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Environment as datascape: Enacting emission realities in corporate carbon accounting

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Abstract

Ecological modernist approaches to climate change are premised upon knowing carbon emissions. I ask how corporate environmental managers know and do carbon, i.e., shape the reality of emissions. I argue that for managers’ practical purposes carbon exists as malleable data. Based on ethnographic fieldwork over a period of 20 months in a Fortune 50 multinational corporation, I show that managers materially-discursively arrange heterogeneous entities – databases, files, paper, words, numbers – in and between office spaces, enabling them to stage emission facts as stable and singular. Employing Annemarie Mol’s work on multiplicity, I show that multiple enactments of carbon hang together not by an antecedent body (CO2) but through ongoing configurations of data practices. Disillusioning promissory economic discourses of ‘internalisation’, I demonstrate: Management is materially premised upon preventing purportedly internalised carbon realities from entering capitalist core processes. This undermines carbon economics’ realist promises. Staging some carbon realities as in control is premised upon managers’ ongoing, reflexive, partial and always situated configuration of, e.g., standards, formal meetings or digital data practices in which humans do carbon-as-data. Carbon practices are materially-discursively aligned, forming a configuration. This configuration effects carbon as a malleable and locally configurable space rather than as a closed fact. Reconstructing managers’ practices as configuring carbon-as-dataspace, I argue, allows grasping adequately the contingency and constraints of managing carbon as a particular material-discursive form of environment. In conclusion I generalise the environmental management office as a space that can be configured to stage, beyond carbon, other global environments as well.
Environment as datascape: Enacting emission realities in corporate
carbon accounting
Ingmar Lippert
Technologies in Practice Research Group, IT University of Copenhagen, Rued Langgaards Vej 7, 2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark
Tembusu College, National University of Singapore, 28 College Avenue East, #B1-01, Singapore 138598, Singapore
Chair of Sociology, Augsburg University, Universitätsstraße 10, 86159 Augsburg, Germany
article info
Article history:
Received 5 March 2014
Received in revised form 21 September 2014
Available online xxxx
Keywords:
Accounting
Carbon
Data
Enactment
Ontology
Configuration
abstract
Ecological modernist approaches to climate change are premised upon knowing carbon emissions. I ask
how corporate environmental managers know and do carbon, i.e., shape the reality of emissions. I argue
that for managers’ practical purposes carbon exists as malleable data. Based on ethnographic fieldwork
over a period of 20 months in a Fortune 50 multinational corporation, I show that managers materially-
discursively arrange heterogeneous entities – databases, files, paper, words, numbers – in and between
office spaces, enabling them to stage emission facts as stable and singular. Employing Annemarie Mol’s
work on multiplicity, I show that multiple enactments of carbon hang together not by an antecedent body
(CO
2
) but through ongoing configurations of data practices. Disillusioning promissory economic dis-
courses of ‘internalisation’, I demonstrate: Management is materially premised upon preventing purport-
edly internalised carbon realities from entering capitalist core processes. This undermines carbon
economics’ realist promises. Staging some carbon realities as in control is premised upon managers’ ongo-
ing, reflexive, partial and always situated configuration of, e.g., standards, formal meetings or digital data
practices in which humans do carbon-as-data. Carbon practices are materially-discursively aligned, form-
ing a configuration. This configuration effects carbon as a malleable and locally configurable space rather
than as a closed fact. Reconstructing managers’ practices as configuring carbon-as-dataspace, I argue,
allows grasping adequately the contingency and constraints of managing carbon as a particular mate-
rial-discursive form of environment. In conclusion I generalise the environmental management office as
a space that can be configured to stage, beyond carbon, other global environments as well.
Ó2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Introduction
Dominant environmental politics and theories like ‘ecological
modernisation’ position companies as key actors in transforma-
tions towards sustainability – conjuring up the imaginary of eco-
logically sound economies (see United Nations, 1992; Huber,
2008; Mol et al., 2014). Many critics of such politics consider cap-
italist companies relevant – even if their critique implies that they
cannot achieve ‘sustainability’ (see Levy, 1997; Luke, 2013). What
does it mean, if a company says it is greening itself? What is the
environment they are working on? What is the reality, i.e., what
is the nature the company relates to? I engage with these questions
by studying carbon footprinting.
