Launch of the Ecological Accounting Chair

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Academic, private, institutional and political personalities were gathered to share their experience, express their views and agree on the need to count what really counts to preserve what is vital for us and our planet.

"Ecological accounting" may at first seem a little contradictory, then a little complicated, but it is totally indispensable in view of the current stakes", says Alexandre Rambaud, co-responsible for the Chair of Ecological Accounting.

The aim of the partnership Chair is to develop strong sustainability accounting systems from the scale of organizations to the national level, including ecosystems, over an initial period of 5 years, through theses, post-doctorates, working groups and research and experimentation projects in association with its private, institutional and academic partners. Projects associated with this Chair are also planned.

Accounting for a truly ecological transition

A common tool for building together

Accounting is the discipline of recording flows and stocks of values. It is a technical tool that accompanies actors in their daily activities to monitor the impacts of their actions and evaluate certain values.

According to Harold Levrel, co-director and founder of the Chair, it has a real advantage: it offers a common language. The values that have been filled in are perceived differently by the various players, and accounting will make it possible to structure and organize these representations.

Ecological accounting and strong sustainability

Ecological accounting is the discipline that records the flows and stocks of values around the interactions between economic and ecological systems. It is based on the principle of strong sustainability.

The general principle of sustainability advocates maintaining the growth of wealth for future generations. Strong sustainability considers that this growth is not sufficient to assess the sustainability of a trajectory; it also requires the combination of principles of ecological conservation, recognising that Nature has intrinsic values and not simply market or instrumental values.

"Strong sustainability implies recognising rights to Nature, recognising that Nature cannot be reduced to a resource status (...) it can thus receive reparation for degradation, which is reparation for itself without necessarily bringing direct benefits to humans" explains Harold Levrel, co-responsible for the Chair.

A real question arises as to the capacity of the various initiatives put in place, in favour of the environment, to ensure real ecological conservation, "it happens that it is even the opposite that happens" according to Alexandre Rambaud. The aim of this project is to achieve a truly ecological transition, in the sense that these tools should make it possible to improve the ecological functioning of ecosystems impacted by man and to conserve a certain state of biodiversity.

Three-level ecological accounting

The Chair in Ecological Accounting will articulate its research projects and work from the organizational to the national to the ecosystem scale so that each level can benefit from accounts at the underlying or overlying scales. Ecosystem scales will thus integrate the accounts of the different organizations in the same territory, and national accounting will bring these regional and organizational accounts together to establish a national balance sheet. These bottom-up effects will be accompanied by top-down effects in the case of political measures directly impacting the operation of companies, in particular.

"Except in very rare cases, good management of an ecosystem (...) goes well beyond the perimeter of a company or organization (...) The ability to achieve ecological performance in the management of a river will depend on the way in which a company discusses, negotiates, organizes itself, with other companies, associations, public institutions, which impact or actually manage this river, so that the sum of their actions will ultimately lead to improving its ecological capacity in the long term". Explains Clément Feger, Lecturer at AgroParisTech and researcher at the University of Montpellier, to illustrate the importance of ecosystem accounting.

AgroParisTech, Paris Dauphine, URCA and CIRED, on the same wavelength

The three academic partners of the Chair: AgroParisTech, represented by Gilles Trystram, Managing Director, the University of Paris Dauphine, represented by its President, Isabelle Huault, and the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, represented by Laurent Lucas, Director of Research, as well as the International Research Centre for Environment and Development (CIRED), the Chair’s host laboratory, represented by Franck Lecocq, its Director, were on hand for this launch of the "Ecological Accounting" partnership Chair.

These different organisations form the backbone of the Chair by developing, coordinating and leading the scientific projects that will be the point of emergence and linkage of accounting tools and methods, at the different levels of organisations, in strong sustainability.

Franck Lecocq expresses his desire for a "cross-fertilization between the CIRED laboratory and the work of the Chair (...)", with multi-scale and multidisciplinary approaches, linked to development and the environment, being the main rallying points between the Chair and the laboratory.

