Accounting for the Circular Economy within Cities



Building upon the contribution of the AAAJ special issue on “Accounting for the Cities” published in 2010, this call for paper focuses on the role that cities play in the social and environmental accounting literature. More specifically, it calls for contributions on the implementation of circular economy practices within the urban context. The call is inspired by and linked to the Horizon 2020 REFLOW Project (constRuctive mEtabolic processes For material flows in urban and peri-urban environments across Europe, see currently underway.

The research project REFLOW sets out to offer a new approach to circular economy (CE) in urban areas. The vision of REFLOW is to develop circular and regenerative cities through the re-localisation of production and the re-configuration of material flows at different scales. More specifically, it will use Fab Labs and maker spaces as catalysts of a systemic change in urban and peri-urban environments, which enable, visualize and regulate “four freedoms”: free movement of materials, people, (technological) knowledge and commons, in order to reduce materials consumption, maximize multifunctional use of (public) spaces and envisage regenerative practices.  REFLOW will provide best practices aligning market and government needs in order to create favourable conditions for the public and private sector to adopt CE practices. Active citizen involvement and systemic change are needed to re-think the current approach. Concretely, REFLOW will create new CE business models within 6 pilot cities: Amsterdam, Berlin, Cluj-Napoca, Milan, Paris and Vejle and assess their social, environmental and economic impact. In each of the pilots, citizens will be involved in developing and testing circular products, blockchain / distributed ledger technology, and governance models for their own city. REFLOW’s ambition is to offer tools and guidelines that other cities can adopt in order to become circular, regenerative, and  reach the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Cities are relevant sites where the challenges of circular economy are defined, implemented and produce tangible effects on the population’s daily lives (Borch & Kornberger, 2015; Lapsley et al., 2010). The role of cities as loci for the definition of various strategies and policies has been developed as part of the accounting literature, for example in the transportation policies (see Stafford et al., 2020). For this reason, the exploration of the role of cities in defining how circular economy is constructed and implemented is critical, especially considering the multiple types of actors that collaborate within these sites (Rutland & Aylett, 2008).

The focus on the definition and implementation of circular economy directly connects to the role of calculative practices in the definition and mediation of uncertain scenarios (Miller & O’Leary, 2007). In this sense, accounting has been recognised a role in the implementation of sustainable practices in general and of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular (Bebbington & Larrinaga, 2014; Bebbington & Unerman, 2018). Thus, there is a role for accounting in mediating the implementation of sustainable and circular economy practices within cities, including making the cities calculable (Lapsley et al., 2010). This approach is in line with the general process of establishment of financial performance measurement and reporting within the public sector by financial performance metrics (Arnaboldi et al., 2015; Bruno & Lapsely, 2018). The effects of introducing these approaches to calculating means that the cities become comparable, measurable and governable (see Miller, 2001).

The role of cities in the development of economically sustainable circular economy practices is a noteworthy and emerging theme in the accounting research (Parvez et al., 2019). Arguably, there is potential for relevant accounting research “around the estimation of costs of shifting to a green agenda […] which offer a platform for citizens to engage with city managers, to renew and stimulate cities in addressing [these] fundamental challenges” (Lapsley & Miller, 2019, p. 2238). A focus on cities as sites for the implementation of circular economy practices, implies an attention to participatory management and governance allowing for citizens to be actively engaged in the definition of a shared vision of circular economy (Frantzeskaki et al., 2018). In fact, the economic feasibility of circular economy within cities depends on the actors involved, and on the scalability of the solutions proposed (Borch & Kornberger, 2015).

For this reason, there is the need to deepen the studies on the role of social and environmental accounting within cities and their role in this setting (Steccolini, 2019) involving the engagement of researchers not for the implementation of theory, but also for its development (Adams & Larrinaga, 2019; Christensen et al., 2018).

This special issue aims to bring to the fore the multiple roles accounting play in the “various discourse communities” (Czarniawska, 2010) that interact within cities.

Therefore, to explore the role accounting plays in defining and implementing the circular economy in cities, a list of submission themes may include, but are not limited to:

  • How are practices of accounting and accountability for circular economy defined within cities?
  • How are issues such as circular economy, SDGs or sustainability accounted for within cities?
  • Which processes and actors define the performance of the circular economy within cities?
  • How are citizens involved in defining circular economy practices and policies?
  • How are cities affected by participative governance models and circular economy practices?
  • What is the role of grassroots organisations (e.g. FabLabs) and other forms of networks between citizens in defining and implementing accounting practices for circular economy within cities?

Submissions are welcomed from a variety of theoretical, methodological, and disciplinary perspectives, as long as they are closely in line with the topic of this special issue.


Submissions Information

Submissions can be made via the AAAJ ScholarOne platform.

Deadline for submissions: 1st November 2022.


Guest Editors

Cristiana Parisi, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, [email protected]

Johannes Dumay, Macquarie Business School, Macquarie University, Australia, [email protected]

James Hazelton, Macquarie Business School, Macquarie University, Australia, [email protected]

Laura Corazza, University of Turin, Italy, [email protected]

The Guest Editorial welcome queries on potential submissions.



Adams, C., & Larrinaga, C. (2019). Progress: engaging with organisations in pursuit of improved sustainability accounting and performance. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal32(8), 2367–2394.

Arnaboldi, M., Lapsely, I., & Steccolini, I. (2015). Performance Management in the Public Sector: The Ultimate Challenge. Financial Accountability & Management31(1), 1–20.

Bebbington, J., & Larrinaga, C. (2014). Accounting and sustainable development: An exploration. Accounting, Organizations and Society39(6), 395–413.

Bebbington, J., & Unerman, J. (2018). Achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals An enabling role for accounting research. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal31(1), 2–24.

Borch, C., & Kornberger, M. (Eds.). (2015). Urban Commons: Rethinking the City. Routledge.

Bruno, A., & Lapsely, I. (2018). The emergence of an accounting practice. The fabrication of a government accrual accounting system. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal31(4), 1045–1066.

Christensen, M., Greiling, D., & Christiaens, J. (2018). Governmental accounting practitioners: cardigan removed, research agenda revealed. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal31(4), 1026–1044.

Czarniawska, B. (2010). Translation impossible? Accounting for a city project. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal23(3), 420–437.

Frantzeskaki, N., van Steenbergen, F., & Stedman, R. (2018). Sense of place and experimentation in urban sustainability transitions: the Resilience Lab in Carnisse, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Sustainability Science13, 1045–1059.

Lapsley, I., & Miller, P. (2019). Transforming the public sector: 1998–2018. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal32(8), 2211–2252.

Lapsley, I., Miller, P., & Panozzo, F. (2010). No Title. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal23(3), 305–324.

Miller, P. (2001). Governing by numbers: Why calculative practices matter. Social Research68(2), 379–396.

Miller, P., & O’Leary, T. (2007). Mediating instruments and making markets: Capital budgeting, science and the economy. Accounting, Organizations and Society32(7–8), 701–734.

Parvez, M., Hazelton, J., & Guthrie, J. (2019). Greenhouse gas emissions disclosure by cities: the expectation gap. Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal10(4), 685–709.

Rutland, T., & Aylett, A. (2008). The work of policy: Actor networks, governmentality, and local action on climate change in Portland, Oregon. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space26(4), 627–646.

Stafford, A., Stapleton, P., Wei, H., & Williams, K. (2020). The imaginary of the city versus messy realities. Financial Accountability & Management, 1–17.

Steccolini, I. (2019). Accounting and the post-new public management Re-considering publicness in accounting research. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal32(1), 255–279.