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Sustainability accounting education, regulation, reporting and stakeholders


Series Editors: Ataur Belal and Stuart Cooper
Recent Volumes:
Volume 5:

Accounting for the Environment: More Talk and Little Progress, 2014

Volume 4:

Sustainability, Environmental Performance and Disclosures, 2010

Volume 3:

Environmental Accounting: Commitment or Propaganda, 2006

Volume 2:

Advances in Environmental Accounting and Management, 2003

Volume 1:

Advances in Environmental Accounting and Management, 2000


Aston University, Birmingham, UK
University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
University of Brasília, Brazil

United Kingdom – North America – Japan
India – Malaysia – China

Emerald Publishing Limited
Howard House, Wagon Lane, Bingley BD16 1WA, UK
First edition 2017
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ISBN: 978-1-78635-376-4 (Print)
ISBN: 978-1-78635-375-7 (Online)
ISBN: 978-1-78714-629-7 (Epub)
ISSN: 1479-3598 (Series)

Martin Freedman and Bikki Jaggi

Fátima de Souza Freire

Barbara de Lima Voss, David Bernard Carter and Bruno Meirelles Salotti

Vicente Lima Crisóstomo, Priscila de Azevedo Prudêncio and Hyane Correia


Patrícia Lacerda de Carvalho and Aldo Leonardo Cunha Callado

Patrícia Lacerda de Carvalho and Orleans Silva Martins

José Venâncio Ferreira Neto, Sônia Maria da Silva Gomes, Adriano Leal
Bruni and José Maria Dias Filho


Professor David Campbell
Newcastle University, UK
Professor Charles Cho
ESSEC Business School, France
Professor Aracéli Cristina de S. Ferreira
Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Professor Maisa de Souza Ribeiro
University of Sao Paulo, Brazil
Professor Charl de Villiers
University of Auckland, New Zealand
Professor Martin Freedman
Towson University, USA
Dr. Suzana Grubnic
Loughborough University, UK
Professor Christian Herzig
University of Kassel, Germany
Professor Mike Jones
University of Bristol, UK
Dr. Matias Laine
University of Tampere, Finland
Professor Carlos Larrinaga-Gonzalez
Universidad de Burgos, Spain
Professor Glen Lehman

University of South Australia, Australia
Professor Collins Ntim
University of Sothampton, UK
Professor Carlos Noronha
University of Macau, Macau
Professor Brendan O’Dwyer
University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Professor Lee D. Parker
RMIT University, Australia
Professor Dennis Patten
Illinois State University, USA
Professor Robin Roberts
University of Central Florida, USA
Professor Stefan Schaltegger
Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany
Dr. Javed Siddiqui
University of Manchester, UK
Professor Chris van Staden
Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand

Aldo Leonardo Cunha Callado

Federal University of Paraíba, Paraíba, Brazil

David Bernard Carter

Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia

Patrícia Lacerda de Carvalho

Federal University of Pernambuco, Pernambuco, Brazil

Vicente Lima Crisóstomo

Department of Accounting, Federal University of Ceará, Ceará, Brazil; University of Valladolid,
Valladolid, Spain

Sônia Maria da Silva Gomes

Federal University of Bahia, Bahia, Brazil; Federal University of Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, Brazil

José Maria Dias Filho

Federal University of Bahia, Bahia, Brazil; University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

José Venâncio Ferreira Neto

Federal University of Bahia, Bahia, Brazil

Hyane Correia Forte

Federal University of Ceará, Ceará, Brazil

Martin Freedman

Towson University, Towson, MD, USA

Fátima de Souza Freire

Departamento de Ciências Contábeis e Atuárias, Faculdade de Administração, Contabilidade e Economia,
Universidade de Brasília, Brasília, Brazil

Bikki Jaggi

Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA

Adriano Leal Bruni

Federal University of Bahia, Bahia, Brazil; University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

Orleans Silva Martins

Federal University of Paraíba, Paraíba, Brazil

Priscila de Azevedo Prudêncio

Federal University of Ceará, Ceará, Brazil

Bruno Meirelles Salotti

School of Economics, Business and Accounting, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

Barbara de Lima Voss

School of Economics, Business and Accounting, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

Aracéli Cristina de S. Ferreira
Federal University of Rio de Janeiro – UFRJ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
André Luiz Bufoni
Federal University of Rio de Janeiro – UFRJ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Maisa de Souza Ribeiro
University of São Paulo – USP, São Paulo, Brazil

We would like to acknowledge the support and help extended to us in the compilation of the special
issue. Thanks are due to colleagues Maisa Sousa Ribeiro, Araceli Cristina de Sousa Ferreira, André
Luiz Bufoni, and Sônia Maria da Silva Gomes for their excellent organization of the South American
CSEAR Conference 2015 at Bahia, Brazil.