Within science, sustainable development is identified as chal-
lenged by changing climates (Beg et al., 2002); at the same time,
ecological modernisation is imagined as a path to achieve sustain-
ability (Christoff, 1996), and ecological modernisation helps ‘solv-
ing’ climate crises (Bäckstrand and Lövbrand, 2006). Ecological
modernisation is a form of reform in which environmental prob-
lems and economic growth are reconciled (Buttel, 2000), greening
capitalism (Huber, 1988). Within ecological modernisation, policy
and theories of social change towards sustainability meet in ‘envi-
ronmental footprinting’ (Mol and Spaargaren, 2000). Turning cli-
mate change, then, into an issue of accounting is not surprising.
Lovell and MacKenzie (2011) retrace accounting professions imag-
ining climate change. Carbon accounting establishes footprints,
and based on this knowledge policy is made. Or so the story goes.
Vis-à-vis Lovell and MacKenzie’s (2011) account, that details
accounting professions’ climate perspectives, I investigate how
accountants do carbon in material-semiotic techno-managerial
practice.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2014.09.009
0016-7185/Ó2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Present address: Technologies in Practice Research Group, IT University of
Copenhagen, Rued Langgaards Vej 7, 2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark.
E-mail address: lippert@ems-research.org
Geoforum xxx (2014) xxx–xxx
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Geoforum
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/geoforum
Please cite this article in press as: Lippert, I. Environment as datascape: Enacting emission realities in corporate carbon accounting. Geoforum (2014),
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2014.09.009
Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in one of the 50 biggest
companies, a ‘Fortune 50’ player, undertaken in 2008–2010, I
reconstruct what the carbon emissions are that the company ‘mea-
sures’. The effect of measuring emissions is not a representation of
carbon ‘out there’; but, for – what ethnomethodology would call –
all the ‘practical purposes’ (Suchman, 2007) of carbon practitio-
ners, the effect is carbon-as-data, existing in contingent material-
semiotic practices (though, strategically, some of them would
claim they relate to emissions ‘out there’). It is the study of these
practices – and of the material tools and things the practices
engage – that can inform us how emissions exist in the company.
This introduction, first, foregrounds a key analytical move. Then
I position how this move resonates with prior conversations in this
journal and sketch the ethnographic study. Subsequently, I sketch
the article’s structure.
No company acts on its own. Rather, particular practitioners –
called e.g., environmental ‘managers’ or ‘accountants’ – act on their
objects (e.g., environmental entities), employing technologies and
discourses. Depending on what these practitioners do, objects
are, I will show, reconfigured. To substantiate this line of argument,
I particularly draw on Mol’s (2002) study of disease in a hospital.
Following her, our studies should foreground practices that do
something to or with entities, including objects and subjects. What
practitioners do shapes entities and even brings these entities into
being – such as a disease (she argues) or emissions (I show). In this
approach, things are not antecedent to perceiving them but they
are enacted. They come into being through acting. If practices enact
things in particular ways they could also be enacted differently.
This renders any enactment into an issue of politics of what is
and could be: Ontological politics.
I link enacting things to datascapes. Within actor-network the-
ory, Latour (2004) engages with the enactment of reality by rework-
ing the notion ‘thing’. He thinks of things as assemblies of
communities that decide what reality is. Etymologically, he retraces
‘thing’ to the Thing, the Ding, a ‘quasi-judiciary assembly’ (233). The
assembly of all the forces and entities shapes the effect, the decision,
the thing. Olwig (2002, 2005) takes us, etymologically and analyti-
cally, further by pointing out that assemblies also shape their land,
i.e., scape the land; landscape emerges here as the effect of its Thing,
the political body, that configures entities; ‘[t]he assembly, thus, can
also be understood as forming environments’ (Lippert, 2014b, 105).
