Seeking an ecologically defensible calculation of net loss/gain of biodiversity

Thomas Cuckston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The purpose of this paper is to explain how proponents of biodiversity offsetting have sought to produce an ecologically defensible mechanism for reconciling economic development and biodiversity conservation.

The paper analyses a case study biodiversity offsetting mechanism in New South Wales, Australia. Michel Callon’s framing and overflowing metaphor is used to explain how accounting devices are brought into the mechanism, to (re)frame a space of calculability and address anxieties expressed by conservationists about calculations of net loss/gain of biodiversity.

The analysis shows that the offsetting mechanism embeds a form of accounting for biodiversity that runs counter to the prevailing dominant anthropocentric approach. Rather than accounting for the biodiversity of a site in terms of the economic benefits it provides to humans, the mechanism accounts for biodiversity in terms of its ecological value. This analysis, therefore, reveals a form of accounting for biodiversity that uses numbers to provide valuations of biodiversity, but these numbers are ecological numbers, not economic numbers. So this is a calculative, and also ecocentric, approach to accounting for, and valuing, biodiversity.

This paper contributes to the extant literature on accounting for biodiversity by revealing a novel conceptualisation of the reconciliation of economic development and biodiversity conservation, producing an ecologically defensible form of sustainable development. The paper also makes a methodological contribution by showing how Callon’s framing and overflowing metaphor can be used to enable the kind of interdisciplinary engagement needed for researchers to address sustainable development challenges.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1358-1383
Number of pages26
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jun 2019


  • Biodiversity
  • Conservation
  • Ecology
  • Framing
  • Offset
  • Sustainable development


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