Martin Freedman and Bikki Jaggi

The purpose of this paper is to provide a reflection on our time of creating and editing
AEAM. Our planet is and will continue to experience some environmental turmoil in the
future. Accounting educators and the professionals need to determine how they can
contribute to abating the environmental consequences of past and present political and
economic decisions that have placed the planet in this perilous state. The volumes we
produced included articles discussing accounting’s role in assessing and reporting on
environmental conditions and some suggest how accounting can contribute to alleviating
some of these problems. The reflections we provide are our understandings of the
contributions that the works in the first five volumes of the series have made in advancing
the discussion in the field of environmental accounting. As editors we have a unique view
of these contributions.
Almost certainly more than any other single factor, the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol (Kyoto) in
December 1997 triggered increased discussion on the possibility for a sustainable future for our
planet. Considered a watershed event in recognizing the need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG)
emissions, Kyoto provided a strong impetus for research, not only with respect to GHG reductions,
but also for accounting issues associated with environmental measurements and disclosures. Thus, a
growing number of accounting scholars, many of them new to the field, started producing studies
concerned with environmental accounting and disclosure. Unfortunately, because the major North
American mainstream accounting journals had largely ignored the social and environmental realm
over the last part of the twentieth century (see, e.g., Cho & Patten, 2010; Deegan & Soltys, 2007;
Patten, 2013), publication outlets for this expanding body of work were limited to a few key journals
including Accounting, Organizations and Society, Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal,
Critical Perspectives on Accounting, and a handful of others (many of which published
environmental-themed articles only sporadically). Although our original intent was to publish a book
on environmental accounting, a publisher’s representative instead suggested we start a journal.
Thanks to the JAI publishers agreeing in 1998 to its launch, Advances in Environmental Accounting
and Management (AEAM) now provided another quality outlet for environmental accounting

We published the first issue of AEAM in 2000 and, as would be the case throughout our tenure as
editors of the journal, topical coverage across the contributions was wide. The volume included
theoretical articles dealing with accounting, ethics, environment, and the role of business in dealing
with environmental issues. Reflecting a debate that continues to this day, the inaugural AEAM also
included empirical pieces providing support for environmental disclosure being explained by
legitimacy theory (Patten, 2000) and alternatively, by voluntary disclosure theory (Bewley & Li,
By the time the second volume was published in 2002 (by Elsevier which acquired JAI), Kyoto
was closer to ratification and climate change continued to be much debated. The relatively young
European Union (EU) was committed to the Kyoto Protocol and was in the process of developing a
system of cap-and-trade to reduce GHG emissions.1 But the importance of Kyoto was overshadowed
by the turmoil in the financial markets in the United States at the turn of the twenty-first century as, for
example, several large corporations including Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco International were
involved in major financial scandals. Many considered accountants culpable in these scandals, and
Enron’s financial manipulations ultimately led to the downfall of its auditor, the Big 8 accounting
firm, Arthur Andersen. These developments provided a strong impetus for passage of the Sarbanes–
Oxley Act at the end of July 2002.
In general, the papers appearing in the second volume largely expressed concerns about corporate
environmental (and sometimes social) reporting. For example, one of the articles (Epstein, 2004)
provided a history of social accounting and indicated that, while the level of social disclosure had
increased, its quality had not, thus making a case for integrating social accounting and management
decision-making. Another article (Hunt & Grinnell, 2004) echoed findings of an earlier study
(Schmidheiny & Zorraquin, 1998) by documenting that financial analysts do not find environmental
disclosures made in annual reports particularly useful. In some respects, the largest theme within the
second volume was that environmental disclosures, which are mostly voluntary, are motivated by
something other than the reflection of what actually occurred. Finally, the issue also included what we
believe to be the first accounting article discussing disclosures within a cap-and-trade system as it
focused on the U.S. electric utilities and cap-and-trade for sulfur dioxide emissions (Freedman, Jaggi,
& Stagliano, 2004).
By 2006, when the third volume was published, the EU already had begun its cap-and-trade
system for GHG emissions, although it was only a practice round for the real system that would begin
two years later. In the United States, the Bush administration continued to deny human culpability for
global warming. On a more positive note, substantially more firms across the world were producing
social/environmental sustainability reports and many of them were following the Global Reporting
Initiative guidelines.
While the third volume of AEAM included articles providing at least some degree of optimism in
terms of environmental disclosures and performance, these were tempered by concerns with the
progress that was really being made. The overall story from this volume seems to be that if
companies make a real commitment to improve environmental performance, it can be achieved.
However, there is a difference between real commitment and paying lip service to environmental
concerns, and unfortunately, the latter seems to be the norm.
Emerald purchased AEAM from Elsevier and the fourth volume was published by Emerald in
2010. By this time, the EU’s real cap-and-trade system was up and running, but in spite of this, and

