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  1. 1. Issues in Social and Environmental AccountingVol. 2, No. 1 June 2008Pp. 145-154 Research Note Sustainable Management: An Accounting Issue? Göran Svensson Oslo School of Management NorwayAbstractThere is an ongoing debate in the worldwide scholarly society regarding the causes of notedclimate change on the planet Earth. It is a concern also frequently debated in the non-scholarlysocieties. Principally, it is about whether or not the causes of noted climate change are the re-sult of natural or human-related factors. The objective of this research note is to raise the ques-tion whether sustainable management is an accounting issue. It intends to pinpoint the need tovisualize sustainable aspects of management approaches.Keywords: sustainable, management, accounting, business, environment, global, planet Earth.INTRODUCTION ers, suppliers, societies and the environ- ment (Mathur and Kenyon, 1997). InSustainable management need to con- fact, the planet Earth may be interpretedtribute to the stakeholder value in a as representing a group of stakeholdersbroader sense (Banerjee et al., 2003; consisting of the human, animal andFineman and Clarke, 1996; Freeman, vegetable kingdoms (Svensson, 2008).1984; Waddock et al., 2002). Stake-holder value is a broad concept and im- The IPCC WGI Fourth Assessment Re-plies that a company has responsibilities port (2007) is an inter-governmentaland commitments to many different in- UN-report and it describes: (i) humanternal and external stakeholders in the and natural drivers of climate change,marketplace and society, not only to its (ii) observed climate change, (iii) cli-investors and the owners of the com- mate processes and attribution, and (iv)pany, but also to its employees, custom- estimates of projected future climateGöran Svensson is Professor at Oslo School of Management, Norway, email: goran.svensson@set.hh.seHe holds a Ph.D. at the School of Economics and Commercial Law, Göteborg University, Sweden. He is also professor at HalmstadUniversity, Sweden and Honorary Professor at Deakin University, Australia. Furthermore, he is a committed memberof the international research community as journal editor, numerous editorial boards and scholarly/research networks.He is a frequent author of international journal articles and international conference contributions and engaged as abook author. His research agenda consist of various research subjects and has published in areas such as: businessethics, leadership, logistics, marketing, public sector management, sustainability and quality management. The authorcan be contacted at Email: goran.svensson@set.hh.se
  2. 2. 146 G. Svensson / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 1 (2008) 145-154change (p. 2). This report supports im- management research that strive to ad-plicitly the need for truly sustainable dress aspects or elements related to sus-management approaches in the market- tainable management, such as: corporateplace and society – a field of research social responsibility (e.g. Dyllick andthat so far has only to a minor extent Hockerts, 2002), sustainable supply net-penetrated previous management re- work management (e.g. Young and Kiel-search. In fact, there is still no explicit kiewicz-Young, 2001), supply chainlink between research findings in natural environmental management (e.g.sciences and current management re- Lippman, 1999), green purchasingsearch. strategies (e.g. Min and Galle, 1997), environmental purchasing (e.g. ZsidisinThe scientific evidence regarding a pro- and Siferd, 2001), green marketing (e.g.gressive climate change is becoming an Crane, 2000), environmental marketingessential aspect that may influence the (e.g. Sheth and Parvatiyar, 1995), envi-ongoing discourse across subject areas ronmental marketing management (e.g.in management research, such as ac- Peattie, 1995) and environmental prod-counting. The evidence presented in the uct differentiation (e.g. Reinhardt,mentioned UN-report provides useful 1999), reverse logistics (Zikmund andknowledge and valuable foresight to dif- Stanton, 1971), sustainability labelingferent stakeholders that may stimulate to schemes (e.g. De Boer, 2003), environ-the global sustainability and the local mental management (Hoffman, 2000),adaptability of management approaches life-cycle assessment (Welford, 1999),(Svensson, 2008). The dilemma is that and ISO-14000-certifications (ISO,current and future sustainable manage- 2007).ment will have to take place in an erawhere economic conditions are affected Hart (1997) pinpoints the complexity ofand confronted with a supposed and achieving a sustainable global economy.fearsome climate change (Stern, 2007). The dilemma is that current economic models assume continuous growth in theInterestingly, the concern for sustainable marketplace and society. The planetmanagement in the marketplace and so- Earth needs to be capable of supportingciety is far from a recent topic (e.g. Car- ongoing and future management if theyson, 1962). It has been concluded that are to be considered genuinely sustain-sustainable management and its develop- able. There is no simple solution to thisment should meet the needs and require- situation, but different perspectives mayments of the present without compro- contribute to create conditions and mod-mising the ability of future generations els of sustainable management. In lineto meet their own needs (Brundtland, with this, the question is posed whether1987). it may be an accounting issue? In other words, could accounting make a contri-Current management research is far bution to the field of sustainable man-from addressing the core needs and re- agement? This research note does notquirements as well as the multiple as- intend to answer this specific question,pects of sustainable management. There but outlining the surrounding contextare a number of more-or-less isolated, where is may evolve and take place. Ac-and to some extent replicated, views in cordingly, it aspires to provide a seed