Complementarily, Tironi and Farías (submitted for publication)
reconstruct parks as landscapes shaped by various meetings of dif-
ferentially positioned actants. I use ‘scape’ to refer to the organisa-
tion, distribution, connection, patterning and configuring of
enactments, to heterogeneously, unequally and differentially enact-
ing things across various scales. The notion of scape, in other words,
integrates an analytics that proceeds through ethnographic vign-
ettes of enactments. My analysis proceeds towards analytics of data-
scapes, explored in carbon-landscape enactments.
The article’s thrust is: Environmental accounting practices are
not mere technologies-of-representation but these practices co-
configure how environments exist in the organisation. I, thus, ana-
lyse knowledge practices and their reality effects. This analysis
builds on earlier work in Science and Technology Studies on the
role of data infrastructures and memory practices (Bowker, 2005;
Edwards, 2010) and on related work in geography: Whatmore
(2006, 603) invites a ‘shift in analytic focus from discourse to prac-
tice’. My analysis resonates with such a shift, as shared in Geofo-
rum, especially in the issue edited by Bingham and Hinchliffe
(2008). Part of this work is Asdal’s (2008, 130) reconstruction of
how numbers co-configure how natures are taken into account:
‘Nature is not only made present and real through the instruments
and materials of nature-parts and natural science, of politics and
administration. Systems of accounting [...] also take part in these
practices’. The present contribution to such analysis is to show
how environmental accounting is practiced in a place centrally
integrated in the performance of capitalism.
I make present the ‘centrality’ to capitalism by sharing ethno-
graphic accounts from the Fortune 50 player’s sustainability unit.
I call the company Global Finance Quality (GFQ).
1
GFQ has been
one of the biggest capitalist players for many years – it manages
itself ‘successfully’. This allows studying how the environment is
present in a place that is considered ‘successful’ in capitalist logic.
GFQ operates financial services. That sector creates environmental
impacts – in the company’s logic by running offices (something
‘all’ companies do) and by way of financing other companies to con-
duct business (say, coal mining); the latter’s impacts have been
excluded from the financial player’s environmental accounting. As
a Fortune 50 player, what the company does are not idiosyncratically
isolated activities but are part of global capitalist relations, including
the world’s biggest auditors, globally relevant ranking organisations
(e.g., the Dow Jones Sustainability Index) and one of the world’s big-
gest nature conservation NGOs. I take this setting as an apt inroad
to a study of environment-in-practice within dominant forms of cap-
italism; although focusing on GFQ, implications beyond this particu-
lar company emerge (Lippert, 2014a).
My study focused on what carbon accountants do, which mate-
rials and tools they use, how they work in day-to-day practices. I
followed environmental data across hierarchies and reconstructed
corresponding data flows between organisational units, bookkeep-
ers, databases, spreadsheets and team-meetings. Carbon account-
ing emerges as an avenue through which we can study the logics
of how capitalism performs taking nature into account. ‘Carbon’
is not simply a name for molecules, but is deeply interwoven with
technologies of accounting (MacKenzie, 2009;Lippert, 2012b).
Analysing the practices of environmental accounting brackets the
debate about whether market ‘solutions’ are good or bad
(Lohmann, 2009). By studying the achievement of environmental
realities through accounting, I complement recent debates about
the market; studying accounting scrutinises the practico-founda-
tional numbers, which are presupposed not just by the market
but also any tax-based policy. These very numbers are imagined
as well controllable entities in accounting and, correspondingly,
as perfect candidates to control environmental impacts. Consider
MacKenzie’s (2009) account. While problematising conversion fac-
tors that translate various greenhouse gases into CO
2
e, he con-
cludes in terms of political attitudes, asking simply to improve
markets. Blok (2011, 457) problematises MacKenzie’s (2009) take,
missing studies of the material-semiotic politics within carbon.