other efforts worldwide, global GHG emissions continued to grow. Positively, the push for utilizing
renewable energy sources including wind, solar, and geo-thermal continued to grow. The title of the
fourth volume was “Sustainability, Environmental Performance and Disclosures,” partly to reflect
that sustainability had become a hot topic in academia. The American Accounting Association had a
plenary session in its annual meeting devoted to sustainability and it was also the theme of the annual
Academy of Management meeting.
As was true of most of the other volumes in this series, the fourth volume contained considerable
variety with respect to the issues examined. One article (Gray, Owen, & Adams, 2010) provided the
basis for a theory of social accounting (specifically noting environmental accounting as a subset of the
theory), while another discussed the limitations with respect to publishing in the social and
environmental accounting domain (Cho & Patten, 2010). A third article ( Brown, Guidry, & Patten,
2010) documented that the quality of stand-alone sustainability reports appears to matter with respect
to impacts on corporate reputation. Consistent with one of the articles from the prior issue, one of the
papers (Weisnner, Epstein, & Bagozzi, 2010 ) showed that firms making a true commitment to
improve their environmental performance by integrating the environment into their managerial
decisions do the best environmentally. Finally, the volume contained a study ( Freedman & Jaggi,
2010) of disclosures concerning Kyoto and GHG emissions that found companies headquartered in
the EU disclosed less than Canadian or Japanese companies (and that environmental disclosures
within the EU companies differed with regard to quantity as well as quality).
Our last volume was published in 2014 and it included papers concerning Chinese social
accounting, corporate governance and environmental performance, measuring environmental
performance, developing a framework linking management controls to sustainability and the impact
on companies of the SEC mandated climate change regulation. Although the papers seemed to
continue the trend of both good and bad news about business and sustainability, we cannot help
feeling that the small incremental steps toward a cleaner and healthier future for the planet are not
leading to successful results.
We began this journey as editors with hopes for the environment and the role that the accounting
profession might play in helping to protect it, but more than a decade and a half in, they still remain as
hopes. Though several countries of the world are still discussing ways to reduce their impacts on
climate change, GHG emissions continue to increase. Kyoto had a success in that the EU did decrease
its overall GHG emissions by 8 percent compared to 1990s emissions, but Australia, which had
become a belated participant in Kyoto, instituted and then rescinded a carbon tax. Canada dropped
out of the agreement altogether. More positively, the United States and China have orally agreed to
reduce their GHG emissions while the EU agreed to a 40 percent reduction. Of course, it is only
through execution that such statements become more meaningful and we will see what actually
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicated that the effects of climate
change are already upon us. Forests are dying, land ice is melting throughout the world, seas are
rising resulting in coastal flooding, and heat waves are killing crops and people (Gillis, 2014).
Drastic action is needed and the accounting profession has not been at the forefront of the
social/environmental/sustainability movement. While many firms have produced stand-alone
environmental/sustainability reports and some of these have been audited, these companies represent
a small fraction of the world’s business organizations. Furthermore, given the limited regulations

