Research

My interests lie in Accounting for Sustainable Development. I study professions (sustainability CFOs, carbon accountants), practices (in SMEs and multinationals) and innovations (integrated reporting, carbon accounting, biodiversity accounting, triple capital accounting) that measure the environment. 

I focus on qualitative methods, with a preference to non-participant or participant observation and intervention research. Whenever possible I extend my field studies over a long period to be able to look at processes. For example, I have been able to study the process of carbon accounting in an MNE over a three-year period, and was able to do more interviews two years later. I have just concluded an intervention research on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) accounting and reporting that lasted 18 months. 

I am passionate about linking research to practice and teaching. Therefore, I often focus on research that I can directly link with practice (practitioners, professions, students and the general public) in different ways:

I look out for intervention research opportunities where I participate in accounting for sustainable development innovations (such as the SDG accounting and reporting project) directly, and write research about it 

I seek financing from professional bodies, and write reports about my research that reach out to practitioners

I seek financing from public bodies (such as ADEME and the ANC) and write reports that impacts policy-making

I write case studies from research for students to study

I write opinion pieces and articles from my research to reach out to practitioners

Past & Current Research

How my research contributes to Accounting for Sustainable Development

In my PhD, I focused on studying environmental accounting from an innovation point of view. The first paper, published in Critical Perspectives on Accounting, identified and analyzed the role of (French) elites in the making of the tool “life cycle assessment”, a tool that is currently widely used and considered the basis for all environmental accounting of products. The second paper looked at the crucial period of (non) adoption of a particular tool within an organization, and argues that internal legitimacy is the foundation for organizational legitimacy. The third paper works on the implementation of a tool within an organization, and argues that collective entrepreneurship is key for a tool to be implemented, and analyzes the role of accountants in that matter. 

I also wrote a paper with Michelle Rodrigue and Diane-Laure Arjaliès on the adoption of the innovation “integrated reporting” within an organization, arguing that adoption was possible as IR is considered a “mythical innovation”. We develop the conditions under which adoption was rendered possible. This paper has been published at Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal in May 2018. 

Following up on this stream of research, I was able to enter a field at a time where a group of environmental consultants, NGO and IT consultants were in process of building a water accounting tool in the South of France. A colleague and myself were authorized to attend monthly meetings for a period of 18 months and collected over a 1000 pages of data.

Innovations

Standardization is a crucial step of the innovation process, where a particular tool or methodology is being “black-boxed”. Social and environmental accounting is particularly driven by privately governed bodies (the GRI, the SASB as examples), but also standardized directly by business organizations (Kering, the Crown Estate), the Big 4 (KPMG, Ernst & Young) or new comers such as True Price. 

Roger Berquier, Isabelle Martinez and myself have analyzed the role that marginalized actors (SMEs) can take in a particular standardization process where their voices are rarely heard. This paper is under review at Critical Perspectives on Accounting. 

I have also analyzed the procedural legitimacy of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board in a book chapter (published in 2018). 

Standardization

Professions

I was able to witness through my work on carbon accounting innovations that a group of actors in France were building a nascent profession of “carbon accounting professionals”. 

This rose my interest into how new professions tackling “grand challenges” (Ferraro et al., 2015) could come to being. I have pursed that work with a colleague whose interest lies in professions, with a second paper trying to understand how this same profession was emerging globally. 

I have conducted a project with Claire Garnier and Diane-Laure Arjaliès on Sustainability CFOs, for which we have published a report (IMA, August 2018).

My first focus in research was on carbon accounting (studied in an MNE), and I have led a financed research project on carbon accounting in SMEs. I have been able to work on water accounting (publication in Advances in Environmental Accounting and Management, 2018) twice as well. Currently, I have also developed a stream of research in biodiversity, with a paper in Contemporary Accounting Research (2022) and a co-guest editing of the special issue “Biodiversity and Natural Capital” in Business, Strategy and the Environment (2022).

Environmental focus: carbon, water and biodiversity

Theoretical contributions to Accounting for sustainable development has rarely been studied from an innovation perspective.

Social and environmental accounting (SEA) innovations are often institutionalized but scarcely diffused and adopted; therefore it is interesting to investigate why. Indeed, there is a need to understand the potential supporting, or lack of support from infrastructure, regulations or user demand (skills to used) (Brown & Dillard, 2013) for SEA innovations. Furthermore, studying accounting for sustainable development as innovations allows understanding how some innovations are more “incremental” in nature, understanding the lock-ins and tight links between some innovations and the current “regime”, and how they could be “unlocked” (Brown & Dillard, 2013).

Additionally, Bell and Hoque (2012) challenge researchers to critically assess the inertia created by existing accounting structures, processes and techniques and mainstream those conversations that provide challenges to the status quo. Looking at accounting for sustainable development as innovations allows looking at the spaces they are built in, the networks they do or could depend on to develop, and the technologies they must compete with in the current regime (Brown & Dillard, 2013). Analyzing accounting for sustainable development as innovations allow considering for many dimensions (technical, cultural, behavioural, policy, infrastructure) and different levels (institutions/organizational field, the organization and the practices) which contributes to our understanding of how accounting can or might contribute to sustainability transitions. There is a need to understand how certain ways of posing general problems (the environmental crisis, the social crisis) comes to attain the status of self-evidence; or why it doesn’t, and reciprocally, how it is that particular calculative technologies come to be seen as the appropriate way to solve these particular problems (Miller, 1991). Moreover, studying accounting for sustainable development as innovations is firmly entrenched in the view that accounting can be changed (and should evolve), and therefore that we cannot mistake “contingent accounting ideas, practices and institutions, local in space and time, as self-evident, universal and necessary” (Gomes et al., 2011).

Moreover, I introduced new lenses such as institutional work, to the accounting for sustainable development field. Institutional work emphasizes the role of actors, albeit a wide range of them which contribute in central or supportive roles to the development of innovations (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006). Moreover, this stream of research has sought to understand better the strategic forms of actions as purposive actions of individuals and organizations aimed at creating, maintaining and disrupting institutions (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006), acknowledging that one enabling condition for institutional change is a higher-level mastery of certain activities involved in change implementation (Battilana et al., 2009). This followed the worked by Oliver (1991; 1992) in bringing attention to the possibility of strategic responses and strategic behaviours of organizations in response to institutional processes affecting them, thereby recognising active agency. Hampel et al. (2017) have recently called to use institutional work to study how actors tackle “grand challenges” (Ferarro et al. 2015). This concept goes well with both the study of innovations and the standardization process.

Theoretical contribution: institutional work

Empirical contributions

On the professions side, there has been a focus on understanding the (often negative) perceptions of accountants on sustainable development, and only on rare occasions (Renaud, 2014; Power, 1997; O’Dwyer et al., 2011), the focus has been on new professions – or change-makers. Thereby, the work that I have developed around new professions (carbon accountants) and “sustainability CFOs” is opening new avenues for research on “actors” in accounting for sustainable development.

Moreover, we introduced a new field in our financed study of carbon accounting in SMEs, as SMEs have rarely been analyzed in accounting for sustainable development research. 

Although participant observation is not a new technique (Spradley, 1980), my work is one of the first researches in accounting for sustainable development to use this technique (including an intervention research recently completed). Contrary to some critical accounting researchers which research environmental accounting from the “outside”, I believe, like Adams and Larrinaga-Gonzalez  (2007), that engaged research is a better methodological approach to studying accounting for sustainable development. To obtain better understandings of how accounting for sustainable development functions in practice, more field studies must bring “the messy world of organizations closer to the reader” (Ahrens & Dent, 1998).

Methodological contributions