Accounting for Biodiversity Symposium

In this very first post on environmental accounting I bring you highlights from some of the world’s leading social and environmental accountants’ current work. Last Thursday, I had the wonderful opportunity to be invited to meet many current scholars in the field whose work I admire.

As followers of my blog @Sociolinguini, you may know that I have now embarked on the exciting journey of my PhD in environmental accounting, that will be using ecolinguistics and sociolinguistics as my methodology. (You can read more about my project here). I will be creating a video in which I outline my PhD in more detail – coming soon! I am very grateful for having this opportunity to attend this exciting and interesting day.

An important aspect of this event is that it provides an excellent opportunity to be disseminating research and not have to wait till research is published, especially in this area of life and death. We start with a short roundtable in which all participants are sharing their research projects, here are some highlights:

First we have the great opportunity to hear from Prof Gunner Rimmel, who is currently exploring disclosure as a follow up study on zoo accounting how zoos account for their program from species extinction where there hasn’t been much research. One zoo in particular focuses only on mostly local species extinction and, as Gunner suggests, seems to be operating differently to other zoos, where conservation and the interest of the animals seem to be at the heart of the organisation. However, disclosure and reporting on the way in which the zoo operates still need to be investigated.

The next speaker is Dr Colin Dey who explains that for him, while accounting for biodiversity holds reporting implication which are an important component, the most profound way towards change is to reverse thinking and ask: what we can learn from broader aspects of nature and what does it mean to ‘ecologies’ accounting? It is important to focus on pluralism, scale, and involving other disciplines. According to Dey, although there is no one-size-fits-all answer, there is no need for one.

In terms of research, Dey is working on the UN REDD+ program, (REDD standing for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) focusing on climate change mitigation and exploring the contested arena and the exchanges of accounts between NGOs and other stakeholders, continuing Dey’s work on shadow and counter accounting. More specifically, Dey’s current project investigates Greenpeace’s Bad Influence report critiquing McKinsey’s cost curve which attempts to put valuation of rainforests purely as a source for carbon sequestration, and which ignores the complexity of rainforests and the dangers of monoculture forests.

Dr Shona Russell, who works closely with Colin Dey, often employs creative and innovative methodologies. In particular interest to my own area is her focus on meaning making, asking, for example: How do different communities communicate and offer and create different meaning? In other words, what accounts count? What could we learn to feel and think in a way that’s more meaningful. Her current project concentrates on marine life and asks who influences marine conservation, and what are our responsibilities for this distant ecosystem. It is important to continue to be brave and courageous to continue this work.

Dr Helen Tregidga Researcher in accounting for biodiversity examines how businesses account for biodiversity focusing on what accounting is needed, and which tools need to be developed in order to enhance the protection of biodiversity. The corporate is just one actor in the process of accounting. A current research project investigates dolphin bycatch in nets in Australia. Tregidga interviews different stakeholders from politicians, academics, as well as from industry. Interested in the discourse of entities working against biodiversity, Tregidga is looking at the moral and rational gap that fuels this contestation.

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Dr Robert Charnock reflects on the measurement of the 2 degree set target, seen as a calculative obsession.  Charnock investigates the 2 degree target of climate change through conducting a genealogy of this goal. What are the ideas that are guarding this idea and what ideas have been silenced in the process? How can we imagine the future of these calculative regime, how would this influence the infrastructure and would be needed for these goals to be realised?

Dr Charika Channuntapipat explores what constitutes biodiversity corporate accountability and sustainability, an elusive term. The power of accounting can help save species and extinction, with accountants having a lot of power in their decision making, giving legitimacy to corporate decisions. Currently, Charika is researching the role of the accounting profession in Thailand, where the profession is outdated. She wants to explore how the research can make corporations aware of sustainability.

Massimo Conftrafatto begins his talk with the reminder that we are nothing in the history of the world, a small speck of sand in their entire planetary evolution. The purpose of accounting for biodiversity is to be accounting pro, as Massimo terms it, rather than for/about: it should be problematizing the problematic issues, of which the core is the perception that we, humanity, are the privileged, and as such we have the right and power to be exercising control on nature. Related to biodiversity?  How can we arrive at solutions to the problem? Massimo suggests that the term en-countering would reduce the space the that is created by the term accounting. Accounting creates a distance because it implies a space between the person that provides an account to an authoritative entity. How can we make the matter important to as many people as possible?

