Governance, Accountability, and Sustainable Development Goals
Since the launch of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a wide range of public and private actors and civil society organizations have progressively put pressure on firms to address sustainability challenges (George et al., 2016). The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which require bringing together the economic, social, and environmental performance of a firm, have begun to be included in the strategies of many firms (Aras and Crowther, 2009; George et al., 2012). Business practices are advancing from the shareholder value perspective to the need “to make intertemporal trade-offs to safeguard intergenerational equity” (Bansal and DesJardine, 2014, p. 70).
Correspondingly, a fundamental issue for business studies concerns the need to enlarge the understanding of governance mechanisms and accounting practices necessary for addressing sustainability challenges and effectively enacting SDGs (Arjaliès and Bansal, 2018; Bebbington and Unerman, 2020). Indeed, firms’ propensity to tackle sustainability challenges is often motivated by shareholder activism (Goranova and Ryan, 2014) and managerial discretion (Aragon-Correa et al., 2004) rather than by the authentic will to expand the extent of corporate accountability (Dillard and Vinnari, 2019). Additionally, firms typically evaluate their sustainability efforts by relying on disparate voluntary regulations (Howard-Grenville, 2021). Thus, firms comply with various sustainability standards and employ blurred indicators and scores. In this circumstance, a “standards market” for sustainability emerges and questions their usefulness (Barkemeyer et al., 2015; Christmann and Taylor, 2006; Reinecke et al., 2012).
The focus on sustainability demands that firms be responsible for their social and environmental impact, thereby bringing the debate back to what accountability actually means (especially in terms of sustainability) and how governance mechanisms and accounting practices (broadly defined) are related to its meaning. Thus, we call for papers that investigate the role of governance mechanisms and accounting practices in formulating and enacting firms’ strategies for sustainability as well as the evolution of this role after the acceleration of regulations and societal pressures on sustainable development has questioned ideas of corporate accountability. Scholars will take advantage of research on governance mechanisms and accounting practices to disentangle how firms define, construct, and implement sustainability at a corporate level and through their partnerships (as suggested by the 17th SDG).
Extant research has investigated governance mechanisms to align firms’ strategies and organizational processes with sustainability challenges (Hussain et al., 2018; Montiel et al., 2021; PwC, 2019). Raising the awareness of the owners toward sustainability issues and their source of legitimacy, adopting a corporate code of conduct, and creating specific management roles for sustainability (e.g., Chiefs of Sustainability Officer) are all key examples of how firms are looking for governance solutions toward sustainability. The time seems mature to promote broader research on both governance mechanisms and internal actors through which firms drive sustainability initiatives ranging from satisfying shareholders’ interest to contributing to organizational resilience, empowering employees, and socially impacting local communities (Aguilera et al., 2021; Aguilera et al., 2022; Berrone et al., 2022; Ortiz‐de‐Mandojana and Bansal, 2016; Surroca et al., 2013).
Furthermore, we call for research on new forms of stakeholder participation (Bell et al., 2012; Mazaj et al., 2022) and accounting practices (Bebbington et al., 2021) that take pluralism seriously (Dillard and Vinnari, 2019) and even include the voice of nonhuman actors as stakeholders (Quattrone, 2022). Of course, this affects how firms communicate with external parties through their corporate reporting and construct sustainability internally. The production process of both sustainability-related measures and reports can give rise to unfolding internal discourses about sustainability (Busco et al., 2018) and influence patterns of accountability (Lai et al., 2008). Accordingly, we call for studies that problematize the capacity of accounting to enact sustainability imperatives, such as those imposed by the SDGs (Aras and Crowther, 2009; Bebbington and Unerman, 2020), by, for instance, facing the complexity of the measurement logic (Quattrone, 2022) and driving organizational change (Garcia-Torea et al., 2023).
Sustainability through Partnerships
We observe that firms have intensified their participation in partnerships with public actors and civil society organizations to be more involved in decision-making processes for setting sustainability standards and, together with them, trace a shared path toward sustainability as required by the 17th SDG “Partnerships for the Goals” (Calton et al., 2013; Montiel et al., 2021). Moving from corporate sustainability to “sustainability through partnerships” poses new challenges. We call for papers that, by investigating partnerships for sustainability involving multiple actors from private, public, and civil sectors (Lumpkin and Bacq, 2019), explore the logics that move firms toward sustainability and the cognitive schemas, social values, and practices underlying their actions (Doh et al., 2019). Finally, by recognizing the role of accounting in shaping “forms of power, rationales, and practices in a supply chain” (Spence and Rinaldi, 2014, p. 1), we call for studies that investigate how CEOs frame and employ accounting practices to promote SDGs within their partnerships. This fills a gap in the literature that depicted sustainability metrics and practices by examining firm-level performance but has overlooked the more extensive system in which firms operate (Bansal and DesJardine, 2014).
List of topics
We are interested in both conceptual and empirical papers (with quantitative and qualitative methods) and enthusiastically encourage studies that integrate theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches from diverse disciplines within the business field (Zahra and Newey, 2009). Contributions may address, but are not limited to, the following topics:
- What is the influence of institutional context in shaping the effectiveness of governance mechanisms for sustainability?
- What do corporate governance mechanisms and rule systems stimulate managers to reach strategic goals consistent with sustainable requirements?
- What does it mean for a firm to be accountable for sustainability in the context of SDGs?
- How can accounting practices facilitate the enactment of SDGs?
- What is the role of accounting practices in fostering new forms of accountability for sustainable development?
- What is the interplay between corporate governance and governance through partnerships for sustainability?
- What logics move different actors in partnerships for sustainability to act toward sustainability challenges?
- How can actors deal with diverging interests in partnerships for sustainability to share a common vision?
- Could actors in partnerships for sustainability operate at both global and local levels to reach the SDGs? What are the potential challenges?
Pasquale Massimo Picone,
University of Palermo, Italy,
University of Palermo, Italy,
University of Palermo, Italy,
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