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30 December 2021
Accounting for the good: the role of accounting in fostering SDGs implementation and achievement in the public sector
Accounting has been acknowledged a role in the implementation of sustainable practices in general and of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular (Bebbington & Larrinaga, 2014; Bebbington & Unerman, 2018). There are 17 SDG and 169 associated targets with the aim of balancing the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) and are supposed to measure achievements and stimulate action from 2016 to 2030 (United Nations, 2015). Within the EU, the European Green Deal is the response to these challenges, a new growth strategy that aims to implement the SDG agenda and transform the EU into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy.
As shown by Larrinaga, Moneva and Ortas (2019), the first special issue on social and environmental accounting of the Revista Española de Financiación y Contabilidad was published in 1993. However, as they point out, there continue to be sustainability problems for which SDGs are key, and accounting should have a say by establishing sound theoretical frameworks about the transformative role of accounting and by identifying accountability mechanisms to detect and evaluate both sustainable and un-sustainable practices of institutions (Larrinaga et al., 2019). There is a need to avoid to lock-in unsustainable practices (European Commission, 2019). In sum, there are an important spaces for accounting research in the green and sustainable agenda (Lapsley & Miller, 2019).
The technology of accounting, target setting and reporting required for the SDGs architecture and for building the road map of policies and measures of the European Green Deal (EGD), represents an opportunity for scholars in evaluating and advancing how accounting is used in these contexts (Bebbington & Unerman, 2018). Defining and implementing SDGs requires calculative practices that create a mediating role for accounting in the implementation of sustainable practices (Lapsley et al., 2010), while introducing metrics can make public sector institutions comparable, measurable and governable. It becomes key to understand the links between sustainability accounting and accountability with organizational processes, structures, behavior and dynamics (Adams & Larrinaga‐González, 2007; Correa-Ruiz, 2019).
One of the first papers to measure the environmental disclosures in financial statements was written by Wiseman (1982). Since then, there has been an increase of international analysis on corporate environmental reporting (Acerete, Gasca, & Llena, 2019). The GRI highlights transparency as an intrinsic part of sustainable reporting, with principles to follow to achieve transparency (Garcia-Torea, Fernandez-Feijoo, & de la Cuesta-González, 2017). However, research on public sector institutions should go further than analyzing reporting. Attention should be paid to the analysis of the organizational context in which the environmental report is produced and the structures that enhance its development, as it will help to illuminate the role of accounting in organizations, as well as in maintaining or changing its practices (Correa-Ruiz, 2019).
Public institutions must have a say in achieving the SDGs and the EGD, and understanding their practices is a noteworthy theme in the accounting research. For Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Parvez et al, (2019) show that accounting of sustainable issues helps policymakers to measure achievements and to develop strategies and policies, while improving the sustainability performance also requires the disclosure of sustainability information. Thus, the role of public sector institutions is key in developing the tools, in using them, as well as, in reporting for SDG. Considering that several methods and frameworks for sustainability accounting and control have emerged in the public sector (Albino, Berardi, & Dangelico, 2015; Dameri, 2013), analyzing their impact on actual organizational changes towards SDG achievement is fundamental.
There is the need to deepen the studies on the role of social and environmental accounting within public institutions (Steccolini, 2019).
Sustainable development in the public sector requires re-thinking existing public accountability and accounting instruments and systems to successfully deal with economic, social and environmental issues. Bearing in mind the nature of the sustainability challenges, Adams and Larrinaga (2019), pointed out that accounting researchers need to draw on new theoretical perspectives (not necessarily the fashionable ones) to report on the contribution to and impact on achievement of the sustainable development goals.
Therefore, to explore the role that accounting and accountability play in defining and implementing the SDGs and the EGD at public sector institutions, submissions could address, but not be limited to, the themes provided in the following list:
• Which models or frameworks of accounting and accountability for SDG are present at public sector institutions?
• How are governments and public sector institutions answering to initiatives such as the Directive 2014/95/EU on non-financial information?
• Are there differences in the implementation of the EGD across EU countries, sectors and/or government layers?
• Which processes and actors define the accounting and accountability tools of public institutions in terms of SDGs?
• Are citizens and other stakeholders involved in defining the accounting technologies, the targets and the reporting regime required for achieving SDGs?
• To what extent accounting tools and professionals are creating new practices and routines for the achievement of SDGs?
• Which methods and frameworks for sustainability accounting and control are more effective for public institutions?
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Special Issue opens in April 30th, 2021. We aim to publish the Special Issue in 2023.
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