The Chair

Context and issues

Socio-environmental accounting is increasingly becoming a key socioeconomic issue, particularly in the context of ecological transition, whether at the level of organizations, territories or states.

In France, a number of regulations already require a number of companies to make an extra-financial performance statement in their annual report and, in general, encourage greater communication on these aspects.

The issue of socio-environmental accounting is thus highlighted in the recent report (January 2018) of the HighLevel Expert Group on Sustainable Finance (HLEG), which recommends that the European Union update its guidelines on corporate financial statements to include extra-financial information.
Similarly, recommendation No. 10 of the Notat/Senard report ("The company, an object of collective interest") proposes to: "Undertake a concerted study on the conditions that accounting standards must meet in order to serve the general interest and the consideration of social and environmental issues".

In this context, several models and approaches to corporate socio-environmental accounting exist and are emerging, but they remain extremely controversial in their ability to address a real ecological transformation of companies, to allow adaptation to a renewal of corporate governance and to articulate the extra-financial issues of the company with those of the territories and states.

In particular, the proposed models are generally conceived in a "weak sustainability" vision, with little scientific biophysical basis, disconnected from the reality of the ecosystems and societal systems in which companies live.

Beyond the perimeter of a given company, there is a major need to develop new accounts at the scale of collective ecosystem management (taken in the broad sense: a lake, a wetland, a watershed, an ecological corridor, a bird population), where the achievement of measurable ecological performance is at stake.

In fact, compliance with ecological limits and thresholds and the achievement of results in improving the state of a given ecosystem goes beyond the company’s sole scope of responsibility and action. The creation or destruction of ecological value results from interactions between the company and other private or public organisations with often divergent interests and strategies, which impact the ecosystem or contribute in a differentiated and often uncoordinated manner to its management.

The aim of ecosystem-centric accounting is therefore to operationalise the preservation of the natural capital of our territories while recognising the diversity of the ecological issues involved and the contexts of action. This recent field of research and innovation is based in particular on an interdisciplinary dialogue between accounting and conservation sciences and on the experimentation of an accounting model specifically designed to equip the inter-organizational management of ecosystems.

As far as national accounting is concerned, the main indicators of wealth - and in particular GDP (gross domestic product) - appear today to be unable to reflect changes in the ecological stakes of our societies. Thus, the notion of a country’s wealth has evolved considerably over the past few years, leading France, in particular, through the law of 13 April 2015, to consider new indicators to measure wealth in the definition of its public policies. This follows in particular the recommendations of the Report of the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress (known as the "Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Report" published in 2008).
In this context, the Ministry in charge of the Environment and national and international statistical agencies are working on the development of new national accounting standards. This work is taking place in particular within the framework of the UN System of Economic and Environmental Accounting (SEEA), which is based on the concepts, classifications and definitions of the systems of national accounts. These new tools will play an important role in determining future macroeconomic sustainability criteria. It therefore seems important for the Chair to grasp the respective scopes as well as the limitations of these initiatives in a context where there are alternative visions of what sustainability refers to and where the Chair advocates a strong sustainability approach.

The aim of the Chair is therefore to enable extensive research, shared in particular by its partners, in order to initiate responses to these issues, and thus to make possible a genuine ecological transition with strong sustainability of organizations, territories and countries, in an articulation ranging from the company to society as a whole.

Presentation

Accounting framing

This Chair aims to work simultaneously on the accounting of organizations (especially companies), ecosystem accounting and national accounting, allowing an articulation between these different levels and approaches, as well as a dialogue between different disciplines (accounting, economics, ecosystem management, etc.).
This articulation tends to orient the Chair, at the organizational level, towards a positioning in terms of external accounting, i.e. accounting systems oriented towards external information, which includes the extension of general accounting to environmental issues.

Conceptual framing

The Chair is part of a vision of so-called "strong" sustainability (as opposed to "weak" sustainability). Strong sustainability requires not allowing a priori substitutability between financial, natural and human capital. More broadly, it refers to the idea of certain needs for environmental preservation.
The role of accounting systems as vectors of strong sustainability must therefore be conceived, hence the name "ecological accounting".

What is not ecological accounting in strong sustainability according to the chair:

  • Putting a price on nature, corresponding to the services and productivity for human beings that nature would provide;
  • Taking into account only the positive (opportunities) or negative (risks) impacts that the environment has on society or business ("outside-in" vision);
  • To represent the environment as natural capital - if one subscribes to the use of this term - composed of assets - whether substitutable or non-substitutable;
  • To propose a new way of creating simple financial opportunities.

What is ecological accounting in strong sustainability according to the Chair:

  • Evaluating the costs of actions needed to achieve potentially dynamic and evolving ecological objectives;
    • These objectives of good ecological or conservation status are defined on the basis of scientific and political conventions;
    • This good ecological status allows for potential compensation, based solely on a principle of non-anthropocentric biophysical equivalence and justified in the light of scientific ecological standards.
  • Understanding natural capital - or rather natural capitals - as the recognition of the capital character of the natural entities to be preserved and an obligation to preserve them;
  • Taking into account the negative or positive impacts that society or business has on the environment ("inside-out" vision);
  • To design a common language to initiate a new dialogue between the actors of the society concerning: the relation to the environment, the costs associated with it and the potential new individual and collective consents to be paid;
  • To bring out a way of creating new sources of income, based on this new dialogue, by rethinking the relationship between society and business and nature.

This chair therefore aims to be a multi-stakeholder platform (academic, professional, institutional, etc.) for the development, promotion and experimentation of ecological accounting in strong sustainability.

Objectives of the project

Develop, model, promote and experiment with strong sustainability accounting, to put accounting systems at the service of an ecological transition.

Develop

New accounting methods for an ecological transition

Accompany

By means of accounting systems, all forms of organisations in their development strategies aiming at a strong sustainability objective

Raising awareness and convincing

Of the importance of accounting in the ecological transition and its ability to integrate strong sustainability

Being a platform

For exchanges, animation and communication for the actors interested in research on these issues

The team

Co-responsible for the Chair

Harold Levrel > Professor at AgroParisTech (SESG Department), Researcher at CIRED. Co-head of the Chair. In charge of the "national" research axis.
Alexandre Rambaud > Lecturer at AgroParisTech (SESG Department), researcher at CIRED, associate researcher at Paris-Dauphine University (DRM - M-Lab). Co-head of the Chair. In charge of the "organizational" research axis.

Clément Feger > Lecturer at AgroParisTech, associate researcher at the University of Montpellier. In charge of the "ecosystem-centered" research axis.

Chair coordinator > Aurélien Oosterlinck

Doctoral students funded by the Chair >
Clément Surun : Articulation of ecological debts and claims from the organization to the national level > More details on the project
Valentine Prévot : Study and experimentation of the CARE model at a winery case study > Study and experimentation of the CARE model at a winery case study > More details on the project
Clément Boyer : Development of the CARE (Comprehensive Accounting in Respect of Ecology) accounting model and ecosystem-centric accounting: Case studies of agricultural farms > More details on the project

Adrien Comte, Associate Post-Doctoral Fellow, MAIA (Mapping and Assessment for Integrated ecosystem Accounting) project; Principal researcher, ESGAP project > More details on the project

Academic partners

Supporting partners