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Institutionalisation of weak conceptions of sustainability in the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism: empirical evidence from Malaysian organisations

Ann Marie Sidhu (Edinburgh Business School, Heriot Watt University, Putrajaya, Malaysia)
Jane Gibbon (Newcastle University Business School, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 9 March 2021

Issue publication date: 7 June 2021




The purpose of this study is to examine how accounting for sustainable development (SD) in Malaysian organisations decouples economic growth from ecological consequences. The research analyses the empirical evidence of organisational responses and actions that purport to support SD in a developing country.


This study uses a discursive model of institutional theory to examine the relationship between texts, discourse and action within Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) organisations. This study uses both qualitative content and interpretive textual analysis of Malaysian organisations project design documents (PDDs) and interview transcripts to interpret and determine the “conceptions” of SD.


Documentation and interviews with Malaysian CDM organisations show that SD conceptions range from “business as usual” to weak ecological modernisation. The key narratives are both economic and technocratic but have little to do with SD concerns about ecological limitations and social equity.


The empirical evidence provides insights into the motivations and challenges of a developing country's commitment to SD. We perform the study in an accountability space other than corporate financial reporting. Unlike external corporate reports, PDDs are closer to the underlying organisational reality as they are internal project documents made publicly accessible through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, allowing for a more transparent evaluation. The evidence shows how the organisational approach to SD is institutionalised through the mediating role of discourse and texts used by the actors within the CDM.



The authors would like to thank all the interviewees who participated in this research. The authors also express thanks to the anonymous reviewers and guest editors of the journal for their useful and constructive comments and suggestions in developing this paper.


Sidhu, A.M. and Gibbon, J. (2021), "Institutionalisation of weak conceptions of sustainability in the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism: empirical evidence from Malaysian organisations", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 34 No. 5, pp. 1220-1245.



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