  3. 3. G. Svensson / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 1 (2008) 145-154 147and incentive for further debate and re- may be seen as sustainable manage-search in the field of accounting man- ment. There are several areas that con-agement. tribute to this. For example, govern- ment legislation may frame and defineCurrent views on management ap- the criteria of sustainable management.proaches need to be conceptually broad- In fact, all societies have laws thatened and re-positioned to highlight the govern the expected and perceived ac-extensiveness of sustainable manage- tions and behaviours in management asment, which is not limited to only the they tend not to be self-regulativebusiness- and environmental levels, but (Carson, 2003; Davies, 2001; Piety,the global perspective should be incor- 2004; Rondinelli, 2003). Governmentsporated. The global level of sustainable have enacted legislation to provide themanagement needs to be driven by the arena for management that is accept-stakeholders of the global society and its able within the society (Hoffman et al.,political unions/governments. The busi- 2003). In extension, the legislation in-ness- and environmental-levels of sus- dicates what management that may betainable management will follow and categorised as sustainable or not. An-adapt as agreements and requirements other area that influences the view ofare formalized and stipulated. sustainable management is lobby groups. Historically, they have beenConfronting the risks and dangers of able to impact societies’ and their citi-restricted views of sustainable manage- zenry’s expectations and perceptionsment approaches, as well as the benefits of companies’ management (Grit,of applying broader ones, may make a 2004; Rushton, 2000; Whawell, 1998;fruitful contribution to business and the- Zylidopoulos, 2002). Companies areory over time and across contexts. Fur- also confronted with societal expecta-thermore, this may well contribute to tions and perceptions beyond purelymore durable and sustainable achieve- economic issues, such as environ-ments across different areas. This re- mental and social change responsibili-search note seeks to make a contribution ties (Handelman, 2000; Handelmantowards bridging the ends of the three and Arnold, 1999). A long time ago,levels of sustainable management, Drucker (1981) and Friedman (1962)namely between the business- and envi- address the need for ethical concerns inronmental-orientations on the one side management practices.and the planet-orientation on the other. Increased education among stake- holders in societies plays a role in in-SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT fluencing the expectations and percep- tions of sustainable managementIt is troublesome to determine what (Sørensen, 2002). Furthermore, themay be classified as sustainable and media has always occupied an impor-non-sustainable management. An es- tant position in modern and open so-sential aspect is that there are expecta- cieties (Collier, 2000; Wheeler et al.,tions and perceptions that vary across 2002). Therefore, socially responsiblemarketplaces and societies, and that managers are the key to develop, man-influence the prevailing view of what age and monitor the performance sus-
  4. 4. 148 G. Svensson / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 1 (2008) 145-154tainable management and avoid dilem- IMPLICATIONSmas in the marketplace and society(Sims and Brinkmann, 2003). Socially Sustainable management discloses aresponsible managers do the right thing number of challenging implications forbecause it is the right thing to do. It is practice and research. In fact, it maythe correct action to take and an action well have impact beyond existing man-that society expects. Executives should agement focused aspects. Other non-‘act ethically not out of fear of being management aspects are also likely to becaught when doing wrong. Rather, they involved. As a consequence, sustainableshould embrace ethical actions and management may be seen as an ap-behaviour in sustainable management proach that asks for both managementbecause of the freedom, self- and non-management aspects to widenconfirmation, and success that it current accounting approaches. Thebrings’ (Thomas et al., 2004, p. 64). combination of aspects may generateCragg (2000, p. 213) states that: novel and challenging insights. It may‘commerce without conscience is a evolve as a research field on its own,formula for human exploitation, not due to its concern for possible aspects ofhuman development’. Professional as- accounting and its effect on the planet tosociations may be important too in in- be considered in sustainable manage-fluencing the expectation and percep- ment.tions of sustainable management in themarketplace and society (Richardson, There are several concerns to be high-2001). In addition, companies should lighted as a consequence of sustainablenot bring pressure to bear on their em- management when it comes to the prac-ployees to violate their professional tical and research implications for for-obligations (Carson, 2003). profit organizations (and in extension for non-profit ones). Its intended impact isCompanies usually experience competi- rather far-reaching and long-term intion and are geared up to meet it. When business and theory, in order to avoidthis competition is having a deleterious entering into a dead-end argument inher-effect on the company then it can force ent in current management approaches.individuals into situations that may lead It may be necessary to impose a series ofthem to compromise their values and significant changes in accounting acrossideals in sustainable management industries worldwide. These changes(Cohan, 2002; Fraedrich, 1992; McKen- require a non-conservative approach.dall et al., 2002; Sethi, 2003). With theawakening of globalization has come a It should be noted that other sectors be-realization in first world economies that yond the profit-driven ones, such as thethere are companies who appear to have public sector, also need to restructurediverse sets of actions and behavioural and reshape their management ap-standards depending upon the country in proaches and the way these standards arewhich they find themselves at the time maintained nowadays. In other words,(McMurtry, 2002; Sørensen, 2002). sustainable management is a concern that needs global attention across sectors and practices.