Isabelle Huault considers that today we must respond to one of the most important challenges of this century, the ecological challenge", the President of the University Paris Dauphine supports the initiative of the Chair, partly launched a few years earlier by Jacques Richard, professor emeritus, and Alexandre Rambaud, co-founder of the Chair and associate researcher at the university, by establishing the CARE model of accounting, in strong sustainability, for companies. The development and experimentation of this model will be an important part of the Chair’s program for corporate accounting.

For AgroParisTech, beyond the research dimension and in relation to training, there is the "demonstrator" aspect which is essential in this project. "Demonstrating that ecosystems have a meaning, and that they are essential for everyone" is a major objective for Gilles Trystram, then "integrating them into the functioning of our societies".

Laurent Lucas, pays tribute to Martino Nieddu, former director of the REGARD laboratory, at the origin of the collaboration with the Chair, who died suddenly last year. The Research Director hopes that ecological accounting will be a "signature element" for his university.

LVMH early partner

Sylvie Bénard, Director and founder of LVMH’s environmental division since 1992, was one of the first to support the initiative of the "Ecological Accounting" Partnership Chair and to give priority to concrete results and efficiency in terms of environmental actions, rather than the major commitments made over thirty years, which are often not respected.

Communicating rather than doing? There is no question of the Chair falling into this trap, and that is why all human, intellectual and financial means will be used to best meet the objectives set for the next five years.

"We companies have to play our role, but we have to do it in an enlightened way (...) that is to say, we need concrete things, based on science, based on academics (...) but it’s difficult for us companies because today our stakeholders, companies, associations, banks want to know what we are doing and each one is doing it in its own way".

To illustrate her words, the Environment Director presents her audience with a 500-sheet pad of paper.

"These 500 sheets are the answer we give to an organization that asks us about climate, biodiversity, water (...) you can imagine the work that goes into simply answering this organization, and tell yourself that this is a single organization, and that we receive 20 questionnaires of this type per year, not counting all those who come to see us directly".

Then Sylvie Bénard presents a simple sheet of paper.

"This sheet of paper is the financial balance sheet of LVMH, with it we can know if we are going in the right direction, if everything is in order and make decisions. (...)
The work of this Chair and what I hope to see one day is this, but for the environment."

A partnership chair filled with dreams, ambition and pragmatism

For Hervé Gbego, Director of Sustainable Accounting and co-developer of the CARE accounting model, ecological accounting answers a dream, that of rethinking the world differently and enabling companies to make visible, understand and integrate the impacts of their activities on the Environment.

"Many inventions have emerged because there were sweet dreamers and for me it is today a beautiful dream that is coming true".

Philipe Thievant, Director General of the CDC Biodiversity, calls for pragmatism and caution, but also not to be discouraged by the difficulty of the task entrusted to us all collectively:

"Repairing nature is difficult, but it should not be a pretext for doing nothing (...) it is a question of leading demonstrators in order to identify possible progress in these areas of economic and ecological linkages (...) in a pragmatic way, the question that arises here is how can we finance the safeguarding of biodiversity?".

Ecological accounting, which places Nature as a liability on the balance sheet and which is articulated from the organizational scale to the national scale through that of ecosystems, an area of interaction between several actors where the protection of natural assets becomes a collective issue, could provide part of the solution to this complex problem, at least that is the objective!

For Laurent Benoudiz, President of the Conseil Régional de l’Ordre des Experts Comptables, Paris Île de France, obtaining an international reference system will take time, but it is essential.

"Accounting was invented even before writing was invented (...) it’s the oldest profession in the world."

We confide in the president of the CROEC, before adding that it is also an exceptional measurement tool.

Measuring what binds us to the living and drawing common trajectories for mankind and nature, such is the challenge of this Chair in conjunction with its partners, and for society as a whole.

"The right method doesn’t exist..." P. de Cambourg

For Patrick de Cambourg, Chairman of the Accounting Standards Authority, accounting has an advantage, that of offering a common language, and a main disadvantage, that of being very (too?) conventional in certain aspects, thus not necessarily reflecting reality as well as one would wish.

"Can ecological issues be translated into accounting, extra-accounting or both? (...) There are a lot of methods, is there THE right method? It’s not sure. (...) The fundamental idea is to converge on a generally accepted method (...) in which the words mean the same thing to everyone. "

Patrick de Cambourg congratulates the initiative of the Chair and suggests that any information, such as that which will appear in the accounting ecological balance sheets, will have to respect 7 criteria, the information must thus be faithful (or objective), relevant, comprehensible, comparable, verifiable, issued in due time, connected to other information on the same subject.

