Tribute to Rob Gray

Tribute to Rob Gray

By John Ferguson, CSEAR Co-Director

The Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research (CSEAR) was established in 1991 by the late Prof. Rob Gray. Rob’s seminal research, along with his passion for challenging environmental degradation and social injustice, laid the foundations for the field of social and environmental accounting (SEA) research and practice.

With hundreds of publications and over 30,000 citations, Rob’s contribution to the field has been described as “colossal” (Ferguson and Larrinaga, 2014, p.68) and his influence on the field “permanent and indelible” (Parker, 2014, p.91). Throughout his prolific career, Rob developed many of the core concepts and framings that continue to underpin SEA. For example’s Rob’s definition and reconceptualization of ‘accountability’, first outlined in Corporate Social Reporting: Accounting and Accountability (Gray, Owen and Maunders, 1987) continues to serve as central reference point for corporate reporting research (Owen, 2014; Adams, 2020). Equally, his notion of “capital maintenance”, outlined in his report, The Greening of Accountancy: The Profession After Pearce (GoA) has proved equally enduring. By separating man-made and natural capital, Rob’s notion of capital maintenance formed the basis for a sustainable cost calculation that aimed at maintaining ‘inter-generational equity’ (Gray 1990, p.2; see also Coulson, 2020). The ideas outlined in GoA, as well as the ‘systems thinking’ that underpinned those ideas, have been identified by several influential SEA scholars as a major turning point in the development of the field (Coulson, 2020; Larrinaga, 2020; Rodrigue and Tregidga, 2020; Thompson, 2020). For example, as Ian Thompson points out:

Clear evolutionary path- ways can be seen to originate from this document. It is difficult to think of a significant environmental accounting research paper that does not contain echoes of GoA. GoA was a seminal steppingstone to academically and professionally legitimating environ- mental accounting… something we now take for granted”

The above examples barely scratch the surface of his academic contribution to the field of SEA. Nor do they capture his contribution beyond academe and his significant engagement and influence on practice. Throughout his career, Rob worked with professional accounting bodies, international corporations, NGOs and supra national bodies. Notable examples of his engagement include his involvement in the KPMG Environmental Award Scheme, the ACCA Sustainability Reporting Awards and as a member of the ACCA’s Social and Environmental Issues Committee. Rob’s involvement with such initiatives were driven by his “desire to see real organizational change” (Owen, 2014, p. 79) and his work in this regard “helped to significantly raise the profile of social and environmental issues within the accounting profession” (Ferguson and Larrinaga, 2014, p.?). In addition, Rob’s engagement at policy level included some significant work with the United Nations, as a Member of the Consultative Group on Social Reporting Indicators, and as a founding member of the Institute for Social and Ethical Accountability.

In addition to his influential role in the development of SEA, Rob also played a key role in the development of accounting academia more generally in the UK. Most notably, Rob was closely involved in establishing the British Accounting Association (BAA) and was the first Editor of BAA’s journal, The British Accounting Review. In recognition of his contribution and commitment to the development of accounting academia in the UK, Rob was elected British Accounting Association Distinguished Academic Fellow in 2001 and was one of the inaugural members of the British Accounting Association Hall of Fame (2014). In 2009, Rob was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for Services to the Accountancy Profession in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Always generous with his time, Rob played such an important role in supporting, mentoring and nurturing emerging scholars, and many members of the CSEAR community have benefited enormously from his insights, advice and encouragement. Rob will be remembered as “a gifted, passionate scholar who challenged students, the accounting profession and fellow academics alike” (Ferguson, 2020, p.). He “was, and always will be, Sergeant Pepper who, in the words of the song . . . taught the band to play”’(Laughlin, 2014, p.), the “captain of his ‘big blue boat’ and the emergent fleet of social and environmental accounting research sailors” (Parker, ???), and “the cornerstone of our ‘community of scholars’” (Thompson, 2020). Rob’s legacy will continue to inspire thousands of accounting academics across the globe.

For more information about Rob’s work and legacy, please visit ‘Rob Gray’s Tribute Album’ a Special Issue of the Social and Environmental Accountability Journal.


Adams, C. (2020) Sustainability Reporting and Value Creation, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 40:3, 191-197, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2020.1837643

Broadbent, J. (2014) Rob Gray: A View from a Friend but an Outsider, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 34:2, 93-96, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2014.938473

Collison, D. (2021), “Rob Gray (1952–2020): A personal perspective on his achievements at the University of Dundee in the 1990s”, Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 12 No. 5, pp. 873-876.

Coulson, A.B. (2020) Rob Gray, Forever Inspiring The Greening of Accountancy, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 40:3, 166-170, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2020.1840408

Dillard, J. & M A. Reynolds (2020) Transition, Transformation, Commitment, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 40:3, 219-222, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2020.1837644

Ferguson, J. Larrinaga, C. (2014) Celebrating the Intellectual Contribution of Professor Rob Gray: The Past, Present and Future of Social and Environmental Accounting Research, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 34:2, 67-73, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2014.938456

Gray, R. (2014) Ambidexterity, Puzzlement, Confusion and a Community of Faith? A Response to My Friends, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 34:2, 97-105, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2014.938474

Gray, R. 1990. The Greening of Accountancy: The profession after Pearce. London: ACCA

Gray, R.H., Owen, D.L. and Maunders, K.T. (1987), Corporate Social Reporting: Accounting and Accountability, Prentice Hall International, Hemel Hempstead, p. 224.

Laine, M. (2020) Looking Further, Speaking out Louder: Tribute to Rob Gray, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 40:3, 198-204, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2020.1840409

Larrinaga, C. (2020) ‘The World for Which we Account’: Systems Thinking in Rob Gray’s Works, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 40:3, 186-190, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2020.1837641

Laughlin, R. (2014) Rob Gray, Social and Environmental Accounting and Organisational Change, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 34:2,81-86, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2014.938471

Leung, T. (2020) Tribute to My Academic Father – Professor Rob Gray, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 40:3, 209-213, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2020.1840412

Owen, D. (2014) The Evolution of Social Reporting: The ‘Early Days’, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 34:2, 75-80, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2014.938470

Parker, L. (2014) Constructing a Research Field: A Reflection on the History of Social and Environmental Accounting, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 34:2, 87-92, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2014.938472

Parker, L. (2020) Sailing the Big Blue Boat: Rob Gray and the Blue Meanies, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 40:3, 175-180, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2020.1837645

Roberts, R.W. (2020) Honouring Rob Gray’s CSEAR Legacy, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 40:3, 214-218, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2020.1840411

Rodrigue, M. & Tregidga, H. (2020) Editors Introduction to the Special Issue. I (we) won’t back down: Rob Gray’s Tribute Album, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 40:3, 155-165, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2020.1844961

Thomson, I. (2020) From Gray to Green Accounting, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 40:3, 205-208, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2020.1837640

Tilt, C. (2020) Foundations, Evolution and Impact of Rob Gray’s Social Accounting Project: Lessons for Emerging Scholars, Social and Environmental Accountability Journal, 40:3, 181-185, DOI: 10.1080/0969160X.2020.1837642