regarding environmental (and other sustainability) disclosure (and the findings that even those that are
mandated seem to lack meaningful compliance – see, e.g., Cho, Freedman, & Patten, 2012), it appears
that most of the corporate sustainability reporting is more about image than transparent accountability.
Without greater accountability for the consequences of industrialization and modernity, the future of
the planet and its inhabitants, as documented by the IPCC, will face ever increasing trouble.
We really believe that accounting can play a positive role in addressing the environmental
concerns facing the world, but we must admit a degree of pessimism in that regard. As we stated in
the introduction to our last volume of AEAM, accounting educators, at least in the United States, rarely
teach the issues of sustainable/environmental accounting. And while AEAM has been joined by at
least a few other academic outlets for sustainability-themed research, the major mainstream North
American accounting research journals, in spite of publishing a few articles purportedly dealing with
social or environmental connections, do not seem to understand the real nature of the problem (see,
e.g., Patten, 2013). Accordingly, we see the role of journals such as this one as immeasurably
Our reflection would not be complete without some acknowledgment of those who helped to make
our journal the success that we believe it has been. First and foremost amongst this group are the
researchers who considered AEAM as an outlet for their studies. We appreciate not only the choice
to submit to the journal, but also that so many of the authors were willing to endure the process of
revising and resubmitting their articles (some for a number of rounds). As editors, our work was also
made easier by our supportive editorial board. One of the critical activities in creating AEAM was
the formation of the editorial board. Its creation was important because the body both provides
feedback to the editors about strategic planning for the journal and also serves as a source for
choosing the right people to review the submitted papers (not to mention the members doing reviews
themselves). Since we were not sure what specific environmental topics would be covered by
submissions, we decided to create a board whose expertise spanned many potential areas.
Accordingly, our choice of the board members was influenced by our expectation of submissions on
the broad themes related to environmental accounting, management, and economics, and we believe
we did a good job of bringing in recognized scholars across all of these areas.
Particularly in the process of producing the first two volumes, we discovered that there were
some reviewers who were dependable and provided excellent and timely reviews. This was true for
both editorial board members and ad hoc reviewers. Like all peer-reviewed publication outlets,
reliance on ad hoc reviewers is a crucial factor in running the journal, and we chose these reviewers
based on their expertise with respect to the topic covered by the submission (e.g., a particular ad hoc
reviewer might have been cited by authors in their articles or he or she may have had a reputation in
the area). It is amazing that, almost without exception, when asked, these people would readily agree
to review a paper for the journal, and most of the reviews were excellent.
Over the years, we received much help, advice, and encouragement from our colleagues with
respect to the journal. And while we cannot name everyone, we would like to especially thank Den
Patten and A. J. Stagliano, who served as associate editors for a number of the volumes, and Nola
Buhr, for their contributions, cooperation, and excellent and timely reviews. We enjoyed editing these
five volumes of AEAM.

1. The United States, however, was moving in the opposite direction. Bill Clinton, U.S. President at the time of Kyoto’s adoption,
chose not to ask the Senate to ratify the agreement, based largely on substantial opposition to the treaty amongst legislators. The next
President, George W. Bush, did not support Kyoto and did not believe that global warming was even a problem, and obviously never
called for passage of Kyoto in the United States. And although Barack Obama, who came to office in 2009, was far more liberal on
environmental issues, he, too, has never pressured for ratification of the treaty. Thus, the United States has never been a formal
participant in the Kyoto Protocol.

Bewley, K., & Li, Y. (2000). Disclosure of environmental information by Canadian manufacturing companies: A voluntary disclosure
perspective. Advances in Environmental Accounting and Management, 1, 201–226.
Brown, D. L., Guidry, R. P., & Patten, D. M. (2010). Sustainability reporting and perceptions of corporate reputation: An analysis using
Fortune most admired scores. Advances in Environmental Accounting and Management, 4, 83–104.
Cho, C. H., Freedman, M., & Patten, D. M. (2012). Corporate disclosure of environmental capital expenditures: A test of alternative
theories. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 25(3), 486–507.
Cho, C. H., & Patten, D. M. (2010). Social and environmental accounting in North America: Who? Where? Whither? Advances in
Environmental Accounting and Management, 4, 161–177.
Deegan, C., & Soltys, S. (2007). Social accounting research: An Australian perspective. Accounting Forum, 31(1), 73–89.
Epstein, M. J. (2004). The identification, measurement and reporting of corporate social impacts: Past, present and future. Advances in
Environmental Accounting and Management, 2, 1–30.
Freedman, M., & Jaggi, B. (2010). Global warming and corporate disclosures: A comparative analysis of companies from the European
Union, Japan and Canada. Advances in Environmental Accounting and Management, 4, 129–160.
Freedman, M., Jaggi, B., & Stagliano, A. J. (2004). Pollution disclosures by electric utilities: An evaluation of the first phase of the 1990
Clean Air Act. Advances in Environmental Accounting and Management, 2.
Gillis, J. (2014). U.N. panel issues its starkest warning on global warming. The New York Times, November 3, p. A6.
Gray, R., Owen, D., & Adams, C. (2010). Some theories for social accounting? A review essay and tentative pedagogic categorization
of theorisations around social accounting. Advances in Environmental Accounting and Management, 4, 1–54.
Hunt, H. G., & Grinnell, J. (2004). Financial analysts’ views of the value of environmental information. Advances in Environmental
Accounting and Management, 2, 101–120.
Patten, D. M. (2000). Changing superfund disclosure and its relation to the provision of other environmental information. Advances in
Environmental Accounting and Management, 1, 101–122.
Patten, D. M. (2013). Lessons from the third wave: A reflection on the rediscovery of corporate social responsibility by the mainstream
accounting research community. Financial Reporting, 2(1), 9–26.
Schmidheiny, S., & Zorraquin, F. J. L. (1998). Financing change. The financial community, eco-efficiency, and sustainable
development. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Weisnner, P. S., Epstein, M. J., & Bagozzi, R. P. (2010). Environmental proactivity and performance. Advances in Environmental
Accounting and Management, 4, 105–128.

