Environmental Management Accounting within Universities: Current State and Future Potential
Environmental management accounting (EMA)
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AbstractEnvironmental management accounting (EMA) is attracting increased recognition as a management tool that assists in improving financial and environmental performance through enhanced environmental accountability. Various industries have been included in EMA-related research and study, but universities have typically failed to be the focus of the attention. This research studied the experiences of key managers from five universities to explore potential factors influencing the decision to adopt, or not to adopt, EMA within the higher education sector. For the purpose of this study, EMA is defined as the generation, analysis, and use of monetary (or financial) and physical (or non-financial) environment-related information in order to improve organisational financial and environmental performance. The two objectives of this study were to understand current accounting practices for managing major environmental costs, and to identify factors influencing EMA adoption within universities. For the purpose of this study, the major environmental costs referred to are limited to the costs pertaining to the consumption of electricity, water and paper, and the generation of wastes. A case study methodology was followed using semi-structured interviews of key personnel with four different management functions (i.e. environmental management, management accounting, senior management, and heads of academic schools) within each university, and performing content analysis on the transcribed interview data. Specifically for achieving the second research objective, a theoretical framework that considers four theories was embraced to guide the data collection and focus the study. The four theories are contingency theory, institutional theory, legitimacy theory, and stakeholder theory. The findings of the first research objective revealed that there was a general lack of EMA utilisation within the case universities. This was in part due to a perceived lack of appreciation by key personnel of the extent of environmental costs being incurred, but arguably mainly because of the absence of relevant environmental cost information being brought to the attention of senior management. Although environmental sustainability was promoted as important from an environmental management perspective, efforts to improve internal environmental accountability, in particular from an accounting perspective, were still absent. In relation to the second research objective, it was found that five key barriers contributed to this lack of EMA utilisation within the five case universities, and they were attitudinal, financial, informational, institutional, and management barriers. Among the factors that provide further explanations about how each barrier influences EMA adoption, resistance to change, resource constraints, (a lack of) legitimacy considerations, and a lack of environmental responsibility & accountability were found to be strong factors, as they were supported in all of the five cases. Apart from the theoretical extension to this area of research, the results and findings of this study supported the uses and applications of EMA by the higher education sector. Much more can, and should, be done by universities in relation to how they account for the environment. This can provide benefits not only for the sector itself, but also for the environment in which we live.