Exploring the Historical Roots of Environmental and Ecological Accounting, Auditing and Accountability


The substantial recent growth in research into environmental and ecological accounting has been accompanied by some examinations of historical roots of these approaches to accounting, with researchers exploring, “… how earlier individuals and organisations used accounting to enable, or in some cases ignore, sustainability, and to hold the powerful accountable for their impact on nature” (Carnegie and Napier, 2017, p. 85). Nevertheless, the body of historical research into social and environmental accounting remains relatively small, and there have been calls for further exploration of environmental accounting in a historical context (Parker, 2015; Carnegie and Napier, 2017). Also, investigation into different forms of accounting from a historical perspective has been called for (Carnegie and Napier, 2017). Research has emphasised a need to widen the notion of the ‘archive’ beyond the traditional ‘obviously accounting-based source materials’ (Carnegie and Napier, 1996, p.31) such as original accounts, business records and financial statements. Broadening the definition of ‘archival evidence’ could extend into the area of alternative accounting research, considering forms of environmental and ecological accounts produced by stakeholders other than business organisations. For example, researchers have analysed a 19th-century engineer’s report on river pollution as an early form of environmental account (Solomon and Thomson, 2009). Letters written by the artist, writer and social activist William Morris, concerning woodland conservation, have been interpreted as an early form of environmental audit (Atkins and Thomson, 2014), and identified as an isolated exploration of early accounts from a sustainability perspective (Carnegie and Napier, 2017). Short emancipatory reports from 17th-century writers as well as accounts of nature and wildlife encapsulated in 18th-century travel writings and naturalists’ journals have been cited as illustrations of early forms of accounting for biodiversity, wildlife and landscape (Atkins and Atkins, 2019). Indeed, Carnegie and Napier (1996) suggest that the use of diaries, as well as other sources, represents an extension of traditional accounting and accountability research. This AAAJ special issue aims to represent a platform for further research into the diverse historical roots of environmental and ecological accounting, auditing and accountability.

We welcome submissions of full papers that research the following areas:

  • Alternative forms of environmental and ecological accounting and auditing, such as nature diaries, travel journals, letters, reports, reviews;
  • Aesthetic and creative historical accounts of nature, wildlife, the natural environment and ecology such as literature, poetry, historical reports, etchings, illustrations;
  • Comparative accounts across time: the ‘then and now’ of environmental and ecological accounting and implications for the future of accounting and auditing practice;
  • Exploration of historical environmental/ecological accounts around the world, such as international illustrations of accounting for biodiversity, or extinction accounting, from the past.

We also welcome research applying a wide range of methodological approaches including qualitative, quantitative, interpretive, archival and theoretical. We would stress that, given the exploratory nature of research in this area, the above list is merely indicative rather than exhaustive, and that submissions on other topics relating to the historical roots of ecological/environmental accounting are welcome. The submission deadline for this special issue is 30th June 2022. Manuscripts should be submitted using the online system.

More Information

If you would like to discuss the special issue and your potential contribution, please contact the guest editors by email:

Atkins, J. and Thomson, I. (2014) “Accounting for Nature in 19th Century Britain:  William Morris and the defence of the fairness of the Earth”, Chapter 13 in Jones (eds.) Accounting for Biodiversity, Routledge, UK, pp. 267-286.
Atkins, J. F. and Atkins, B. C. (2019) “Around the world in 80 days: What is mass extinction and can we stop it?”, Chapter 1 in Atkins, J. and Atkins, B. (2019) Around the World in 80 Species: Exploring the Business of Extinction, Routledge.
Carnegie, G. D. and Napier, C. J. (1996) ‘Critical and interpretive histories: Insights into accounting’s present and future through its past’, Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 9(3): 7-39.
Canegie, G.D. and Napier, C.J. (2017) “Historiography in Accounting Research”, Chapter 5 in The Routledge Companion to Qualitative Accounting Research Methods, edited by Zahirul Hoque, Lee D. Parker, Mark Covaleski and Kathryn Haynes, Routledge, Abingdon, UK.
Parker, L. D. (2015) ‘Accounting historiography: Looking back to the future’, Meditari Accountancy Research, 23: 142-157.
Solomon, J. F. and I. Thomson (2009) "Satanic Mills? An Illustration of Victorian External Environmental Accounting?" Accounting Forum, Vol.33, pp.74-87.