Sustainability reports are made from rocks, magic and the guidance of the ancestors, Professor Warren Maroun

Professor Warren Maroun from the University of Witwatersrand, presents his research in this week's Accounting and Finance Staff Seminar to discuss financial sustainability reporting.

Warren has a wealth of experience from his time working as an Auditor at PwC and in academia at King’s College London, the University of Exeter and, of course, the School of Accounting at the University of Witwatersrand. He is currently a Board Member of the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB), and a member of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

His research is titled “Sustainability reports are made from rocks, magic and the guidance of the ancestors" and has been published in leading academic journals; "Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal", "The British Accounting Review" and "Accounting Forum" to name a few. He also serves as an Associate Editor of "Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal” and he is co-editor of "Meditari Accountancy Research". 


This working paper proposes that rock art created by the Khoisan are among the earliest form of “sustainability reports”. Images engraved in or painted on stone provide an integrated account of the environment coupled with the beliefs and practices of some of Africa’s oldest groups of hunter-gathers. The art depicts a world where natural, social, and human “capitals” were not framed in monetary terms but “managed” as part of a complex process of understanding and coordinating life on Africa’s savannahs.

Findings are based on interpretive analysis of historical sources, detailed interviews with archaeological experts and the academic literature on the roots of social and environmental accounting. Insights are contextualised by interacting with modern-day members of the Khoisan community and make an important contribution by adding to the literature on alternate forms of accounting. The rock art provides a novel example of how record keeping need not be concerned with depicting quantities of economic value; it can also be a socially constructed account of an underlying subject matter of ecological, cultural, and social importance.

Examining the engravings and paintings as a type of extra-economic activity challenges the assumption that social and environmental reporting are modern developments. The integrated thinking at the heart of contemporary sustainability reporting practices is not something which has been recently invented to guide the balancing of financial, social, and environmental factors. It is a skill learned by our ancestors but forgotten by modern management and accounting theorists who became preoccupied with the discourse of financial economics. This paper reminds us that humanity originated in Africa before the ascendence of profit maximisation and so too does the craft called environmental accounting, triple-bottom-line reporting or sustainable development. 

For more information about the Accounting and Finance Staff Seminar Series, please contact Professor Shima Amini –