Fátima de Souza Freire
The papers in this special issue include a selection of articles presented at the 2015, CSEAR
conference in Brazil. This special issue is aimed at celebrating the research that Brazilian social and
environmental accounting researchers have been undertaking for some time. As far as we know this is
the first special issue compiled for this purpose.
The first paper in this special issue by Barbara de Lima Voss, David Bernard Carter, and Bruno
Meirelles Salotti in “Hegemonies, Politics and the Brazilian Academy in Social and Environmental
Accounting: A Post-Structural Note” undertakes a comprehensive review of the Brazilian research on
social and environmental accounting (SEA). The paper highlights the hegemony of business case
thinking and the dominance of the economic imperative in Brazilian SEA research. Adopting a poststructural perspective that reflects Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory, a total of 352 articles are
analyzed that reflect the Brazilian literature on SEA.
In “An Analysis of the Adherence to GRI for Disclosing Information on Social Action and
Sustainability Concerns,” Vicente Lima Crisóstomo, Priscila de Azevedo Prudêncio, and Hyane
Correia Forte investigate the degree of adherence to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) by
organizations from all over the world, as well as the quality of CSR reports using institutional and
legitimacy theoretical frameworks. The sample consists of annual data from all organizations that
have disclosed sustainability reports through GRI since its first year, 1999, until 2013. By means of a
set of chi-squared tests, they evaluate whether organizational attributes are associated with the quality
of organizations’ CSR reporting. They conclude that the legal and institutional environment,
organization size, and type of organization have an influence on the use of GRI as a means to report
organizations’ CSR. These variables have also influenced the quality of information of organizations’
GRI reports.
Patrícia Lacerda de Carvalho and Aldo Leonardo Cunha Callado compare the financial stock
performance of Brazilian companies that participate in the Carbon Efficient Index with those that
participate only in market-wide indices of the São Paulo Stock Exchange (BM&FBovespa) in
“Financial Performance of Stocks of Companies Participating in the Carbon Efficient Index (ICO2).”
To draw up a comprehensive picture of the Brazilian stock market, the sample is comprised of four
BM&FBovespa indices, namely, ICO2, the Bovespa Index (IBOV), Brazil 100 Index (IBrX100), and
Brazil 50 Index (IBrX50). The ICO2 is the only sustainability index. They reveal that sustainable
enterprises consider not only financial results but also intrinsic environmental and social benefits.
Complementing the previous study, in “Performance of Sustainability and Negotiability Indexes in
the Brazilian Stock Market,” Patrícia Lacerda de Carvalho and Orleans Silva Martins examine and
compare the stock returns of the sustainability index member companies with the returns of companies
out of these indexes. All information from two indexes on sustainability and social responsibility of
the Brazilian stock market were used in the study. The review period was 2005–2014. They infer that

the sustainability indexes do not indicate higher returns although Brazilian companies with
sustainable practices appear to be concerned with economic performance and social, cultural, and
environmental issues.
Finally, José Venâncio Ferreira Neto, Sônia Maria da Silva Gomes, Adriano Leal Bruni and José
Maria Dias Filho in “Do Environmental Disasters Impact on the Volume of Socio-environmental
Investment and Disclosure of Brazilian Companies?” investigate the impact of environmental
disasters on the volume of disclosure and investments of Brazilian companies in the period 1997–
2012. The authors have shown that the companies reported a higher volume of socio-environmental
disclosure in the two years after the occurrence of the accidents.
We hope that the contributions contained within this special issue will stimulate further
reflections and discussions on the topics presented and discussed by the authors. Finally, we would
like to thank all authors for submitting their papers and their willingness to engage with the review
process. We would also like to thank the reviewers of this special issue for their time and efforts
against a rather tight time frame.

