In recent years, a new, literalist approach to managing the sustainability performance of organizations has emerged, the makeup of which stands in stark contrast to the prevailing, incrementalist approach. Unlike the incrementalist approach, which is predicated on the view that progress in sustainability occurs when ever marginal improvements in the social and environmental impacts of organizations are made, the literalist approach takes a more rigorous stand. Under the literalist doctrine (also known as context-based sustainability, or CBS), an organization’s sustainability performance is a function of what its social and environmental impacts are relative to specific norms, standards, or thresholds for what such impacts must be in order to be sustainable. Here the literalist doctrine relies on the principle of sustainability context, or the general idea that sustainability performance assessments must be made in light of social and ecological limits, and never without them. Actual implementations of sustainability context in practice, however, are still the exception, not the rule, mainly because generally-accepted guidelines for how to do it do not yet exist. In response, this paper takes up the question of what the research and development needs and opportunities are in the field of CBS, and which must be addressed if moving sustainability context from the realm of theory into practice is to have any chance of succeeding. The authors begin by defining CBS, explaining the logic and epistemology behind it, and then continue by identifying and discussing specific issues of interest for further research and development in the social and environmental accounting domains.
Keywords: Epistemology, incrementalist, literalist, sustainability context