  5. 5. G. Svensson / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 1 (2008) 145-154 149There is an inherent complexity in social goes beyond the current managementand environmental performances caused approaches. It also requires a holisticby a set of generic components and in- view of the interfaces (i.e. interactions,terfaces. This complexity is not feasible co-ordinations, co-operations and com-to manage through traditional manage- petitions). In sum, it means that the eco-ment approaches. On the one side, there nomic, social and ecological factorsare the generic components such as ac- should be addressed in conjunction withtors, activities and resources. On the one another.other, there are the generic interfacessuch as interaction, coordination, co- My view of sustainable managementoperation and competition. Together, should not be seen as a criticism of cur-they shape generic criteria to outline rent management approaches. On thesustainable social and environmental contrary, it represents an amendment toperformances in sustainable manage- move ahead and broaden managementment. approaches in the future as per the sce- narios outlined in the mentioned UN-Traditionally, management approaches report (IPCC WGI, 2007).refers at best to business- and environ-ment-oriented business practices, while Svensson (2008) defines ‘anti-climatethe sustainable management refers ex- change management approach’ in twoplicitly to the planet-oriented ones, and principal levels, namely: 1) a business-requires drastic new-thinking of man- and environment-oriented approach thatagement approaches. connects the components and interfaces between the upstream and downstreamAs indicated previously, three levels of business echelons from the point-of-sustainable management may be distin- origin to the point-of-consumption. Itguished, namely business, environ- also re-connects the components andmental and global. The global level of interfaces from the environmental eche-sustainable management should empha- lons following the point-of-consumptionsize economic, ecological and social to the environmental echelons prior toaspects of business and theory, which the point-of-origin; and 2) a planet-should be the core. The generation and oriented approach of components andmaintenance of sustainable management interfaces considering economic, socialin the global society may be seen as sur- and ecological factors in the global soci-rounded by these concerns, where eco- ety and its political unions/governments.nomic factors are the driving force, sur- Current management approaches have arounded by social factors, all of which predominant emphasis on a business-are surrounded by ecological factors that orientation of corporate practices and todetermine the long-term limits for busi- some extent also an environment-ness and theory. They are all intercon- orientation. But what is still missing innected. management approaches that have planet-orientation, because there is orSustainable management on a global will be a need for visualizing the effortslevel requires a holistic view of the com- performed and benefits achieved thatponents (i.e. actors, activities and re- goes beyond the business- and environ-sources) of the business practices that mental levels of business. Otherwise,
  6. 6. 150 G. Svensson / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 1 (2008) 145-154there is or will be no incentive for busi- CONCLUSIONSnesses to dedicate any efforts on theplanet-oriented level of business. Sustainable management may be seen as derived from the findings from differentManagement approaches are currently disciplines of natural science, summa-limited to the connection of upstream rized in the referenced UN-report. Theand downstream business echelons. Sus- core essence of sustainable managementtainable management is not only about will need the support and regulation ofconnecting those business echelons, but the global society and its political un-the total circulation of the components in ions/governments where the boundariesthe different interfaces (i.e. the re- of economic, social and ecological fac-connection of environmental echelons). tors are mostly determined.The circle should be closed up. Sustain-able management indicates that neither Sustainable management is required atglobal nor business levels have a begin- the level of individuals, companies, in-ning or an end. It connects upstream and dustries etc, while the global society anddownstream echelons, as well as re- its supporting structures may stipulateconnecting prior and posterior environ- the playground and the rules of themental echelons. The environmental game, such as the United Nations, theechelons contribute to closing the circle European Union, the largest nationalof the business echelons that in turn may