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Seeking an ecologically defensible calculation of net loss/gain of biodiversity

Thomas Cuckston (Aston Business School, Birmingham, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 8 August 2019

Issue publication date: 8 August 2019




The purpose of this paper is to explain how proponents of biodiversity offsetting have sought to produce an ecologically defensible mechanism for reconciling economic development and biodiversity conservation.


The paper analyses a case study biodiversity offsetting mechanism in New South Wales, Australia. Michel Callon’s framing and overflowing metaphor is used to explain how accounting devices are brought into the mechanism, to (re)frame a space of calculability and address anxieties expressed by conservationists about calculations of net loss/gain of biodiversity.


The analysis shows that the offsetting mechanism embeds a form of accounting for biodiversity that runs counter to the prevailing dominant anthropocentric approach. Rather than accounting for the biodiversity of a site in terms of the economic benefits it provides to humans, the mechanism accounts for biodiversity in terms of its ecological value. This analysis, therefore, reveals a form of accounting for biodiversity that uses numbers to provide valuations of biodiversity, but these numbers are ecological numbers, not economic numbers. So this is a calculative, and also ecocentric, approach to accounting for, and valuing, biodiversity.


This paper contributes to the extant literature on accounting for biodiversity by revealing a novel conceptualisation of the reconciliation of economic development and biodiversity conservation, producing an ecologically defensible form of sustainable development. The paper also makes a methodological contribution by showing how Callon’s framing and overflowing metaphor can be used to enable the kind of interdisciplinary engagement needed for researchers to address sustainable development challenges.



The author is very grateful to Bob Scapens and Ian Thomson for their help and support throughout this paper’s development. Thanks also to colleagues at the Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research (CSEAR) conference in St Andrews, the Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Accounting (IPA) conference in Edinburgh and a workshop organised by Jill Atkins at the University of Sheffield. The author finally thanks Lee Parker and two anonymous referees.


Cuckston, T. (2019), "Seeking an ecologically defensible calculation of net loss/gain of biodiversity", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 32 No. 5, pp. 1358-1383.



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