Highlights from the 5th CSEAR UK Emerging Scholars Colloquium in Social and Environmental Accounting

27 August 2018

I am very grateful to have the opportunity to attend the ESC of CSEAR (Centre of Social and Environmental Accounting Research) this year and a big thanks goes to the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures and my supervisors Prof. Jill Atkins and Dr. Robert McKay for their support. A big thank you to the CSEAR panel who have accepted the report I submitted for the conference and for their very generous bursary.

After a pleasant but long train ride by the coast, I am warmly welcomed into the community of CSEAR – I’m introduced to brilliant people whose work I read and love and draw on in my own work. Situated in the beautiful town of St. Andrews, we are inspired to continue to work on social and environmental issues, despite the many constraints we come up against.

The conference does what it preaches: on registration CSEAR puts its ethos to action: No plastics: single-use water bottles, cups, cutlery, plates or straws! Even the name tag is paper, attached with a really cute animal pin! I got this adorable seagull, and, upon learning that my research project was on hedgehogs, I was supplied with a hedgheog pin too! (Thank you Lori!)

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My paper name badge NOT enclosed in plastic

 

Even the hand soap in the toilets was organic and cruelty-free, accompanied with fabric towels!

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Yes, I took a picture of the toilets! I wish all institutions followed this brilliant example!

 

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We break out into parallel sessions, presenting our work in a very supportive, friendly atmosphere. I present my paper on accounting for hedgehog extinction, titled Erasure and abstraction of hedgehog extinction: Applying ecolinguistic analysis to Bayer’s Integrated Report. This is a paper I wrote based on my preliminary analysis of Bayer’s 2016 report. Using ecolinguistic analysis of erasure and abstraction in both textual and visual modes, I demonstrate how the report not only do not account for hedgehogs (which they should, considering the biocides produced by Bayer) but abstracts the impact of biocides (fungicides, herbicides, ‘pest’icides – thank you Dave for your comment!) and animal experimentations on living beings. In my research I find evidence of linguistic features used for abstraction such as hyponymy, metonymy, nominalisation and polysemy. I also carry out a relativity and process analysis to investigate the responsibility and acccountability reflected in the reports.

I receive excellent and useful feedback from faculty members Sheila Killian and Carlos Larrinaga. They are encouraging and suggest useful points for me to think about. The feedback on my paper is incredibly useful, and I can use all of it to prepare for my confirmation review.

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After the break, Laura Mazzola presents her important research that looks into accounting for poverty.

Poverty is a social problem and extends beyond simply the lack of income and resources to ensure a sustainable livelihood. Its manifestation include hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion as well as the lack of participation in decision making.

Noawadays there are 836 million people who live in extreme poverty. About one in five persons in developing regions live on less than 1.25 USD per day. One in four children under age five in the world has inadequate height for their age due to malnutrition.

Accounting has played different roles in dealing with poverty issues. Some of the research questions Laura is investigating are (1) how are poverty alleviation initiatives in the context of Italy managed? And how these initiaitves are helping to achieve SDGs. She is at the first stage of this important project, and I am very interested to follow this and see how it develops.

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Next, I go to see my friend Richard Jabot’s project on SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) and sustainability accounting practices in France. 

CSR presents high stakes for all small and medium enterprises simply because of the resources needed to carry out the reporting, collecting data and implementing action. At the same time, corporations are under pressure to become socially and environmentally responsible. In this light, there is a need to change the tool to measure their performance in this area, specifically for SMEs managers.

RIchard adopts an action-research methodology for his project to both generate knowledge as well as bring change for small organizations. The project is situated in the field of real estate, aiming to promote the responsible firm and spreading CSR practice along 3 pillars: buildings, co-working spaces, and services for a positive economy.

It is difficult to build a tool with a strong sustainability approach without talking about the sustainability of the business. Is it that the objective of the stronger is always winning?

This emerging tool of accounting measure are both profit orientated, making profit from the co-space as well as generating value with the development of the CSR tool for SMEs.

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Rebecca Bolt: Integrated reporting, materiality determination and stakeholder inclusivity

Rebecca’s research objectives are to investigate to what extent materiality determination is opened up to stakeholders within the current integrated reporting context. What is materiality, and who are the stakeholders, how can they be defined?

Materiality is a fundamental corner stone but it is an elusive concept and not well understood by accountants or stakeholders. There is a divergence of meanings and metaphorical discourses. As a result, there is potential for manipulation, and justifying not reporting information around contingent issues. By claiming an environmental issue is not material leads to it not being accounted for nor are stakeholders then identified.

 

 The social impact of research

SEA is all about doing research while engaging with reality, or the many constructions of reality. Doing SEA research has a great importance in addressing issues and motivating to continue research. The approach is qualitative, going to the field, talking to people, and learning from the community.

Social impact can be achieved by engaging the public and influencing policy. However, by engaging there is a paradox. To carry out research autonomy is required, but by engaging we risk losing autonomy. What matters to me is giving a voice. Research is a matter of justice and the necessity of knowing.

Sheila Killian says: “The great thing about CSEAR is that it doesn’t have a choice, you can have great academic impact that can change academy and have a great social impact. We are a privileged working in a university have resources, we are the establishment. There are those who cannot be in this room like hedgehogs”. 

Jesse Dillard voices my thoughts at that very moment: “Just because there is no hope doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what you believe is right.We have to be optimistic even if there is no hope!”

Finally, a big thank you to Lori Leigh Davis who administrated this whole event, and for her endless kindness, warmth and support.

I am excited to see what the next couple of days at the 30th International Congress – stay tuned!

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