Budget processes and power when implementing an environmental sustainability strategy: the ‘business as usual’ impediment

Document Type

Conference publication

Publication details

Taylor, W & Christensen, M 2013, 'Budget processes and power when implementing an environmental sustainability strategy: the ‘business as usual’ impediment', 12th A-CSEAR conference, Hamilton, NZ, 1-3 December, University of Waikato, Hamilton, NZ.

Available on Open Access


The paper explores the relationship between budget processes and environmental sustainability outcomes.

Design/methodology/approach– This paper presents a detailed case study of the budget process within a not-for-profit institute of technology (Unitec), based in Auckland, New Zealand. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a sample of Unitec’s staff directly involved with preparation of the 2012 annual budget and Unitec’s environmental sustainability strategies. Other data used included publicly available strategy documents, annual reports, news reports, and environmental sustainability action statements. Data collected was assembled using NVivo software to aid analysis.

The qualitative analysis was informed by a Foucauldian critical approach to investigate how power

is exercised in Unitec’s budget processes in relation to Unitec’s environmental sustainability strategy (ESS).

Findings– Insights into the factors which influence budgetary realities and under-resourced ESS rhetoric are provided. A key finding was that power supporting Unitec’s formal budget process is all-pervasive, through the continuance of ‘business as usual’ whereby ESS was denied standing of equivalence to functions that existed prior to the ESS initiatives. The influence of the ESS was confirmed as less financially entrenched notwithstanding Unitec’s determined efforts to promote environmental sustainability as a core value. The paper concludes that the potentially transformative power of the ESS is currently mendicant to budgetary processes that essentially exclude ESS from the inner core of Unitec. Progress is achievable, however, by ESS quantifying in accounting terms the value or payback of its contribution.

Originality/Value– An in-depth analysis shows how the disciplinary power of accounting within budget processes influences an organisation’s environmental sustainability outcomes. Since

‘business as usual’ currently operates as a blockage to sustainability outcomes, the path for correction of that impediment lies within environmental sustainability adopting

Accounting-based language or an attack on the legitimacy of ‘business as usual’.