Special Issue on Limits and Foundations for Sustainability Accounting and Multi-Capital Accounting


Call for papers

Accounting for sustainability is a fast evolving landscape. It has moved in multiple directions and over many dimensions. A first dimension is a shift from measuring flows and assessing their impact to evaluating how an entity contributes to the maintenance of healthy societies and ecosystems. A second dimension is a shift from voluntary to mandatory reporting, with multiple standard setters moving in to develop consistent but competing frameworks. A third dimension is a shift from reporting for public relation purposes to making commitments and monitoring them. A fourth dimension is a shift from reporting on how enterprise value will be affected by the ecological crisis to understanding how entities contribute to cause, prevent or mitigate this crisis.

Within this field multi-capital accounting has caught the interest of academics, practitioners, and standard setters. It is based on the idea that an entity’s performance is multidimensional and relies on the use of many capitals to prosper. However superficial similarities in the terminology used by different multi-capital accounting models hide different visions of sustainability. Concepts need to be made more explicit.

Our stance is that capitals are not resources a business is entitled to use, own and exploit. Rather they are inputs from nature, society, stakeholders and stockholders to which business is liable, with a responsibility for preserving these entities. Capitals should not be substituted to one another, nor maintained separately, but in relation to one another, in a holistic manner. We should also consider a hierarchy of capitals. Economic activity is nested within human societies and can only thrive if these societies are kept in a good condition. Human societies themselves are nested within ecosystems and cannot exist if natural cycles are not able to maintain life on earth. The conditions which define a viable society and a viable planet should be considered in order to define appropriate metrics. Finally, although financial metrics are not to be ruled out before we understand what they should mean, they cannot replace physical or social metrics.

Considering the interest that has risen from practitioners, academics and organizations alike on multi-capital accounting, we therefore suggest that this special issue could be a collection of innovative, path-breaking papers with rigorous arguments, analyses and concepts on the following subjects:

  • What are the different types of multi-capital models and how do they compare to one another?
  • How can multi-capital accounting play a role in:
    • supporting awareness, unveiling denial, reducing uncertainty, encouraging adequate action, informing decision-makers and guiding implementation
    • encouraging and supporting speedy transformative approaches?
    • helping to place and maintain humankind in the “safe and just operating space”, above social foundations and below planetary boundaries?
    • building regenerative business models which contribute to the maintenance and even to the regeneration of social and natural capitals?
  • How do you build/invent new tools, collect and manage data, report to managers and outside parties?
  • What type of monetization be considered for multicapital accounting models?
  • How can theoretical perspectives from other disciplines, both social sciences and environmental sciences, be a source of inspiration to develop a multi-capital accounting framework?

Topics can include:

  • multi-capital accounting as a (management/accounting) innovation
  • accounting for planetary boundaries and social foundations
  • reflection on the past to present (from full cost to sustainability assessment models, to multi-capital accounts?)
  • engagement research on multi-capital account
  • comparison of existing multi-capital accounting models
  • normative papers on how multi-capital accounts should look like for strong sustainability
  • links between CSRD and multi-capital accounting

Submission Deadline:

September 30th 2023

Suggested Literature

Two special issues in Sustainability, Accounting, Management and Policy Journal:

Value, True Value and Value to Whom ?

Exploring capital and the notion of multiple capitals

Antonini, C. and Larrinaga, C. (2017), “Planetary boundaries and sustainability indicators. A survey of corporate reporting boundaries”, Sustainable Development, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 123-137.

Bebbington, J., Brown, J., & Frame, B. (2007). "Accounting technologies and sustainability assessment models", Ecological economics, 61(2-3), 224-236.

Bebbington, J. and Unerman, J. (2020), "Advancing research into accounting and the UN Sustainable Development Goals", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 33 No. 7, pp. 1657-1670.

Bebbington, J. and Larrinaga, C. (2014), "Accounting and sustainable development: an exploration", Accounting, Organizations and Society, Vol. 39 No. 6, pp. 395-413.

Bebbington, J., Österblom, H., Crona, B., Jouffray, J.-B., Larrinaga, C., Russell, S., & Scholtens, B. (2019). "Accounting and accountability in the Anthropocene." Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 33(1), 152–177.

