To view the author guidelines for this journal, please visit the following webpage:



Bebbington, J., & Larrinaga, C. (2014). Accounting and sustainable development: An exploration. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 39(6), 395-413.

Bebbington, J., & Unerman, J. (2018). Achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: an enabling role for accounting research. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 31(1), 2-24.

Burritt, R.L., & Schaltegger, S. (2010). Sustainability accounting and reporting: fad or trend?. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 23(7), 829-846.

Christ, K. L., Burritt, R. L., Guthrie, J., & Evans, E. (2018). The potential for ‘boundary-spanning organisations’ in addressing the research-practice gap in sustainability accounting. Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, 9, 552–568.

De Villiers, C., Kuruppu, S. & Dissanayake, D. (2021). A (new) role for business. Promoting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals through the internet-of-things and blockchain technology, Journal of Business Research, 131, 598-609.

Heras‐Saizarbitoria, I., Urbieta, L., & Boiral, O. (2021). Organizations' engagement with sustainable development goals: From cherry‐picking to SDG‐washing?. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management. Online accessed: 31 August 2021: Doi: 10.1002/csr.2202

Hummel, K., & Szekely, M. (2021). Disclosure on the Sustainable Development Goals–Evidence from Europe. Accounting in Europe, 1-38.

Hörisch, J. (2021). The relation of COVID-19 to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Implications for sustainability accounting, management and policy research. Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal. Ahead of print:

Hörisch, J., Schaltegger, S., & Freeman, R. E. (2020). Integrating stakeholder theory and sustainability accounting: A conceptual synthesis. Journal of Cleaner Production, 275, 124097.

Ike, M., Donovan, J. D., Topple, C., & Masli, E. K. (2019). The process of selecting and prioritising corporate sustainability issues: Insights for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Journal of Cleaner Production, 236, 117661.

Kolk, A., Kourula, A., & Pisani, N. (2017). Multinational enterprises and the Sustainable Development Goals: What do we know and how to proceed?. Transnational Corporations, 24(3), 9-32.

Mio, C., Panfilo, S., & Blundo, B. (2020). Sustainable development goals and the strategic role of business: A systematic literature review. Business Strategy and the Environment, 29(8), 3220-3245.

Rosati, F., & Faria, L. G. (2019). Addressing the SDGs in sustainability reports: The relationship with institutional factors. Journal of cleaner production, 215, 1312-1326.

Sachs, J., Traub-Schmidt, G., Kroll, C., Lafortune, G., & Fuller, G. (2021). Sustainable Development Report 2021. The Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals. Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom.

Schaltegger, S. (2018). Linking environmental management accounting: A reflection on (missing) links to sustainability and planetary boundaries. Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 38(1), 19-29.

Schaltegger, S. (2020). Unsustainability as a key source of epi- and pandemics: conclusions for sustainability and ecosystems accounting. Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change, 16(4), 613-619.

Schaltegger, S., Etxeberria, I. Á., & Ortas, E. (2017). Innovating corporate accounting and reporting for sustainability: attributes and challenges. Sustainable Development, 25(2), 113-122.

Silva, S. (2021). Corporate contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals: an empirical analysis informed by legitimacy theory. Journal of Cleaner Production, 292, 125962.

Sinkovics, N., Sinkovics, R. R., & Archie-Acheampong, J. (2020). The business responsibility matrix: a diagnostic tool to aid the design of better interventions for achieving the SDGs. Multinational Business Review, 29(1), 1-20.

Sullivan, K., Thomas, S., & Rosano, M. (2018). Using industrial ecology and strategic management concepts to pursue the Sustainable Development Goals. Journal of Cleaner Production, 174, 237-246.

UNDP (United Nations Development Program). (2021). The SDGs in action. Available at:, (viewed 19 August 2021).

van der Waal, J. W., Thijssens, T., & Maas, K. (2021). The innovative contribution of multinational enterprises to the Sustainable Development Goals. Journal of Cleaner Production, 285, 125319.

Van Zanten, J. A., & Van Tulder, R. (2018). Multinational enterprises and the Sustainable Development Goals: An institutional approach to corporate engagement. Journal of International Business Policy, 1(3), 208-233.

Williams, A., Whiteman, G., & Parker, J. N. (2019). Backstage interorganizational collaboration: Corporate endorsement of the sustainable development goals. Academy of Management Discoveries, 5(4), 367-395.