University Of Tasmania

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Counting nature: some implications of quantifying environmental issues in corporate reports

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 07:58 authored by Leanne MorrisonLeanne Morrison, Trevor WilmshurstTrevor Wilmshurst, Sonia Shimeld

Purpose: This paper aims to examine the role numbers play in corporate environmental reporting. To deeply examine the ontological meanings of enumeration in the context of nature, the histories of number and accounting are explored. Some key tropes emerge from these histories, namely, distancing and control.

Design/methodology/approach: To explore some of the implications of quantifying nature, three years of environmental reports of ten companies from the ASX200 are analysed through a Barthsian lens. Examples of enumerating nature are highlighted and explored in terms of what this means for the corporate relationship with nature. This study has focussed on some specific aspects of nature that are commonly counted in corporate environmental reporting: carbon, energy, water, biodiversity and waste. This study explores how monetisation and obfuscation are used and how this informs the myth that nature is controllable.

Findings: This study finds that quantifying nature constructs a metaphorical distance between the company and the natural world which erodes the sense of connection associated with an authentic care for nature. These findings are critical in light of the detrimental impact of corporate activity on the natural world. The reports themselves, while promoted as a tool to help mitigate damage to the natural environment, are implicitly perpetuating its harm.

Research limitations/implications: Given the extent to which companies are responsible for environmental damage and the potential capacity embedded in corporate communications, better understanding the implications of quantifying nature could powerfully instigate a new but necessary approach to nature.

Originality/value: The insights of this paper are relevant to those aiming to improve the underpinning approaches used in corporate environmental reporting. This paper provides new understandings of the ways quantitative expression of environmental values constructs the myth that nature is controllable.


Publication title

Meditari Accountancy Research








Emerald Publishing Limited

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

© 2022 Emerald Publishing Limited.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Other environmental management not elsewhere classified