Tom Cuckston explores how calculative devices contribute to achieving biodiversity. The way society has organised itself is not conducive to maintaining conservation. In fact, refraining from destructive activities is not enough for maintaining biodiversity, and accounting plays a significant role in conservation, according to Tom. How can accounting contribute to the production of agency of conservation strategies and how they are formed from the Red List, a form of accounting in itself. How that then gets integrated with other devices that can lead to conservation.

A current research Tom is engaged in looks at golf, and how the golf industry conceptualizing and accounting for sustainable development. Golf has not been conducive to sustainability and biodiversity. Golf centers have now been able to be certified for being sustainable. Tom asks how does sustainability certification create new forms of agency in greenkeeping?

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This mindmap created by Ian Thompson illustrates the complexity of biodiversity accounting

After lunch (see concluding comment below), we hear from my supervisor, Prof Jill Atkins who is now completing  a new book titled Around the World in 80 Species Exploring Extinction Accounting.

In her research, Jill explores how to communicate what extinction looks like. How can this be communicated in an account? The last remaining male Northern white rhino, Sudan, passed away in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on March 19, 2017.

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Prof. Jill Atkins sketching Sudan, the last white rhino.

Why is extinction an accounting and finance issue? Constanza (1997) estimates that ecosystem services worldwide are annually worth approx. $33 trillion dollars a year. As Jill notes, this valuation is meaningless if living beings go extinct there won’t be any ecosystems left. Loss of ecosystems services represents a significant financially material risk for business and for investors and stakeholders. Therefore, integrated reporting’s intentionality, as an accounting tool, is to save the planet and rejig the categories and importance of the protection of the natural world.

This all comes down to the interconnectedness of species. E O Wilson has identified that there is a mass extinction underway: “so important are insects and other land-dwelling arthropods that if all were to disappear, humanity probably would not last more than a few months. Most of amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals would crash to extinction about the same time” (Wilson, 1992, 125). Therefore, trying to value things from a financial value alone is meaningless.

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Northern black rhino – already extinct

So how can businesses account for extinction in a way that can prevent it or at least slow it down? There is a need to find a format for reporting corporate extinction and integrate it into existing accountability. This will have to be progressive (progressive towards change) and emancipatory. There is a very very urgent need to find a way to advance this, as we are losing about 1000 species per day. Extinction accounting may be described as an attempt by companies and all organisations, to report on their activities and the effect on species. The extinction accounting framework seeks to include not only financial elements but also ethical, moral, emotional, cultural, and heritage factors that have been formulated into key performance indicators.

Finally, Colin Dey discusses the importance of hope and seeking positive discourse that can promote the creation of new stories to live by. He highlights a few books (that are now on my wishlist) as examples of discourse the promotes positive change in a positive and hopeful way:

 

The final activity for the day is a reading group discussion of two papers I highly recommend:

–  Gray and Milne (2018).  Perhaps the Dodo should have accounted for human beings?  Accounts of humanity and (its) extinction.  AAAJ (accepted articles).

–  Bebbington and Unerman (2018).  Achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: an enabling role for accounting research.  AAAJ, 31(1), 2-24.

 

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“Should people in the UK have fewer children to save the world?” – Tuesday 1st May, 18:30 – 19:00 (Illustration by Timothy Boyd)

Also, I am very happy to announce that Prof Rob Gray will be a panel expert speaker at my Sheffield Festival of Debate event discussing overpopulation and consumption! The event is FREE and a stimulating debate on this pressing issue is guaranteed. For tickets click here.

As a last comment on what was otherwise a wonderful day, full of learning from leading experts and brilliant minds is an observation. We spent some six hours talking about the crises surrounding biodiversity and extinction, evoking sadness over the colossal loss. Yet no tears were shed over the loss of the animals who were sacrificed for lunch. What looked like ham, shrimp, and chicken, not to mention the dairy in the dips and eggs in the cake, served on plastic trays, disposable plates and cups – all of this does not, in my opinion, reflect the difficult discussions we were having. Why is it that the urgency felt towards ‘biodiversity’ loss (and by this I think it is meant ‘wild’ animals) not extended to the loss of all lives?

 

 

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One thought on “Accounting for Biodiversity Symposium

  1. Great Post, Mira, on a complex issue. I agree (as you know) on the practical side of the conference organization – more thought should be put into living up to the participants’ values when it comes to catering. Looking forward to your PhD video!!

    Liked by 1 person

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