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When carbon accounting systems make us forget nature: from commodification to reification

Régis Martineau (South Champagne Business School, Troyes, France)
Jean-Philippe Lafontaine (Faculty of Law of Economics and Social Sciences, Institute of Business Administration, University Francois-Rabelais of Tours, Tours, France)

Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

ISSN: 2040-8021

Article publication date: 20 June 2019

Issue publication date: 23 April 2020




This paper aims to show that the implementation of carbon accounting systems is problematic because it contributes to the commodification of nature, leading individuals to “forget about nature.”


The authors use the concept of reification to explore the subjective dimension of the commodification process. They construct an analytical framework that helps to explain how and why nature may ultimately be “forgotten” by individuals during the commodification process. The example of France is used to illustrate this argument.


The paper presents and discusses three mechanisms (the objectivation of nature, economic reasoning and individuals’ environmental consciousness) that form the basis for the rationale and modus operandi of carbon accounting systems. By comparing these mechanisms with the concept of reification, it highlights three criticisms that could be put to advocates of these systems.

Practical implications

This analysis shows that discussions of carbon accounting systems should focus more on their philosophical principles rather than merely examining the technical problems posed by their implementation.

Social implications

This research provides some answers to explain the inefficiency of policies implemented within the framework of global climate governance.


This study helps to put carbon accounting research into perspective. It goes further than existing work on the commodification of nature by describing the subjective dimension of individuals who are led to disconnect their arguments and practices from their primary and emotional relationship with nature.



Martineau, R. and Lafontaine, J.-P. (2020), "When carbon accounting systems make us forget nature: from commodification to reification", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 487-504.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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