MacKenzie (2009) as well as Lovell and MacKenzie (2011) invest
optimism in actors and devices to get the numbers right. Yet, learn-
ing from Asdal (2011) I note: Numbers may be weak, may not per-
form well. Therefore, I ask: How do numbers and data perform in
environmental accounting? I find that agents of ecological modern-
isation (Lippert, 2010a) practice carbon-as-data. Emissions, in cor-
porate practice, are data entities that are not only used internally
for resource governance but also released into discourses of cli-
mate change, sustainability and carbon economics. While con-
cerned with inclusions and exclusions in doing carbon-data, I
concentrate on the patterning, i.e., scaping, of the realm in which
carbon is brought into existence.
Approaching carbon accounting
To report its carbon footprint to publics, GFQ had first to estab-
lish this very footprint. Corporate carbon footprinting belongs to a
set of knowledge-making practices that equip organisations with
(accounts of) their environmental realities, e.g., resource flows
1
Names of actors inside and around the company have been rendered anonymous.
2I. Lippert / Geoforum xxx (2014) xxx–xxx
Please cite this article in press as: Lippert, I. Environment as datascape: Enacting emission realities in corporate carbon accounting. Geoforum (2014),
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2014.09.009
and consumption, production of waste and emissions, in short,
‘environmental impacts’. Some call such accounts ‘physical infor-
mation’; matching studies in corporate environmental manage-
ment approach these environmental realities as antecedent,
given. To illustrate, leading corporate environmental accounting
scholars Burritt et al. (2011, 86) claim ‘physical information is
more often than not available and kept for bookkeeping purposes’.
This stance enacts information about the environment ‘out there’
in a binary way – to be either existing or not, and as normally
somewhere already existing. This imagines environmental
accounting as if accounting directly knows the physical world it
provides accounts of.
GFQ, too, approached carbon accounting as a pretty straight-
forward exercise. They asked bookkeepers working at their glob-
ally distributed subsidiaries to enter physical information about
several key indicators (energy, water, paper consumption; waste
and travel services) into a database. Headquarters based environ-
mental managers acted as the carbon accountants who, in their
story, then added up the numbers reported for these indicators
and translated them into emissions facts using standardised car-
bon conversion factors. When all the data was accumulated they
imagined stepping outside of the data, what Haraway (1988)
would call performing a God-trick, to make the multinational
company’s emissions visible, generating a singular fact (e.g.,
‘GFQ emitted 4 tons of CO
2
e per employee in the year 2010, com-
pared to the baseline year a reduction of 11.4%’; GFQ defined car-
bon in terms of emissions per employee). I propose to critically
analyse these seemingly simple steps – which so neatly fit flow-
charts for data and organisational charts with clearly assigned
responsibilities.
Struggling over emissions
As an entry-point to reconstructing the doing of emissions, we
visit a meeting in which GFQ’s top environmental manager, Freder-
ik, presented a new type of table. The table made subsidiaries’
average employee emissions comparable at one glance (CO
2
e kg/
employee, baseline year to last year). The table’s and the meeting’s
objective was to inform and develop GFQ’s carbon reduction strat-
egy. While this particular table was discussed only at this meeting,
similar meetings took place routinely. Such meetings involved, e.g.,
viewing, checking, discussing and physically handling data. We
might think that once Frederik’s emissions table was put on the
meeting room’s table, GFQ’s emissions were represented, done.
As if emissions depended on the inscription (Latour, 1987) only.
My story is not just about inscription (and its constitutive devices)
but also about how the meeting’s participants related to emissions
practically. We were four: Frederik, GFQ’s sustainability manager
Victoria, Frederik’s assistant Elise and I.
Let us delve into the situation. Frederik distributed copies of a
spreadsheet table that we simultaneously skimmed. While doing
this, Frederik declared that something was wrong. He wanted us
to return the tables. Some seesaw followed: First, Victoria, Frederik
and Elise traced the content in depth, checking whether, or in
which cases, numbers were correct. Without further explications,
they agreed data was wrong. Uncontested, they collectively per-
formed the data as erroneous. After a while Frederik offered an
explanation: He had wanted to sort the rows by subsidiary; only
the subsidiary column and not those with the numeric values have
been sorted accordingly. Second, in parallel, Frederik suggested
several times that he wanted the tables, tabloid sized, returned.