The Chair stresses the importance of considering things on several scales and in this sense, the Chair starts off on the right foot by bringing together the players in the organisation (company, association, etc.) up to the national and international level.

UNESCO and the Chair in Ecological Accounting, a common purpose

Meriem Bouamrane, Coordinator of the Man and Biosphere Programme (MAB) at UNESCO, welcomes the Chair in this emblematic place which has been working for 75 years for the preservation of the environment and the maintenance of peace in the world, through education, culture and science. The MAB programme, created nearly 50 years ago, studies the relationship between humankind and nature, notably by creating biosphere reserves throughout the world where people live in the midst of nature and its animal and plant biodiversity.

For Meriem Bouamrane, "the challenge is to (re)create territories of linkage, which associate conservation and development" with this objective shared with the Chair of Collective Management of Ecosystems.

The IPBES report was adopted at UNESCO on May 4. The results are indisputable: biodiversity, particularly that of the oceans, is in sharp decline, and the major causes of this degradation and population collapse are linked to human activities. Meriem Bouamrane believes that the trend can be reversed and the rules of the game changed, and that if Man is often cited as the source of the problem, he can very well take it over and provide the solutions.

"We want to invest in human beings, if they are capable of destroying, they are also capable of preserving, transmitting and acting positively (...) there are many very good examples that make me very optimistic (...) which should (de)show us that it is absolutely possible to transform ourselves, to change things," explains the Specialist and Coordinator of the MAB Programme, who is strongly supporting the Chair’s initiative.

The Chair in Ecological Accounting, an initiative supported by the MTES and the European Commission

Christophe Itier, High Commissioner for the Social and Solidarity Economy at the Ministry of Ecological and Solidarity Transition (MTES) and Daniel Calleja Crespo, Director General for the Environment at the European Commission, seated side by side in front of the large UNESCO audience, express their support for the initiative carried by the Chair.

For Christophe Itier, mentalities have changed profoundly and this type of debate could not have been held with such a diversity of actors just five years ago:

"We need to build a coalition of actors, companies, associations, politicians, academics, investors, we want to put companies at the heart of this ecological and solidarity transition (...) if we want to make capitalism move to make it less destructive of nature and less productive of inequalities, we need to seize the tools of capitalism, and what could be more powerful than accounting for that (...). ...) Announces the High Commissioner before adding: "Know that you are not alone" to support the importance of cooperating in the implementation of projects that include, in essence, all actors in society.

The pivotal times in which we live, Europe’s responsibility in the face of ecological challenges, and the need to integrate the environment into the business model of companies, in order to survive and last, are so many reasons that have prompted the European Commission to support the initiative led by the Chair. Ursula von der Leyen, future President of the Commission, has made the creation of an environmental pact her top priority for the European Union for the coming years.

"We need to integrate natural capital into economic decisions", says Daniel Calleja Crespo, Director of the European Commission’s Environment Directorate-General.

"If accounting remains blind to sustainability, projects that will have a positive impact on the environment will be undervalued and those that, on the contrary, are environmentally degrading, will continue to develop. Business as usual no longer works.
(...) To assess risks, impacts, to survive and to last (...) ecological accounting is essential."

A collective mission, expert head, feet on the ground and a warm heart

Chantal Monvois, General Delegate of the AgroParisTech Foundation and Director of Partnerships at AgroParisTech, closes this inauguration ceremony, recalling that achieving these strong sustainability accounting systems will not be an easy task, but that the ecological urgency, the collective awareness of these issues and the strong will to rethink the world differently for a wide variety of actors, companies, local authorities or politicians, in particular, lead us to believe in it, and strongly suggest that the work provided by this Chair will not be in vain.

To have "an expert head, feet on the ground and a warm heart" is the philosophy of the AgroParisTech Foundation, and certainly this common denominator that binds and will bind each of the actors in this project.

Since every person, physical or moral, has a role to play in this adventure, which goes far beyond the challenge of a single Chair:

For nature and humans to count, for good, ... we’re counting (also) on you!