Given the increasing participation of accounting technologies in purported solutions to deal with the ecological crisis, we address two areas where a growing accounting literature is emerging, the circular economy and the COVID-19 pandemic, testing some ideas to inform an ecological critique of accounting that could help us ward off the “dreams of escaping” (Latour, 2018). We suggest that the conceptual separation between nature and society renders accounting for the circular economy and the COVID-19 pandemic problematic. A critical account of the circular economy might problematize things like the whole economic system’s physical scale, spatial and temporal system boundaries, consumer culture, and the inherent politics of the circular economy. We also suggest that a critical account of the COVID-19 pandemic needs to take on board the participation of accounting representations in the construction of particular narratives about the virus. In particular, calculations of the costs caused by COVID-19 need to be connected to the ecological value of viruses to illustrate how the social and the biological worlds are inextricably connected. In both cases, we suggest critical accounting researchers need to be actively involved in discussions about how valuation constructs narratives about resource or waste, with significant implications on how we conceive the relationship between humanity and the environment.
The Earth is insufficient. According to the estimates of the Global Footprint Network, humanity and the global economic systems are consuming 60% above what the planet’s ecosystems can reproduce (https://www.footprintnetwork.org/). Humanity is transgressing several planetary boundaries (Rockström et al., 2009), and the ecological overshoot is producing, according to stratigraphers, not only ecological but also geological changes, giving rise to the Anthropocene (Davies, 2016).
At the same time, an increasing number of international initiatives pursuing sustainability are assigning key roles to accounting. Disclosure appears in a central position in European Union sustainability strategies (at the time of writing, the EU is reforming Directive 2014/95/EU on non-financial reporting), in the EU strategies on due diligence in supply chains (e.g., regulation 2017/821), as well as in the UK Modern Slavery Act or the French Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law (Folke et al., 2019). Likewise, multi-stakeholder initiatives, such as the United Nations Global Compact or the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship, attribute significant roles to accounting (Bebbington et al., 2020a). This evidence points towards a central functionality of accounting in attempts to address ecological challenges (Bebbington and Larrinaga, 2014, Bebbington et al., 2020a).
The growing number of initiatives that assign significant roles to accounting requires a critical inspection from an ecological perspective. There is a burgeoning literature exploring the accounting implications of the environmental crisis (Bebbington and Larrinaga, 2014, Bebbington et al., 2020a, Bebbington et al., 2017). However, compared with our knowledge of how corporations disclose sustainability reports to negotiate perceptions about societal environmental demands (e.g., Cho et al., 2012, Cho et al., 2015), we know very little about the interplay between accounting and substantial attempts to address ecological challenges.