“A new direction? The “mainstreaming” of sustainability reporting”
(2022) Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal
Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to analyse the current developments to “mainstream” and standardise sustainability reporting and the consequences of those changes. Those changes give rise to the colonisation of sustainability reporting through the adoption of financial reporting concepts.
Design/methodology/approach: This research draws on critical theory, particularly the work of Foucault, to understand the dynamics of accounting change. This approach provides an alternative to the current narrative that the concepts that underpin reporting are universal and timeless.
Findings: It is suggested that if the aim of mandatory sustainability reporting is to promote companies adopting sustainable business models, then it must properly reflect the context of the company. Both transactive and relationship information is critical to providing an account that can be used to judge the performance of the corporation beyond its production of short-term net positive cash flows.
Practical implications: The design of standard setting arrangements for sustainability reporting needs to recognise that it may be unhelpful to simply adopt financial reporting concepts for the purposes of directing corporate behaviour towards sustainable development.
Social implications: Continuing to adopt a view of the corporation as a nexus of contracts with no clear accountability to stakeholders is likely to stymie efforts to deal with the environmental and social crisis facing people and planet.
Originality/value: Whilst other works have considered the development of sustainability reporting, to the best of the author’s knowledge, this is the first study to consider the impacts of “mainstreaming” it within mandatory corporate reporting. © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited.
Accountability; Critical theory; Decision usefulness; Financial reporting; Objective of reporting; Sustainability reporting