Barbara de Lima Voss, David Bernard Carter and Bruno Meirelles

We present a critical literature review debating Brazilian research on social and
environmental accounting (SEA). The aim of this study is to understand the role of politics
in the construction of hegemonies in SEA research in Brazil. In particular, we examine the
role of hegemony in relation to the co-option of SEA literature and sustainability in the
Brazilian context by the logic of development for economic growth in emerging economies.
The methodological approach adopts a post-structural perspective that reflects Laclau and
Mouffe’s discourse theory. The study employs a hermeneutical, rhetorical approach to
understand and classify 352 Brazilian research articles on SEA. We employ Brown and
Fraser’s (2006) categorizations of SEA literature to help in our analysis: the business
case, the stakeholder–accountability approach, and the critical case. We argue that the
business case is prominent in Brazilian studies. Second-stage analysis suggests that the
major themes under discussion include measurement, consulting, and descriptive
approach. We argue that these themes illustrate the degree of influence of the hegemonic
politics relevant to emerging economics, as these themes predominantly concern economic
growth and a capitalist context. This paper discusses trends and practices in the Brazilian
literature on SEA and argues that the focus means that SEA avoids critical debates of the
role of capitalist logics in an emerging economy concerning sustainability. We urge the
Brazilian academy to understand the implications of its reifying agenda and engage,
counter-hegemonically, in a social and political agenda beyond the hegemonic support of a
particular set of capitalist interests.
Keywords: Social and environmental accounting; sustainability; discourse theory; poststructuralism; emerging economies


The politics of social and environmental accounting (SEA) focuses on understanding, interpreting,
and enacting notions of sustainability, corporate responsibility, and social participation in a
sustainable world. In a complex interplay, sustainability incorporates, interacts with, and articulates
from a range of rhetorical and political influences, including sustainable development, corporate
social responsibility, and SEA. For us, we suggest that this provides opportunities for hegemonic
politics, rhetoric, and post-structuralism. Sustainability derives from “sustain.” While “sustain” could
have a myriad of meanings, the logic of capitalism was quick in attempts to limit the scope of meaning
that might apply to “sustain,” as economics sought to confine the definition as a form of economic
growth– sustainable economic growth was defined in 1965 as “economic growth [where] economic
stagnation will not set in” (Simpson & Weiner, 1989 , p. 327). We are interested in this signification
process whereby economics is attached to sustainable, and in particular, the implications of “growth”
and “development.” One issue that we will examine in this paper is the rhetorical politics between
development in the traditional economic sense and development in the sustainable development
context. We argue that sustainability and SEA discourses, and consequently, the tools and techniques
of SEA and sustainability are within the ambit of advanced capitalist societies. This, we argue, poses
significant challenges in relation to the employment and adoption of SEA and sustainability into
emerging economies, and especially, in this context, in relation to Brazil. A dominant development
agenda (in the traditional economic growth context), we argue, poses significant challenges for a
sustainable development agenda, and we argue that the import between these two agendas (they are
antagonistic to the other) has special significance for how SEA literatures and practices have
informed the adoption, employment, and critique of SEA in Brazil. Sustainable development received
significant attention in the literature, with much of the debate focused on the oft-cited definition of
sustainable development in the Brundtland report (1987, p. 4):
Sustainable development is a familiar concept to people concerned with the environment … we define sustainable development
in simple terms as paths of progress which meet the needs and aspirations of the present generation without compromising the
ability of future generations to meet their needs.

The problem for us, though, in a similar vein to Cintra and Carter (2012), is that this definition is
in effect, an empty signifier, as there is little consensus on what is signified by sustainability,
sustainable development, or SEA. Acting in the “name” of sustainability requires articulation, and we
argue that the articulatory practices in Brazil, due to its emerging economic status, renders the
development of “sustainability” and “responsibility” vulnerable to co-option by other political
economy movements, such as economic development. Gray (2010, p. 48) argues:
…[A]ny simple assessment of the relationship between a single organisation and planetary sustainability is virtually impossible.
The relationships and interrelationships are simply too complex. Furthermore, to assume that the notion of “sustainability” has
tangible meaning at the level of organisation is to ignore all we know about sustainability. Sustainability is a systems-based
concept and, environmentally at least, only begins to make any sense at the level of eco-systems and is probably difficult to
really conceptualise at anything below planetary and species levels.