The other three of us, however, did not want to return the copies
to him. Still, he physically withdrew the tables he had given earlier
to Elise and me. And he asked Victoria for hers. She did not return
the table. They were literally tearing the material.
The situation turned when he asked for this: We had to faith-
fully promise that we would not use these numbers, would not
show them to anybody. Victoria agreed. I proposed I would not
show the numbers anybody within GFQ. Frederik countered:
Self-evidently, you are not to show them to anybody outside. I
agreed. Subsequently, he returned the tables to Elise and me.
In retracing the actions and entities within this meeting, I ana-
lyse three observations – about the technology of the emissions
table, the stakes for participants and the reality achieved in this
meeting.
First, an inscription device that comes immediately in focus is
the emissions table. This table was a printed version of a spread-
sheet, produced with Microsoft Excel™. That Frederik had brought
the emissions on paper mattered. A paper could be easily taken
away; and it allowed members to highlight locations on the paper.
In contrast, digital versions were manipulable without leaving
many traces; members could easily share them digitally. However,
because members shared many files each day, sent myriads of
emails, a paper version could exercise more weight in making
emissions present than ‘just’ another xls file.
Second, attending to these practicalities is key to environmen-
tal agents’ tactics. Once participants performed the table as erro-
neous, they had the option to move on to another topic. This,
however, did not happen. Instead, all four agents verbally and
physically expressed a strong interest in the table. I propose that
this interest was situationally meaningful: The emissions table
constituted the newest shared version of how emissions existed
in the company. Practically, the emissions were constituted and
shaped by this table. And patterns of this emission reality could
be identified from this table independently of whether it con-
tained errors; picture the rectangular shape of the table, rows
for each subsidiary, eight similar but also different columns. In
an organisational sense, knowing this reality’s formatting was a
form of power. As environmental practitioners they needed to
know as much as possible about emerging forms of environments
when they were assembled by colleagues or superiors. To be able
to pursue tactics in their workplace, they needed to know the
new emission realities, i.e., the effects of this particular practical
way of assembling emissions. What this new emissions reality
looked like was not self-evident – it could have been different.
As Haraway (1988) reminds us: Any vision is partial; any device
generating visibility is also blinding and silencing. Spreadsheets
enact in/visibilities. At stake was how emissions became in/visible
with this new technology.
Third, the meeting’s members did not contest the erroneous
relation between table and ‘out there’. The struggle was not epi-
stemic but about the material access to an emission reality and
the trust in handling this reality well. We find that these practices
did not only operate on the visibility of some antecedent emis-
sions. Also, these practices shaped how emissions existed for
the environmental practitioner. Frederik only allowed his col-
leagues to keep the tables once they agreed to constrain their
usage of ‘his’ (erroneous) emission realities. That is to say, Freder-
ik interfered in his colleagues’ practical purposes. However, he
did not and could not directly govern his colleagues’ practical
relations to the material emissions tables. Instead, he had to rely
on their word. He had to trust they would not share the faulty
tables with others. One way to understand this situation is that
the technology of emissions was not only constituted by the
paper of the emissions table but also by how the latter was
assembled with the practitioners: When first handing out the
tables, Frederik configured ‘default’ relations between tables and
the environmental agents; they were allowed to use them for
any of their professional purposes. However, once he modalised
the table as erroneous, he first, but unsuccessfully, attempted to
‘disassemble’ this new configuration, and, as an alternative, he
I. Lippert / Geoforum xxx (2014) xxx–xxx 3
Please cite this article in press as: Lippert, I. Environment as datascape: Enacting emission realities in corporate carbon accounting. Geoforum (2014),
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2014.09.009
resorted to ‘alterassembling’, i.e., to differently con-figuring, the
humans and the emissions.
