Engagement, education and
A review essay on environmental
University of Dundee, Dundee, Scotland, UK
Environmental accounting (EA) research has emerged over the last 20 years
as a distinct thread of academic research within the broader area of social
accounting (see, e.g. AAA, 1975; Belkaoui, 1984; Dierkes and Preston, 1977;
Estes, 1976; Gray, 1990; Gray, Bebbington and Walters, 1993; Gray, Owen and
Adams, 1996; Gray, Owen and Maunders, 1987; Guthrie and Parker, 1989a,
1989b; Johnson, 1976; Parker, 1986; Ullman, 1976). At the core of social and
environmental accounting (SEA) research activity are two concerns:
(1) There is dissatisfaction with conventional accounting practices, either in
terms of the social and environmental consequences which arise from the
application of accounting tools and techniques, or with the theoretical
basis which underlies conventional accounting (Gray et al., 1996).
(2) SEA has been concerned with exploring and developing new forms of
accounting which are more socially and environmentally benign and
which have the potential to create a fairer more just society.
In this manner there is, prima facie, a case to be made that SEA is an enabling,
empowering and emancipatory form of accounting in that it provides both a
critique of existing practice and develops alternative accounting practices. This
review essay seeks to explore this contention and to evaluate EA’s enabling
force by examining three themes:
(1) the extent to which EA engages with and transforms practice;
(2) the enabling potential of EA via accounting education;
(3) sustainable development, as an emerging area of EA research (which is
also linked to social accounting) in which EA’s enabling ability could
come to the fore.
A more detailed consideration of the meaning of the word “enable” provides the
starting-point to the essay.
Accounting, Auditing &
Vol. 10 No. 3, 1997, pp. 365-381.
© MCB University Press,
The author would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers and the editors of this special issue
for enabling this piece to be written and brought into the public domain. Special thanks also go to
Jane Broadbent and Rob Gray for their advice on earlier drafts of this paper.
Submitted August 1996
Revised December 1996
Accepted February 1997