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Exploring metaphors of capitals and the framing of multiple capitals: Challenges and opportunities for < IR >

Andrea B. Coulson (Department of Accounting and Finance, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)
Carol A. Adams (Business School, Durham University, Durham, UK)
Michael N. Nugent (International Integrated Reporting Council, London, UK)
Kathryn Haynes (Business School, Newcastle University, Newcastle, UK)

Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

ISSN: 2040-8021

Article publication date: 7 September 2015

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore the potential of the metaphor of capital, and to chart the development of the multiple capitals concept in the International < IR > Framework and consider how it might develop and be used. In doing so, the paper discusses the implications of the contributions to this special issue in the further development of the capitals concept.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors draw on documents of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) and review the literature on capitals to consider the formation of the metaphor of multiple capitals. This is reflected upon while recognising the varied involvement of the authors with the IIRC capitals conception. The challenges of conceiving a multiple capitals framework are critiqued with reference to empirical and theoretical contributions drawn from recognition of planetary boundaries, gendered capitals, power and intersection of capitals and important practical and conceptual insights raised by papers in this special issue.

Findings

The authors find that the agenda of the IIRC is a shift from a “financial capital market system” to an “inclusive capital market system” through recognition of multiple capitals and integrated reporting and thinking. It is emphasised that their vision is not intended as a call for the measurement of these various capitals in monetary terms alone. Through insights from research on planetary boundaries and gendered capitals, the authors critique the potential communsurability of capitals and make visible potential tensions between them. Some of the challenges and opportunities when reporting on multiple capitals are recognised. These include: use of the capitals terminology; analysing connectivity between the capitals; the extent to which value created (and depleted) by each capital should be monetised and highlight possibilities for future research.

Practical implications

Reflecting on the vision of the IIRC, the authors use the critical potential of the metaphor to highlight the IIRC’s vision and understand the role of multiple capitals and potential tensions between them. The authors provide normative insights into the need for engagement on the philosophies of integrated thinking and symbolism of capital and multiple capitals as the way forward.

Originality/value

It is through discussions around multiple capitals – what is in, what is out, how capital is valued – that metaphors will be (re)created. By considering the notion of capital in < IR > and critiquing this with reference to research insights, the authors seek to open up debate on the framing of multiple capitals.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the reviewers for their helpful comments and Stefan Schaltegger for handling the reviews.

Citation

Coulson, A.B., Adams, C.A., Nugent, M.N. and Haynes, K. (2015), "Exploring metaphors of capitals and the framing of multiple capitals: Challenges and opportunities for < IR > ", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 6 No. 3, pp. 290-314. https://doi.org/10.1108/SAMPJ-05-2015-0032

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited