How Accounting Practices Can Improve Businesses’ Sustainability

Published: 09 Nov 2020

The key to make sustainability 'material' within organizations could be in the way businesses' report their financial and pre-financial performance according to new a study from Fabrizio Granà, Assistant Professor in Management Control at ESCP Business School.

The research published in his new book 'Redesigning Organizational Sustainability Through Integrated Reporting' explores the role of accounting and reporting practices in representing sustainability within organizations, and examines how individuals engage with integrated reporting to make sustainability meaningful.

By exploring the case of a large international oil and gas company, and its recent development of integrated reporting, the study provides theoretical and empirical contributions to address the role of accounting and reporting practices.

“The ambiguity of sustainability as a concept, and the impossibility to fully capture it through accounting and reporting practices, does not mean that any attempt to represent it inevitably leads to distortion or obfuscates ‘reality’. Rather, the way in which this concept is presented through accounting and reporting practices can have a constructive effect on the organization through the aspirations that these representations entail.” says Professor Fabrizio Granà.

He found that there are three key features that may affect an organization’s approach towards sustainable value creation. Firstly, how the adoption of integrated accounting and reporting practices affect the way in which organizations perceive, evaluate and combine financial and non-financial performance. Secondly, what the effects of adopting integrated accounting and reporting practices are on managers aspirations towards sustainable value creation. And thirdly, how integrated accounting and reporting practices stimulate questioning and debate around how non-financial initiatives and performance affect financial outcomes.

The book demonstrates that accounting and reporting practices, such as integrated reporting, are not expected to offer complete representations of organizations’ sustainability. Rather, these practices offer a number of representations (e.g. graphs, diagrams, tables, grid) that affect the way in which organizations understand and report on sustainability, giving it tangible meaning.

Finally, this study demonstrates that undefined concepts, such as ‘sustainability’, and practices, such as ‘integrated reporting’, mutually construct each other. The attempt to represent sustainability within the organization and the debates that this process generates, make accounting and reporting practices unfold themselves, and evolve.

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