Corporate natural capital accounting

Barker, Richard Corporate natural capital accounting. Oxford Review of Economic Policy (forthcoming). (Accepted)

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Abstract

Accounting is an important practical mechanism by which corporations are held to account for their performance and impact. This is consequential for corporate accountability for the conservation of natural capital. While there is clear evidence of increasing corporate accounting and reporting with respect to aspects of natural capital, however, such efforts are at best nascent. This is in part because the purpose and meaning of corporate natural capital accounting is not in itself well established, and in part because existing institutional structures and incentives do not lend themselves to giving a full account of natural capital impact. The paper argues that there is essentially a need for natural capital accounting and reporting systems that serve two distinct purposes. The first, which is the more likely to be satisfied by existing market structures, is oriented towards the informational needs of shareholders and is concerned with supporting a transition towards environmentally sustainable business models. The second, in contrast, acknowledges that a shareholder-oriented perspective constrains natural capital to be important if, and only if, its conservation privately affects shareholders, which is unlikely to ensure an accounting that contributes to the conservation of natural capital as an end in itself. This second purpose of strengthening corporate natural capital accountability is unlikely to be satisfied within existing market structures; instead, it stands in need of a regulatory solution.
The paper is structured as follows. The next two sections of the paper consider the first of the questions above, by exploring an illustrative example of corporate natural capital accounting (Section 1) and by then, in Section 2, describing in high-level overview the environmental reporting currently undertaken by the corporate sector. Section 3 then explores the second of the two questions above, seeking to understand why companies account for (and report on) natural capital. Section 4 then offers a perspective on the limitations of corporate natural capital accounting in its current form, drawing implications for ways in which this accounting could be improved.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: accounting
Subject(s): Accounting
Date Deposited: 23 Oct 2018 10:40
Last Modified: 23 Oct 2018 10:40
Funders: N/A
URI: http://eureka.sbs.ox.ac.uk/id/eprint/7027

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