- Building from the bottom, inspired from the top: Accounting for sustainability and the Environment Agency
- Book title
- Accounting for sustainability: practical insights
- Pages (from-to)
- London: Earthscan
- Document type
- Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB)
- Amsterdam Business School Research Institute (ABS-RI)
If you were looking for a good example of accounting for sustainability in the UK, a sensible place to start would be the Environment Agency. As well as being responsible for the licensing, regulation and enforcement of environmental protection legislation in England and Wales, it is tasked with transforming businesses and public-sector organizations into more sustainable operations. There are high levels of expertise in sustainable development and environmental protection across the organization, including board members and accounting staff. The Environment Agency has been awarded UK Greenest Organization 2009, won many awards for its environmental practices, including the pension fund, and has published a number of reports on environmental reporting. Unlike many large multinational corporations, there is no glossy sustainability report, dripping with good intentions, carefully worded mission statements, full of self-praise, high on narrative, low on evidence, with selected stories of good practice. Instead, the Environment Agency includes a four-page sustainability accounting and reporting appendix in its Annual Report and Accounts, detailing key environmental performance data and the financial costs associated with these impacts. It would be misleading to assume that these four pages within the Annual Report are the total extent of the accounting for sustainability work undertaken in the Environment Agency. Digging deeper into the website uncovers a number of important initiatives, potential best practice operations and valuable lessons for other organizations attempting to account for their sustainability impacts. Some of these practices have been part of the Environment Agencyâ€™s management systems since its inception in 1996 and some even predate the Environment Agency, having been part of the organizations that were merged to create the Environment Agency (e.g. environment reporting from the National Rivers Authority since 1987).1 The Environment Agencyâ€™s environmental accounting practices have been built carefully from the bottom, underpinned by careful, robust data collection, management and reporting at all relevant organizational levels, and focus on negative environmental impacts. It concentrates on the rather unglamorous, but critical, end of the accounting cycle and is working systematically to solve a number of problems (e.g. working with suppliers to provide physical details, breakdown of costs on invoices, capturing resource use in expense forms or department returns, educating staff in their environmental impact, and maintaining commitment to reducing their negative environmental impact). Senior managers and board members appreciate the need for alignment between organizational outcomes, activities, culture, performance measurement, resource use and costs. Paul Leinster, chief executive, summed this up as â€˜wanting to maximize the environmental outcomes per pound of fundingâ€™. The next section of this chapter provides background information on the Environment Agency. This is followed by an overview of the Environment Agencyâ€™s environmental management systems and strategy and its approach to accounting for sustainability. A more detailed description and evaluation of how it accounts for and manages staff travel-related impacts follows, together with examples of other environmental accounting and performance measurement. A discussion of the impact of The Princeâ€™s Accounting for Sustainability Project (A4S) in the context of the Environment Agency is provided and the chapter concludes with observations on the key lessons that can be learned from the Environment Agencyâ€™s environmental accounting practices and its pilot implementation of the HM Treasury guidance, adapted for use from the Connected Reporting Framework (CRF).
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