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Title: Sustainability reporting in the Netherlands : a case of institutionalisation, commensuration and justification
Author: Bommel, Koen van
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2013
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In this dissertation I offer explanations for how sustainability reporting has developed from a peripheral practice into a more widely accepted and adopted one. I qualitatively analyse the history of sustainability reporting over the last 25 years by focusing on the Dutch sustainability reporting field. I draw on a combination of 94 semi-structured interviews and a collection of secondary data sources. Overall I question the organisation-centric, static, ahistorical and instrumental accounts that explain sustainability reporting based on a business case, managing legitimacy or stakeholder expectations. Instead, I draw on, and contribute to, various literatures (most notably institutional entrepreneurship, the garbage can model, commensuration and sociology of worth) to explain the more dynamic and historical aspects of sustainability reporting as a complex practice developing in a pluralistic institutional environment. First, I find that sustainability reporting’s institutionalisation was a muddled process in which serendipity played an important role in enabling collective action of distributed actors. I contribute to the institutional entrepreneurship literature by questioning the role of the heroic individual institutional entrepreneur endowed with a great deal of strategic agency. Instead, I draw on insights from the garbage can model and nuance these assumptions by stipulating the enabling role of historical contingencies and the collective processes involved in enacting these. Second, my study adds to our understanding of the dynamics of commensuration. I find that commensuration transformed sustainability reporting from a values-based to a value-based practice while it also changed from environmental to triple bottom line to integrated reporting. I chart various dimensions of commensuration and explain the process driving the development of these dimensions. In particular, shifts in the dominant dimensions of commensuration over time can be explained by emerging pathologies that drive the development of the succeeding phase. These pathologies emerge because of instances of means-ends disconnection, professional insulation and cultural contestation. Third, I analyse integrated reporting and focus on the possibility of, and impediments to, reconciling its multiple logics of valuation, or orders of worth, in order to forge a legitimate compromise. I find that a successful compromise based on finding a common interest, avoiding clarification and maintaining ambiguity is problematic to attain as integrated reporting risks being captured by investors and accountants privileging a market/industrial worth at the expense of a civic/green worth. This leads to a local private arrangement rather than a durable legitimate compromise. This contributes to unpacking the process through which a complex new accounting practice in a pluralistic environment gains legitimacy. In addition to these respective contributions, more generally I show how sustainability reporting is neither just a corporate smokescreen nor a panacea for corporate sustainability. It is a practice that is a consequence of its modern rational environment, yet at the same time constitutive of this very institutional environment as it helps to further elaborate and institutionalise sustainability (reporting) as an economy entity. Fully realising and acting upon the implications of this pivotal role of an accounting practice such as sustainability reporting may help policy makers and practitioners move towards a more sustainable world.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council (Great Britain) ; Warwick Business School
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: HD28 Management. Industrial Management