Current Issues within Management and Financial Accounting


Companies in recent days have experienced much significant hurdles and are constantly trying to adapt to changes in the environment by anticipating policies whereby it may contribute to sustainability performance in the long-run. Studies have shown several organizations developing holistic frameworks to stimulate change in its imperfect environmental performance such as re-setting objectives and targets of the company's sustainability report by stakeholder engagement, being a powerful driver for change (Adams and McNicholas, 2006); improving Management Accounting and Control Systems (MACS) as suggested by Kattan, Pike and Tayles (2007); and last but not least, to develop an Environmental Management System (EMS) through guidance from European Community's Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) and the International Standard ISO 14001 (Watson and Emery, 2004; cited in Perez, Ruiz and Fenech, 2007).

Studies conducted by Adams and McNicholas (2006) on a government-owned statutory authority providing high-quality water, wastewater and waste recovery services to both residential and industrial customers in Australia. It consciously takes into consideration impacts of its services to the local ecological environment. According to the water industry common regulation, it is required to operate within stringent Environment Protection Authority (EPA) guidelines as stated by Di Maggio and Powell, 1983 (cited in Adams and McNicholas, 2006). The firm embrace open-communication and feedback approach with its local community as an attempt of stakeholder engagement (Annual Report, 2002/2003) being the reason for change. The CEO indicated that the organization was committed to the concept of sustainability reporting and sought to incorporate sustainability principles into daily practices (Adams and McNicholas, 2006, pg. 391).

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Guidance on developing an environmental management system (EMS) has been provided by standards such as the European Community's Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) and the International Standard ISO 14001 (Watson and Emery, 2004; cited in Perez, Ruiz and Fenech, 2007). EMS focuses on EMAS in particular due to the fact of having a number of distinguishing features which stresses on disclosures, stakeholder interest and involvement (EMAS, 2001, Annex 1.B; Commission Recommendation, 2001, Annex II-III). Ten Spanish organizations were selected from the Spanish EMAS register to gather descriptive data on how their activities and accounting practices links to identify intangible assets that leads to producing an improved environmental performance. Four catalysts for change were then suggested (derived from the characteristics of EMAS). Evidence shows that general training and awareness was well-established in the midst of all employees on plant environmental policy, recycling and pollution prevention as stated by the environmental manager (Perez, Ruiz and Fenech, 2007). Furthermore, mechanisms such as suggestion-book systems, project-based group works and environmental committees were implemented keeping EMS from being bureaucratic.

Besides legal compliance with environmental legislations, technology innovation and research enables industrial organizations to focus more on pollution preventive measures as a strategic policy depending on variable sectors as quoted by Thornton et al., 2003 (cited in Perez, Ruiz and Fenech, 2007). Although the literature has traditionally focused on integration of external stakeholders' interests (Owen et al., 2000, 2001; O'Dwyer et al., 2005; cited in Perez, Ruiz and Fenech, 2007), this research tries to explore otherwise, the integration of internal stakeholders' interests as the embedding factor. This is similar to the research of Adams and McNicholas (2006) in the sense of putting stakeholders' interests as a crucial factor for change. Unlike the research on StoneCo., Palestine; being a manufacturing firm, the company emphasizes on non-financial measures: eliminating waste, reducing lead time and continuous improvements; believing to reduce cost of production and especially up-keeping customer satisfaction (Kattan, Pike and Tayles, 2007). They further elaborated that the owner manager of StoneCo.'s main concerns lie on the advice of the production and quality control manager at the same time emphasizing on keeping highly qualified accountants to maintain acceptable records by tax authorities, having little participation in decision-making procedures judging from the fact that accountants lack experience in the business sector though they may have a strong technical background.

According to Adams and McNicholas (2006), the management team is in the midst of developing a Sustainability Self-Assessment Tool (SAST), with inclusion of a Self-Diagnostic Checklist prepared from initial works with the Victorian Water Sustainability Task Group to understand and improve sustainability performance. The checklist was purposed to embed and integrate sustainability principles throughout the organization especially in the sense of employees' performance appraisal. The Business Service Manager suggested implementing an Environmental Management (EM) team during the finalization of the SAST to avoid overlapping of duties between the EM team and the current team. As observed, principal stakeholder committees such as the Environment and Customer Consultative Committee, the Waste Disposal Advisory Committee [1] and the Coastal Advisory Committee volunteered in feedbacks on issues to environmental impacts as a sign of external stakeholder engagement.

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Believing that the rate of return is not the only consideration, but also satisfaction of employees or local communities emerges the development of mechanisms integrating environmental issues in strategic planning process and the use of management accounting practices: capital budgeting or investment appraisal, to enhance environmental management was stated by the management controller (Perez, Ruiz and Fenech, 2007). This is alike in StoneCo, from the fact that a recommendation by Abdel-Karim and Alkukhn, 1996 (cited in Kattan, Pike and Tayles, 2007) was to adapt cost and management accounting systems in order to improve sustainable competitive performance. Thus, the accounting department implemented approaches to strategic investment appraisal such as payback period, the accounting rate of return, the residual income and discounted cash flows in assisting decision-making. Organizational learning is also vital in stimulating the incorporation of environmental issues into business functions, processes, procedures, as well as heightening cross-functional coordination and communication (Fiol and Lyles, 1985; cited in Perez, Ruiz and Fenech, 2007). In short, management accounting practices proves to be a key intangible asset for future embedding process for a more solid EMS in contributing to environmental performance.

StoneCo. lacks accounting personnel whom are influential in decisions and future forecasting as well as a formal planning system and is too confident based on past performances (Kattan, Pike and Tayles, 2007). In contrast, the key hindrance to Adams and McNicholas (2006)'s findings were a lack of knowledge of "best practice" and experience in engaging stakeholders in reporting procedures and identifying Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). However, through developing a reporting framework, there were noticeable improvements. With only a recommendation to continue to upgrade its four catalysts of change (defined in EMAS), research shows a more solid EMS can be achieved in future (Perez, Ruiz and Fenech, 2007). Having said so, Perez, Ruiz and Fenech (2007)'s review contributes the most on the understanding of how sustainability is incorporated appropriately by the development of components which are crucial in embedding an effective environmental system.