Sustainability Integration: An Investigation of Organisational and Accounting Change

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Marta Niblett

Abstract

Changes in the political and social climate have resulted in increasing pressure for companies not only to perform financially but to be good corporate citizens, contributing to wider sustainability goals of greater social cohesion and environmental protection. Business participation in sustainable development goals has been discussed in both ethical and pragmatic terms (Porter and Kramer, 2006). Whilst accountability remains an important part of the discourse there is a growing recognition of the importance of the business case for companies. More sustainable business behaviour does not only contribute to the wider sustainability goals but can also create a competitive advantage (Hopwood et al., 2010). This thesis is a response to calls for more work that would lead to a better understanding of the development of sustainability related accounting practices in the process of organisational change (e.g. Bebbington, 2007; Durden, 2008; Fraser 2012; Contrafatto and Burns, 2013; Contrafatto, 2014) in a specific setting of an individual organisation. This research results from a direct engagement with Serco plc, a company that claims to engage in corporate social responsibility, yet whose conduct has been the subject of much controversy. The institutional perspective has been used in the analysis to systematically examine how complex internal and external institutional factors influence the process and outcomes of sustainability integration efforts in a large corporation operating on the boundary of the private and public sectors. The evidence from the case company indicates that organisational and accounting sustainability-related change in a large, complex and diverse organisation is not a homogenous or linear process. The study demonstrates significant differences between the approaches developed at the central (strategic) and operational levels which were examined taking into account their different institutional and organisational contexts as well as the role played by individual managers. Although overall the profit maximisation objective is dominant, the role and value of sustainability-related management information is increasing, and the development of appropriate practices benefits from the use of accounting professional resources and expertise. The study also examines the role of individual agents who instigate sustainability related change. Evidence from Serco suggests that sustainability integration within the internal accounting and reporting practices is closely linked with conventional business case objectives defined by the economic paradigm. Further that the successful embedding and institutionalisation of sustainability practices depends largely on the managers’ ability to connect social and environmental aspects with financial performance to secure and maintain the support and resources. Findings from this study make an empirical and theoretical contribution to the existing sustainability accounting literature. The contributions and learnings have implications for practice and they open new ways for future research.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date1 Aug 2017