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Sustainability Accounting. Buzzword or Path of Future Development?
Stefan Schaltegger, CSM, University of Lueneburg, Germany
Environmental accounting is at the threshold to sustainability accounting. At present academic institutions and leading companies are still searching for definitions, requirements and approaches to what accounting for corporate sustainability could actually mean. Two basic approaches can be taken to describe sustainability accounting. First, sustainability accounting can be interpreted as a very general umbrella term embracing various very different accounting methods dealing with aspects of sustainability such as environmental problems, social issues, eco-efficiency, socio-efficiency, etc. Whereas this pragmatic interpretation is without tensions it does neither provide much structure nor any guidance how to support a development to corporate sustainability. Second, sustainability accounting can be seen as a goal for a precise concept of collecting, analysing and communicating sustainability issues in an integrative manner. In this view sustainability accounting is challenged to bring economic, environmental and social issues together, to consider interactions and trade-offs between the dimensions and to provide quantitative information on the overall sustainability performance of the company. Whereas this perspective provides a real challenge for research and business leaders it may be over-ambitious and lead to models which are not acceptable for corporate practice. Sustainability accounting is thus challenged to walk between the extremes of a buzzword and a highly abstract academic exercise and to develop pragmatic tools of integrative character which provide management support for clearly described business tasks.