resource accounting efforts: those of Robert Repetto and his colleagues at the World Resources Institute.1

However, the value of good "scorekeeping" depends, of course, on the ability of the manager to use the score to make the appropriate adjustments that will eventually lead to victory. The value of good "scorekeeping" also depends on timeliness: it does the manager little good to first learn the score after the ball game is over. Yet, in practice, accounting scores do come in late. It is not unusual for a business to learn of its "bottom line" more than six months after the close of its accounting year. Even in this circumstance., however, the manager would rarely fire his accountant. In spite of the lateness of the score, the accounting process is serving another important function. It is organizing the basic information—sales, costs, production, inventory-needed to run the business.

This second function of accounting—the "management" function—will justify an accounting effort even if there is an ultimate failure to provide a "score" or, as is more likely with the computation of environmentally-adjusted scores, wide disagreement as to whether the score is accurate. The importance of this observation as it relates to the contribution of resource and environmental accounting to addressing sustainability issues will become apparent later. First, we must define what we mean by "sustainability."


John Pezzy, in a World Bank paper, did us all a favor by surveying the many ways authors have been using such words as "sustainable" and "sustainability."2 I will not attempt to summarize this literature except to note that all the definitions seem to fall into one of three categories: those that refer to sustaining the environment, those that refer to sustaining the economy, and those that refer to sustaining one or the other, subject to one or the other being set at some predetermined level (e.g., sustaining economic growth subject to maintaining the environment at some "clean" level).

It is true that on the part of several authors, their sustainability notions may be mixed. Many have a sincere belief that sustaining the environment is a necessary condition for sustaining the economy while, for others, the opposite view is held: sustaining the economy is a necessary condition for sustaining the environment. I do not wish to enter this debate but only to point out that there is a difference in priorities. Some, when they use the word "sustain-ability," focus on sustaining resources and the environment; others focus on sustaining the economy.


Robert Repetto, William Magrath, Michael Wells, Christine Beer, and Fabrizio Rossini, Wasting Assets: Natural Resources in the National Income Accounts, Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute, 1989.


John Pezzy, Economic Analysis of Sustainable Growth and Sustainable Development, Environment Department Working Paper No. 15, Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, March, 1989.

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