Environmental Reporting and Accounting: Sustainability Hybridisation

Environmental Reporting and Accounting: Sustainability Hybridisation

Radiah Othman (Massey University, New Zealand), Nirmala Nath (Massey University, New Zealand) and Fawzi Laswad (Massey University, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3731-1.ch007
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This chapter examines the context in which ‘accounting-sustainability hybrids' were constructed in anticipation of the Environmental Reporting Act (ERA) passed in 2015 in New Zealand. Using governmentality perspectives, the researchers consider how the key individuals in local government discursively articulate the ‘sustainability programmatic' – sustainability policies that deploy the Act as a regulative intervention, the mediating instruments (reporting medium), and the hybridisation of accounting and sustainability (accounting-sustainability hybrids). The chapter draws on archival materials and qualitative survey of 90 key individuals from all 78 local authorities. The analysis showed that local mediating instruments were aligned with ERA and sustainability programmatics, resulting in modification of the existing hybrids and the creation of new ones. The chapter demonstrates how legislation facilitates action from a distance.
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Accounting-sustainability1 processes and practices are regarded as central to embedding sustainability within public service organisations. They act as intermediaries between government programmes of reform and local service imperatives (Thomson, Grubnic, & Georgakopoulos, 2014, p. 453). Accounting-sustainability practices are considered to be hybrids of accounting with different aspects of the sustainability programmatic (Thomson et al., 2014, p. 455). For instance, full cost accounting (Bebbington et al., 2001; Herbohn, 2005) can be seen as a hybrid between conventional costing, sustainability science and environmental economics.

In New Zealand (NZ), the central government has introduced policies aimed at fostering greater sustainability in public service delivery. In 2014, the Environmental Reporting Bill was introduced by the Environment Minister, Amy Adams, and was later passed as a new law (the ERA) in September 2015. The ERA sets a broad framework to scope the reporting of one of the five environmental domains (air, freshwater, land, marine, atmosphere and climate), with the cycle beginning with freshwater in mid-2016 (MFE, 2016b). The framework requires a synthesis report, with analysis of air, freshwater, land, marine, atmosphere and climate trends and interactions, to be published every three years. The Resource Management Act (RMA) 1991 has also been amended to make local governments’ (LG2) responsibility in collecting data and reporting3 the state of their local environment explicit. Collectively, these policies and acts are referred to as programmatics. Programmatics are high-level discourses with purposive attempts to organise and reorganise institutional spaces, their routines, rituals and procedures, and the conduct of actors in specific ways (Dean, 1999, p. 32; Raco & Imrie, 2000; Thomson et al., 2014). As such they can be seen as part of many central government’s strategies and interventions for LGs to transform their processes and practices.

In regard to environmental sustainability programmatics, in NZ the local authorities are required to report on the state of the environment under the RMA, and now the ERA has added on a new framework for local authorities to report on. In absence of specific standards and criteria of reporting the LG are left to interpret both Acts (considered as regulative sustainable programmatics) and other programmatics relevant to the public sector to construct their accounting-sustainability hybrids and to select mediating instruments (Kurunmäki & Miller, 2011, p. 222) to embed environmental sustainability. Mediating instruments are vital for constructing points of common reference between environmental sustainability reform and the local authorities’ processes and practices. Mediating instruments can be local (internally generated) or non-local (generic solution by external body, such as GRI reporting). Thomson et al. (2014) advocate that understanding how the local hybrids programmatic are constructed is critical for the understanding of the hybridisation of accounting and sustainability.

The main aim of this chapter is to analyse the context in which accounting-sustainability hybridisation emerged. Specifically, the researchers examine how the local programmatic has been interpreted, prioritised and constructed at LG level, and then the researchers analyse how the local authorities selected a suitable mediating instrument, and the accounting-sustainability hybrids. This research contributes to the accounting-sustainability literature by providing insights on how regulation facilitates actions from distance and the importance of mediating instruments and hybrids being grounded in local contexts in order to support and facilitate change (Thomson, Grubnic, & Georgakopoulos, 2014, p. 473; Gray, 2010; Lehman, 2001).

Key Terms in this Chapter

local government: Local government is the system that consists of members elected by the local communities to represent their interest.

Key Individual: An individual that involves in the preparation of the sustainability reporting of the organisation.

Environmental Reporting Act 2015: An environmental report act which is administered by the Ministry for the Environment that requires regular reports on New Zealand’s environment.

Mediating Instrument: A medium of reporting in which the local councils make their accounting-sustainability hybrids visible.

Accounting-Sustainability: A range of accounting techniques in relation to social, environmental, ethical and responsibility accounting.

Hybrid: A localise reporting format as an outcome of repeated interactions of key individuals in the organisation with the internal and/or external environmental sustainability reporting practices that consistent with the local context, practices and priorities.

Programmatics: A collective of government’s policies, acts, strategies and interventions.

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