On crisis and emergency: Is it time to rethink long-term environmental accounting?

Helen Tregidga, Matias Laine

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The environment is in crisis. Climate science and biodiversity loss indicators, for example, illustrate the extent of environmental degradation and the concerns with the sustainability of Earth, or perhaps more specifically, the ability of Earth to sustain (human) life. There is also an increasing recognition of the environmental crisis as urgent, as an emergency, yet whether we are acting sufficiently to the environmental crisis is still up for debate. These debates have become more evident in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a context within which to consider what it means to respond to a crisis and how the environment might feature in any post-COVID recovery. In this essay, we first outline and reflect on crisis, urgency and (in)action through a consideration of the environmental crisis and the COVID-19 crisis before moving to our main focus – the implications for environmental accounting. Specifically, we suggest that the construction of environmental accounting as accounting for the long-term, an attempt to contrast it with and overcome the problems with short-term conventional accounting, potentially contributes to the construction of the environment as lacking urgency and potentially enables its marginalisation. We argue that in order to make the most of accounting’s potential as a constitutive force, capable of participating in transforming preferences, decisions and behaviour in organisations and societies, environmental accounting needs to be about the short-term. We contribute to the ongoing discussions on how accounting needs to change if it is to recognise the urgent nature of the environmental crisis.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102311
JournalCritical Perspectives on Accounting
Early online date2 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022

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