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Of Messiness, Systems and Sustainability: Towards a More Social and Environmental Finance and Accounting

"This essay is a personal attempt at a re-visitation and re-consideration of a number of the fundamental questions which underlie accounting and finance but which only rarely receive explicit consideration. Social and environmental accounting has been the principal focus of my research interests since I became an academic and the subject was, indeed, the primary reason I became an academic in the first place. A concern with social and environmental accounting automatically forces one to raise basic questions about (what is conventionally thought of as) accounting and finance—its foundations, its purposes, its assumptions. In trying to answer those questions one comes to see all of accounting and finance in different ways—both in terms of what it assumes about the world and what it can potentially do for the world. This paper seeks to clarify some of the ways in which conventional accounting and finance and social and environmental accounting (and finance) can be in harmony. However, the principle purpose of the paper is to suggest that many of our ghettos, our internecine squabbles and our misunderstandings are trivial when compared with the essential question of what we place at the centre of our teaching and scholarship. At the core of accounting and finance is a truly fundamental conflict between sustainability and modern international financial capitalism. Our choices between these are likely to be a great deal more than matters of methodological nicety or intellectual convenience. Social and environmental accounting (and finance) offer a way to recover a moral and productive accounting and finance that places survival of the species at its very heart."
Rob Gray
University of Glasgow
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