Exploring the historical roots of environmental and ecological accounting from the dawn of human consciousness

Jill Frances Atkins*, Federica Doni, Karen McBride, Christopher Napier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Purpose: This paper seeks to broaden the agenda for environmental and ecological accounting research across several dimensions, extending the form of accounting in this field by encouraging research into its historical roots and developing a definition of accounting that can address the severe environmental and ecological challenges of the 21st century.

Design/methodology/approach: The authors explored environmental and ecological accounts from the dawn of human consciousness across a wide variety of media and in a broad range of forms. This theoretical approach reacts to the cold capitalist commodification of nature inherent in much environmental accounting practice, which documents, values and records usage of natural capital with little attempt to address depletion and loss. 

Findings: By analysing the earliest ecological and environmental “accounts” recorded by humans at the dawn of human consciousness, and considering a wide array of subsequent accounts, the authors demonstrate that rather than being a secondary, relatively recent development emerging from financial accounting and reporting, environmental and ecological accounting predated financial accounting by tens of thousands of years. This research also provides a wealth of perspectives on diversity, not only in forms of account but also in the diversity of accountants, as well as the broadness of the stakeholders to whom and to which the accounts are rendered. 

Research limitations/implications: The paper can be placed at the intersection of accounting history, the alternative, interdisciplinary and critical accounts literature, and environmental and ecological accounting research. 

Practical implications: Practically, the authors can draw ideas and inspiration from the historical forms and content of ecological and environmental account that can inform new forms of and approaches to accounting. 

Social implications: There are social implications including the diversity of accounts and accountants derived from studying historical ecological and environmental accounts from the dawn of human consciousness especially in the broadening out of the authors' understanding of the origins and cultural roots of accounting. 

Originality/value: This study concludes with a new definition of accounting, fit for purpose in the 21st century, that integrates ecological, environmental concerns and is emancipatory, aiming to restore nature, revive biodiversity, conserve species and enhance ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1473-1502
Number of pages30
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number6
Early online date5 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2023


  • accounting history
  • biodiversity accounting
  • ecological accounting
  • environmental accounting
  • rock art accounts

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