Gray (2010) suggests an inherent lack (at definitional and systemic levels), and consequently, we
hold that this “lack” is magnified in the emerging economy context, as sustainability is vulnerable to
economic development and growth agendas, as users of the capitalist system point to the logic of
wealth creation and upward class mobility through socioeconomic groupings such as lower middle
class as evidence of development. One might suggest that this agenda runs contrary to “sustainability”
which holds a deeper commitment to the longer term, and this contingency suggests scope for

hegemonic politics.
Despite this, it is clear that significant numbers of Brazilian companies provide sustainability
reporting, despite a lack of clearly defined boundaries around what constitutes sustainability. As
Cintra and Carter (2012, pp. 112–113) argue:
For sustainable development, Brazil is intriguing. It is an essential player due to its vast natural resources and the Amazonian
rainforest draws attention to environmental issues … Economically, Brazil is a developing country, with the potential to be an
economic powerhouse … the private corporate sector – multinational and national entities – play an important role in the
country’s economic development. But this has been the source of some controversy. The capitalist, corporate need for growth
is the antithesis, potentially, of sustainability. We see evidence of this in critical reports of Brazil’s biofuel industry, the sugar
cane industry, and Amazonian deforestation.

Lohmann (2009, pp. 511–512) continues a similar line of critique through critiquing carbon
One example of this overflow can be found in the actions of residents of an area of Minas Gerais, Brazil, much of whose land
a local company, Plantar, had been occupying to plant environmentally destructive eucalyptus plantations to produce charcoal
to fuel its pig iron operations … The residents vociferously opposed the accounting procedures involved: “The argument that
producing pig iron from charcoal is less bad than producing it from coal is a sinister strategy … [W]e want to prevent these
impacts and construct a society with an economic policy that includes every man and woman, preserving and recovering our
environment” (FASE, 2003). In a June 2004 letter to the CDM Executive Board, some 143 local groups and individuals, after
insisting that “the claim that without carbon credits Plantar…would have switched to coal as an energy source is absurd,” went
on to characterize the accounting procedure as a “threat:” “It is comparable to loggers demanding money, otherwise they will
cut down trees…[the CDM] should not be allowed to be used by the tree plantation industry to help finance its unsustainable
practices.” (Suptitz et al., 2004)

This suggests the tension between corporate growth, economic development, sustainability, social
development, and environmental protection. For Brazil, despite some economic development, there is
much work to do with respect to social development: there is a tremendous gap between rich and
poor, and there is much to do to improve quality of life standards. For example, approximately nine
percent of the population (16 million people) earn less the $70 Reais per month (approximately $40
USD/month) – Minister for Social Development, Tereza Campello (MDS, 2010).
Thus, while the Brundtland report may constitute an attempt to develop a formal, universal
understanding of what sustainable development might mean, the reality is that that definition raises
more questions than it answers and even if we were living in a sustainable world, we would not have
the ability to determine if that is the case. One reason for this disappointment might be that
sustainability requires a significant shift in democratic and social values, as a form of revolution
against the cult of the individual promulgated by the modernist, liberal, contractarian social order. In
this, sustainability may invoke broader democratic, communitarian values, where life chances do not
depend on bargaining positions (Millon, 1993, p. 1379), and thus, sustainability invokes an imagery
of a fairer society based on sharing, protecting, and caring at the collective level, where we owe
obligations to each other merely by our existence in society. In a Rousseauian version of the social
contract, to maximize liberty, fraternity, equality, and sustainability, we may have to give “something
up.” In brief, sustainability is an open, antagonistic concept that is systematically under rhetorical
challenge from development, in the economic growth context; for us, this illustrates that sustainability
and SEA are subject to changes and attempts to close and constrain its meanings and for us, this
invokes the political: which in a post-structural sense, is always implicated, as “some sort of
shadowy underside of politics” (Devenney, 2002, p. 176).
Sustainability, though, is a social construct. This is rendered explicit in the original Brundtland

report, which suggests:
[Sustainable development] contains within it two key concepts:
the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and
future needs. (Brundtland, 1987)

