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Advancing research into accounting and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Jan Bebbington (Department of Accounting, Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)
Jeffrey Unerman (Department of Accounting and Finance, Lancaster University Management School, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 31 July 2020

Issue publication date: 20 October 2020




This paper introduces a special section devoted to accounting scholarship that addresses the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and has three purposes. First, to explore the puzzle of a relative absence of accounting-related scholarship that addresses the SDGs. Second, the papers within the special section are introduced and located within streams of existing research and practice. Third, the paper then suggests framings, approaches and/or conditions under which the authors might see more accounting scholarship in support of advancing the SDGs.


A structured review of publication patterns in accounting journals over the last five years is undertaken to explore the nature and extent of SDGs-related accounting research. These patterns and foundational accounting literature are used to shape a series of observations and propositions underlying the line of argument developed in the paper.


Despite the SDGs' prominence in the policy world, and the widespread embrace of their utility for shaping understandings of organizational responsibilities, accounting scholars have been slow to engage in SDGs-motivated research. This gap creates two issues. First, accounting scholarship is less available to the web of knowledge that is being developed about how to enact the ambitions of the SDGs. Second, accounting scholarship is not developing in a way that incorporates SDGs-related challenges facing organizations. This paper suggests ways in which accounting scholarship can overcome these limitations.


Accounting research on the SDGs is in an early stage of development, despite almost five years having elapsed since their formal adoption. This paper highlights avenues for accounting scholars' engagement with the SDGs’ agenda.



This paper forms part of a special section Accounting’s contributions to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, guest edited by Jeffrey Unerman and Jan Bebbington.The authors are very grateful to Lee Parker and James Guthrie for their encouragement to develop this special section as a forum for emerging research on accounting and the SDGs and for their early recognition of the importance of this area of scholarship. The authors are also very grateful for the support of all the academics who developed and submitted their research studies to the special section, to the academics who peer reviewed the many papers the authors received and to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research for their sponsorship of a paper development workshop for the special section held at the University of St. Andrews in August 2018. Finally, the authors are also indebted to the two anonymous Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal peer reviewers for their insightful critique of an earlier draft of this paper. All errors remaining in this paper are a result of the authors’ unassisted efforts.


Bebbington, J. and Unerman, J. (2020), "Advancing research into accounting and the UN Sustainable Development Goals", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 33 No. 7, pp. 1657-1670.



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