Biodiversity offsetting: Problematisation of an emerging governance regime

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose – The paper analyses accounting rationalities and practices which lie behind biodiversity offsetting. A consideration of the ways in which accounting functions as a technology of government through the practice of biodiversity offsetting is undertaken and its effects examined.

Design/methodology/approach – The concept of governmentality is drawn upon as a means to examine ways in which power and authority are exercised in a single case study setting. Data analysed comprises of corporate and industry websites and documents, corporate reports, public documentation and interviews. The arena concept is utilised to highlight contestation in the particular case, and signal concerns regarding the wider impact of the use of particular accounting rationalities and technologies in the context of biodiversity offsetting.

Findings – The paper provides empirical insights into how accounting for biodiversity offsetting rationales and practices constitute an attempt to reproduce power relations in favour of particular parties and foster disciplinary effects. The analysis problematizes the practice of biodiversity offsetting through critiquing accounting’s governing role in the areas of biodiversity quantification and biodiversity trading. The paper questions whether the market-based approach to biodiversity protection/management and offsetting enabled by accounting techniques is leading to greater accountability and ultimately protection of biodiversity, or whether it represents a mechanism through which particular species and habitat destruction can be justified, or at least hidden in its accounting.

Research limitations/implications –Although this research is focused on a single case study, the findings and discussion are of broader relevance. The paper demonstrates the need to interrogate rationales behind and practices of biodiversity offsetting and accounting for biodiversity more generally, and their effects.

Originality/value – While biodiversity offsetting research is not uncommon within science and law, and there is an emerging literature on biodiversity accounting, the analysis of how accounting functions as a technology of government within biodiversity offsetting is believed to be unique.

Keywords Biodiversity offsetting, accounting, governmentality, problematisation

Article Classification Research paper
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)806-832
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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