The first evidence of writing are more than five thousand years old. Fiction ? Poetry ? No, rather account books… where harvest yields and commercial transactions are recorded. These traces of the past reflect what was important for business, but not necessarily for the general interest. Nothing has changed and in today’s capitalism, accounting determines the annual financial result of companies serving their shareholder owners and the state. And all of the balance sheets are aggregated into data at the national level, the pillars of the controversial indicator of a country’s wealth: the GDP. Did you say “general interest”?
Economics was built on the famous postulate of Jean-Baptiste Say, a French liberal economist from the beginning of the 19th century.e century: “Natural resources are inexhaustible, otherwise we would not get them for free. Accounting standards therefore ignore the contributions of nature’s “goods and services” to human activity, and in return the impacts of this activity on the environment. Times are changing and some are proposing to introduce issues of equity and environmental protection into accounting in order to steer public and tax policies in the ecological transition. This involves adding “positive impact” missions to the obligation of social responsibility (CSR) and taking into account the extra-financial performance of companies.
Thus, several socio-environmental or multi-capital accounting systems from the UN, NGOs, rating agencies, chartered accountants and academics have been tested. Alongside purely financial accounting, we find, for example, social accounting, which takes human capital into account, and green accounting. In the latter, natural capital is the debt that the company contracts vis-à-vis nature by drawing from its elements. The balance between the ecological debt and the maintenance of ecosystem integrity can be based on physical indicators (emissions or sequestration of tonnes of CO2, number of extinct or reintroduced species, artificialization or disartificialization of surfaces, etc.). If there is monetary translation, the costs of preventing and repairing damage are quantified.
These accounts are distinguished mainly by the substitutability between the three types of capital. For some, one account can balance another (we speak of weak sustainability), for others it is impossible (strong sustainability). In the latter case, with a negative natural capital balance and despite a financial profit, a company can be declared ecologically bankrupt.
The aim of such accounting is to make companies accountable to society, to the environment, to territories, to workers and no longer to value their commercial activity alone. To achieve this, the first step is to define the natural and human capital to which we hold, what the sociologist of science Bruno Latour calls “attachments”. The choice of our lifestyles would then be embodied in an accounting table where standards and visions of the world would battle. Incidentally, it should be recalled that the European Union uses the American IFRS accounting framework (for international financial reporting standards) and that the slightest modification of the standard must be fiercely negotiated with 27 members. The world of compatibility is therefore not as sad as we imagine and is teeming with innovations, and, to be convinced of this, we will watch the series with pleasure. Parliamenton the manufacture of European standards.