Invoking poverty, technology and social organization render, rhetorically, sustainability a social
construct (Suddaby & Greenwood, 2005). However, the integration of society into articulations of
sustainability and SEA has proven more complex, largely because discourses of economic growth
and sustainability are not easy to integrate: one discourse may require sacrifice from the other
discourse. In accounting, Gray (2010, p. 53) argues that the contradictions between sustainable
development and the organization result in the debate concerning the notion of sustainability and
sustainable development being reconfigured to suit powerful groups. This “re-articulation” or
“redescription” of sustainability operates to draw attention away from any internal conflicts of logic,
such as the potential sacrifices concerning economic growth. We argue that economic growth and
sustainability should antagonize each other, but powerful hegemonic politics, mobilized
predominantly through the emerging economy discourse of development (growth) operates to
“redescribe” and “re-orient” sustainability into a more acceptable discourse (more acceptable as the
discursive threat is rendered weaker). We argue that the social meaning of sustainability, sustainable
development, and SEA changes with changes in social politics. In this, as accounting is the language
of capital, its integration into the sustainability space, through SEA and other manifestations, further
obfuscates these hegemonic processes, as accounting operates to obfuscate conflicts of interest within
societies and between organizations and societies. Equally, the academy plays a role here, as few
scholars question corporate sustainability and comparatively fewer illustrate corporate
unsustainability. Gray (2010) and Boyce (2000) contend that accounting should recognize the multiple
voices of accounting for sustainability instead of privileging the narrow narratives of accounting for a
hegemonic developmental economic purpose. This study constitutes a critical intervention.
A critical intervention recognizes that hegemony is embedded in social demands, political
agendas, and economic interests. However, this is not to suggest that critical intervention takes only
one form, as for example, Spence (2009) argues that emancipation lies in a radical posture that
pursues the exposition of contradictions between society and organizations (Spence, 2009). In
contrast, Bebbington, Brown, Frame, and Thomson (2007, p. 356) suggest that a dialogic approach
for SEA would contribute to a “more authentic engagement” for a sustainable world. As a poststructural intervention, this paper encourages both dialogic (Bebbington et al., 2007) and antagonistic
(Boyce, 2000) positions to examine the implications of a capital agenda that seeks to redescribe
sustainability and SEA as emerging economic growth for development purposes. There are limited
Brazilian studies that adopt a critical lens and acknowledge the function of politics in the construction
of meanings in the SEA academy. The resilience of literatures of sustainability, business, and
decision-making favors the economic growth aims, as co-equivalent terms, obscures and dominates
sustainability. In this tradition, Cintra and Carter (2012) debate the internalization of sustainable
development into management accounting processes, and illustrate a lack of understanding and
education as to what sustainability means and thus, this delimits the integration of sustainability into

Brazilian business.
The main objective of this study is to understand the politics of SEA in the Brazilian literature,
and consequently, it adopts the following approach. The following section briefly introduces
constituent theoretical components, including hegemony. This is followed by a focus on the question
“what is SEA literature in Brazil?” This section is followed by a critical examination of the role of
Brazilian SEA research. This study aims to empower academics by introducing a range of approaches
to SEA (Bebbington et al., 2007; Gray, Owen & Adams, 2009), as we argue that the interaction
between societies and organizations is multi-faceted and complex. However, we argue that this multifaceted nature is obscured through the functioning of capitalist politics, which is employed in SEA to
maintain hegemonic mechanisms of domination. To increase the debate of SEA research, this study
contributes to the examination of SEA research in the Brazilian context (Gray & Bebbington, 2000),
and we examine the role of politics in the construction of hegemonies in the Brazilian literature
through the antagonism of emerging economies and the logic of development to SEA and

Before examining the impact of logics of development and economic growth on the construction of the
Brazilian articulation of SEA, we present a short theoretical foundation of hegemony, and in
particular, the radicalization of Gramscian hegemony. This draws on the work of Spence (2007,
2009) and a close reading of Laclau and Mouffe’s (2001) discourse theory. Laclau and Mouffe
suggest that discourse is constructed within society and that discourse represents society. As Carter
(2008, pp. 178–179) argues:
Hegemony is the central concept in Gramsci’s work (1971, pp. 55–56), and for discourse theory, hegemony is democracy
(Laclau, 2001, p. 7). It is ‘dialectic’ rather than ‘deterministic; as hegemony attempts to recognise the interdependence and the
autonomy of hegemony, culture, and ideology (Fraser & Bartky, 1992, p. 175). Hegemony is ‘the discursive face of power’.

In explanation, Fraser and Bartky (1992, p. 179) argue that hegemony is:
It is the power to establish the ‘common sense’ or ‘doxa’ of a society, the fund of self-evident descriptions of social reality that
normally go without saying. This includes the power to establish authoritative definitions of social situations and social needs,
the power to define the universe of legitimate disagreement, and the power to shape the political agenda.

Carter (2008, p. 180) then suggest the politics of hegemony, as it:
…is a contingent process of readjustment and re-negotiation, as dominant groups attempt to accommodate counter-hegemonic
concerns by amending the dominant hegemony. Thus, the constitution of hegemony is inherently flexible, capable of taking
many forms and positions to counter threats. Gramsci notes that accommodation results in a more complete dominant
hegemony in quashing threats posed by counter-hegemonic movements.

Laclau and Mouffe (2001) operationalize and radicalize Gramscian hegemony through
antagonism, in that any attempt to fix a nodal point is permeated by “the other,” which posits a form of
politics based on contingency or the lack. This is crucial to the politics of the SEA and sustainability,
as each articulation is impacted by its “otherness”; in a simple way, the broader social and

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