Ethics and sustainability accounting unit


In the past accounting has often been seen as an activity solely concerned with finance, measurement and rules. This has certainly been the core of the role of the accountant in practice. However in a world concerned with global warming, water and resource shortages and decreasing biodiversity, not to mention human suffering and a disavowal of basic human rights in many parts of the world, there is an increasing role for accountants to play.

Courseware slide - Ethics and Sustainability Accounting.

As long ago as 1987 the Brundtland Report to the United Nations called for a more sustainable future through sustainable development which it defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. In the twenty plus years since the report more and more organizations around the globe have become 'sustainability' aware. There has been a huge growth in corporate social responsibility and organizations are, for a variety of reasons, keen to measure the benefits accruing from their CSR activities and to report on their activities.

Accountants, and management accountants in particular, are key participants in both these areas. Providing information for decision makers is a core activity for management accountants and developing key performance indicators and producing pertinent management reports are part and parcel of their raison d'etre. In a world urgently looking for sustainable development it is time for accountants to step up to the plate.

This course explores sustainability reporting, stakeholder engagement, full cost accounting and organizational change in the light of sustainability. It also visits ethical theory with a view to understanding why individuals and subsequently organizations act the way they do and what this might mean for sustainability.

Beyond this the course content and assessment strategy has been designed to encourage you to develop your research and presentation skills. You are encouraged to develop and present coherent arguments in the form of written work and a video presentation.


This course aims to:

  • Investigate worldviews underlying ethical behaviour,
  • Explore the terrain occupied by sustainability accounting, and
  • Develop your personal academic and professional skills.

More specifically to:

  • Categorize theoretical perspectives on ethics;
  • Assess the ethical underpinnings of the free market economy, and
  • Appraise the ethical framework underlying the accounting profession (in the UK).


  • Review the history and practice of sustainability reporting,
  • Consider critiques of current practice and reflect on possible futures for sustainability reporting,
  • Investigate the extent of stakeholder engagement and dialogue,
  • Discuss organizational reasons for adopting sustainability practices,
  • Investigate and appraise the techniques of full cost accounting, and
  • Evaluate sustainability as a trigger for change.


  • Develop data collection and analysis skills,
  • Develop reflective skills, and
  • Develop reporting and presentational skills.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:

  1. Appraise in the light of ethical theory and professional practice, and with particular reference to the accounting function, the ethical stance of an organization.
  2. Critically analyse the social and environmental reporting of an organization comparing organizational practice with current standards and practices.
  3. Assess organizational sustainability policy through the medium of stakeholder, legitimacy and associated theories.
  4. Appraise an organization's approach to sustainability and develop your personal academic and professional skills.

Reading list

The recommended texts for this unit are:

  • McPhail, K and Walters, D, 2009, Accounting and Business Ethics, published by Routledge
  • Unerman, J, Bebbington, J and O'Dwyer B, 2007, Sustainability Accounting and Accountability, published by Routledge

These texts, along with all other additional reading referenced throughout the learning unit, are available via the Manchester Metropolitan University digital library. Students enrolled on the programme will have access to this digital library and as such, do not need to purchase any text books.