Bebbington, J., Russell, S., & Thomson, I. (2017). "Accounting and sustainable development: Reflections and propositions", Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 48, 21–34.

Ferraro, F., Etzion, D., & Gehman, J. (2015). "Tackling Grand Challenges Pragmatically: Robust Action Revisited", Organization Studies, 36(3), 363–390.

George, G., Howard-Grenville, J., Joshi, A., and Tihanyi, L. (2016), “Understanding and tackling societal grand challenges through management research”, Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 59 No. 6, pp. 1880-1895.

Gray, R., Brennan, A., & Malpas, J. (2014). "New accounts: Towards a reframing of social accounting", Accounting Forum, 38(4), 258–273.

Gray, R., & Milne, M. J. (2018). "Perhaps the Dodo should have accounted for human beings? Accounts of humanity and (its) extinction", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 31(3), 826–848.

Larrinaga, C. (2020). "‘The World for Which we Account’: Systems Thinking in Rob Gray’s Works", Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 1–5.

Noël, J. F., & O’Connor, M. (1998). "Strong sustainability and critical natural capital", Valuation for Sustainable Development: Methods and Policy Indicators. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, pp. 75-97.

Pelenc, J., & Ballet, J. (2015), "Strong sustainability, critical natural capital and the capability approach", Ecological Economics, 112, 36-44

Persson, L., Carney Almroth, Collins, C.D., Cornell, S., de Wit, C. et.al. 2022. "Outside the Safe Operating Space of the Planetary Boundary for Novel Entities", Environ. Sci. Technol..

Pottier, A., Méjean, A., Godard, O., & Hourcade, J. C. (2017). "A survey of global climate justice: from negotiation stances to moral stakes and back", International Review of Environmental and Resource Economics, 11(1), 1-53.

Rambaud, A., & Richard, J. (2015). "The “Triple Depreciation Line” instead of the “Triple Bottom Line”: towards a genuine integrated reporting", Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 33, 92-116

Raworth, K. (2017). "Doughnut economics: Seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist", Random House Business Books.

Rockström, J., W. Steffen, K. Noone, Å. Persson, F. S. Chapin, III, E. Lambin, T. M. Lenton, M. Scheffer, C. Folke, H. Schellnhuber, B. Nykvist, C. A. De Wit, T. Hughes, S. van der Leeuw, H. Rodhe, S. Sörlin, P. K. Snyder, R. Costanza, U. Svedin, M. Falkenmark, L. Karlberg, R. W. Corell, V. J. Fabry, J. Hansen, B. Walker, D. Liverman, K. Richardson, P. Crutzen, and J. Foley. (2009), "Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity", Ecology and Society 14(2): 32.

Rockström, J., Gupta, J., Lenton, T. M., Qin, D., Lade, S. J., Abrams, J. F., et al. (2021). "Identifying a safe and just corridor for people and the planet", Earth's Future, 9, e2020EF001866.

Ryberg, M. W., Bjerre, T. K., Nielsen, P. H., & Hauschild, M. (2020a). "Absolute environmental sustainability assessment of a Danish utility company relative to the Planetary Boundaries", Journal of Industrial Ecology, 25(3), 765-777.

Steffen, W., Richardson, K., Rockström, J., Cornell, S. E., Fetzer, I., Bennett, E. M., Biggs, R., Carpenter, S. R., de Vries, W., de Wit, C. A., Folke, C., Gerten, D., Heinke, J., Mace, G. M., Persson, L. M., Ramanathan, V., Reyers, B., & Sörlin, S. (2015). "Planetary boundaries : Guiding human development on a changing planet", Science, 347(6223), 1259855.

Taïbi, S., Antheaume, N., & Gibassier, D. (2020). "Accounting for strong sustainability: An intervention-research based approach", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, 11(7), 1213–1243.

Thomson, I. (2020). “Designing environmental impact- valuation assemblages for sustainable decision- making” in Routledge Handbook of Environmental Accounting, eds. Jan Bebbington, Carlos Larrinaga, Brendan O’Dwyer and Ian Thomson. Routledge.

Unerman, J., Bebbington, J., & O’Dwyer, B. (2018). "Corporate reporting and accounting for externalities", Accounting and Business Research, 48, 497–522.