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Ac-counting for carbon emissions: simulating absence through experimental sites of material politics

Silvana Revellino (MBS College of Business and Entrepreneurship, KAEC, Saudi Arabia and Department of Accounting, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK)

Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

ISSN: 2040-8021

Article publication date: 28 October 2019

Issue publication date: 23 April 2020




Most carbon accounting consists of valuing what has not happened; such absent entities and their materialisation through simulated calculations can enact political participation, however. By using Marres’s (2012) notion of an “experimental site of material politics”, this paper aims to investigate the mediating role of simulated calculations of prevented carbon emissions in deploying environmental politics’ discourses. Here, such calculations become seductive forces for public engagement and help performing engaging spaces for supporting the diffusion of innovation technologies.


The empirical analysis concerns a simulated calculative device developed by Autostrade, a motorway management firm, in its work to translate questions about capacity utilisation, through the fluidity of traffic, into reductions in CO2 emissions. These reductions took the form of a simulation that required an apparatus to be performed and involved alternative scenarios focussing on hypothetical rather than absolute CO2 reductions.


The Autostrade case highlights how simulated calculations of absent CO2 emissions participate in the construction of a collective experience by interfacing concerns that encompass the rationalities of the domestication of technological innovation and make motorway mobility a responsible and ac-countable action.

Practical implications

The paper shows how simulated and experimental calculations on absent carbon emissions act as mediators between public engagement and the deployment of environmental politics discourses. They both extend political participation and propagate and reproduce the trials, which, from time to time, challenge the enticement and forcefulness of a technological innovation.

Social implications

The paper suggests a different dimension of politics that relies on material politics. Rather than considering human centric discursive acts, it looks at the power of technical objects and their augmented calculative devices in engaging the public in environmental politics. This is where absence, which is made visible and materialised through simulations, deploys affordances that reframe power relationships.


This is the first case study that addresses the issue of the role of accounting calculation on absent carbon emissions in enabling innovation and engaging publics in environmental politics.



Revellino, S. (2020), "Ac-counting for carbon emissions: simulating absence through experimental sites of material politics", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 613-640.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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