which arguably explains the accountants' later dominance in management (accompanied, at least in the United Kingdom, by higher social status and greater material rewards [French, 1994]). Their approach is best understood as focused on the development of systems of accountability and responsibility for costs and profits that would provide norms and standards of human performance. These norms and standards could be linked to incentives and internalized by organizational members, from shop-floor workers to top managers, in a reciprocal hierarchy of surveillance, control, and self-control (Ezzamel et al., 1990). The success of the approach lay not in its creation of a new scientific knowledge about costs, but in its power to stimulate successful organizational performance (a new power knowledge) (Hoskin and Macve, 1994). Cost is therefore not an objective engineering datum about a product or process; it is constructed through convention for an economic and social purpose.

There is a continuing tension between the engineers' objective efficiency perspective and the accountants' more subjective economic and behavioral perspective on business activity and on how to control performance. This tension sometimes amounts to hostility (French, 1994). In the context of U.K. pollution control, this tension is focused in the concept of BATNEEC, whereby scientific and technical features are balanced, if not subordinated, within managerial disciplines such as cost accounting. Thus, the U.K. Department of the Environment has been characterized as strong in engineering but not in management disciplines such as accounting and as needing strengthening in these latter skills (Power, 1994).

The final challenge for environmental costing, therefore, is not just to increase the technical sophistication by which environmental factors are traced through to activities, but to construct a new accountability that is linked to real incentives. Only then can environmental performance become as culturally dominant in management for sustainable development as, for the past 150 years or so, financial performance has become in the kind of business management that has largely created environmental problems.


In response to various pressures, businesses have begun to report externally on their environmental policies and performance. The significance of such external reporting depends on the extent of changes in management culture and systems and on how new measures influence management decisions. The greening of accountancy involves a reappraisal of how to identify and measure the relevant costs of processes and products (such as TCA) and a redesign of incentive mechanisms. Through these changes, managerial decisions and corporate behavior may be refocused on the goal of achieving sustainable development, for example by pursuing a viable industrial ecology. Evidence suggests that organizational inertia, including the relative lack of involvement of accountants themselves, inhibits such changes.

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