economies and other major economiccontribute to the sustainable manage- unions/regions and trade associationsment on the global level. Sustainable worldwide. Sustainable management ismanagement strives to complement this not likely to work out successfully iflack of explicit attention in business. both approaches are not addressed si-These loops should in turn be brought multaneously, because there is a mutualtogether on a global level, where the reliance and interdependence that shouldeconomic, social and ecological factors not be underestimated or neglected be-restrain the degrees of freedom. tween local practices and global sustain- ability (Svensson, 2008).This means that sustainable management(SM) is a function of three levels of Actions to prevent a deterioration of themanagement as follow: noted climate change on the planet needSM = f(SMBusiness , SMEnvironment, to be addressed in future managementSMGlobal) approaches. The actions undertaken should be widened beyond their localThis formula contributes to stipulate the orientation and towards global sustain-generic criteria of an extended manage- ability on the planet. The author believesment approach in business to support that many organizations would be will-sustainable management. These criteria ing and capable of becoming planet-may prevent sustainable management oriented in their management ap-from being invisible or neglected to proaches, if appropriate support werecompanies, leaderships, employees, cus- provided by the global society and itstomers, suppliers, competitors, share- political unions/governments. This isholders or other stakeholders. where the conditions of economic, social and ecological factors may be stipulated.
  7. 7. G. Svensson / Issues in Social and Environmental Accounting 1 (2008) 145-154 151Therefore there is a need for global Future / World Commission onregulations and agreements to encourage Environment and Development.and force sound planet-oriented manage- New York: Oxford Universityment approaches that create and contrib- Press.ute to global sustainability in local prac- Carson, T. L. (2003) “Self-Interest andtices worldwide across business and Business Ethics: Some Lessons ofnon-profit organizations and sectors. the Recent Corporate Scandals”, Journal of Business Ethics, Vol.There is an ongoing debate in the world- 43, pp. 389-394wide scholarly society regarding the Carson, R. (1962) Silent Spring. Boston:causes of noted climate change. It is a Houghton Mifflinconcern also frequently debated in the Cohan, J. A. (2002) ““I Didn’t Know”non-scholarly societies. Principally, it is and “I Was Only Doing My Job”:about whether or not the causes of noted Has Corporate Governance Ca-climate change are the result of natural reered Out of Control? A Caseor human-related factors. This is where Study of Enron’s Informationsustainable management may provide a Myopia”, Journal of Businessseed for further debate. In sum, the au- Ethics, Vol. 40, pp. 275-299.thor argues that sustainable management Collier, J. (2000) “Editorial: Globaliza-opens up a range of challenging and tion and ethical global business”,fruitful implications as well as openings Business Ethics: A European Re-for further research. It may be novel re- view, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 71-75.search that will be cutting edge and of Cragg, W. (2000) “Human Rights andgreat interest among scholars, practitio- Business Ethics: Fashioning aners, and politicians. The questions re- New Social Contract”, Journal ofmains: is it an accounting issue too?! If Business Ethics, Vol. 27, pp. 205-so, what practices and principles would 214.be crucial? How could it be supported Crane, A. (2000) “Marketing and theand reported? Undoubtedly, I am con- Natural Environment: What Rolevinced that it is a scholarly topic con- for Morality?”, Journal of Macrotaining multiple possibilities and chal- Marketing, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp.lenges for future research efforts in mak- 144-154.ing contributions to sustainable manage- Davies, H. (2001) “Ethics in regulation”,ment approaches from an accounting Business Ethics: A European Re-perspective. view, Vol. 10, No. 4, pp. 280-287. Drucker P.F. (1981) “What is ‘business ethics’?”, The Public InterestREFERENCES Spring, pp. 18-36. De Boer, J. (2003) “Sustainability La-Banerjee, S. B., Iyer, E. S. & Kashyap, belling Schemes: the Logic of R. K. (2003) “Corporate Environ- Their Claims and Their Functions mentalism: Antecedents and Influ- for Stakeholders”, Business Strat- ence of Industry Type”, Journal egy and the Environment, Vol. 12, of Marketing, Vol. 67, April, pp. pp. 254-264. 106-122. Dyllick, T. & Hockerts, K. (2002)Brundtland, G. H. (1987) Our Common “Beyond the Business Case for
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