Interestingly, then, constitutive for the reality achieved by these
humans and nonhumans were not just data, information, paper,
spreadsheets or humans; significantly co-constitutive were prac-
tices of trust. Without Frederik’s trusting some participants could
not have materially accessed the emission reality. Clearly, these
practiced relations were not merely about Trust in Numbers as
Porter (1995) phrases it, but also about trust in humans (100,
214). I foreground: The reality of emissions is shaped by trust in
humans. Frederik and the others were now subjectively and mate-
rially entangled in a relationship that was co-constituted by their
performance of trust. Therewith, the humans did not simply trust
some ‘antecedent’ object but they became part of the object, thus,
partially reconstituting how they were subject to their material
practices. In this interpretation, the humans together with the
non-humans became a living entity that co-constituted emissions.
Elsewhere I discuss this as an extended and distributed cognition
machine (Lippert, 2011). The politics of this machine is distributed
over its various constituents and the ways their relations are
performed.
This discussion indicates that what emissions are for the practi-
cal purposes of practitioners is not very much about some anteced-
ent molecules – independently of whether GFQ’s accountants
signify the latter as ‘carbon’, ‘CO
2
e’, or as ‘greenhouse gases’ in for-
mal documents. Much rather, for practitioners’ practical purposes
(in contrast to their formal claims), emissions seem to be the ongo-
ing sociomaterial practices that relate particular humans and non-
humans. This consideration needs to be spelt out conceptually.
For Mol (2002, 5) ontology is not given in the order of things,
[...] instead, ontologies are brought into being, sustained, or
allowed to wither away in common, day-to-day, sociomaterial
practices’. She proposes the concept enactment to point to how
entities are materially-semiotically brought into reality as well as
maintained, altered or made absent. Following her, asking what a
particular entity ‘is’ – or for that matter what emissions ‘are’ –
shifts from a determinate meaning to a situated meaning. Being
is situated (54).
Along these lines, Frederik’s moves emerge as practicing a par-
ticular ontology, i.e., enacting a particular reality. This misses a
nuance. Significant in this situation was a mistaken reality that
he had enacted. For considering the emissions erroneous, he was
not committed to this reality. Interestingly, the reality he had pro-
duced was the effect of his practices that were committed to
‘another’ reality. He did not intend the error. Bringing into being
an ontology, thus, does not necessitate that the actors involved
are committed to that reality. If at all, commitments take part in
the complicated politics of situated action. Making the achieved
reality meet the commitments may involve further work. What
emissions are, what nature is, thus can be expected to be a matter
of complicated practical politics. A singular and coherent emission
reality is not given but has to be achieved.
Of course, if emissions are in situated practices, then they are
always some-where, some-time, some-how. Therefore, we need
to enquire in the diversity of how emissions have been enacted –
in and across different situations.
Carbon versions
The analytics pursued here insists that a variety of other enact-
ments also take place outside of this particular meeting – not only
in GFQ meetings but also in other organisations. To show the range
and consequences of enacting data within GFQ, I retrace data prac-
tices from the imagined ground (visiting the sourcing of data) to
final reporting (making GFQ’s emissions publicly accountable). I
continue to draw on Mol’s (2002) account. She finds that reality
is not enacted in a singular way, but much rather in multiple prac-
tices that do not constitute a singular reality but multiple realities.
I reconstruct how emissions can be conceptualised in terms of
multiplicity, contrasting GFQ’s ‘standard’-ised accounting.
2
A key premise of GFQ’s accounting was that data are readily
available, in the subsidiaries. This premise, however, did not hold
and renders invisible the hard work of environmental bookkeepers
to enact the very foundation which accounting would be based
upon (Lippert, 2012a; 2013a, Ch. 2). In ‘easy’ cases, bookkeepers’
work includes translating invoices into consumption facts. In this
process only traces are translated from one inscription device
(invoice) to another (e.g., a spreadsheet). I understand this as
con-texting: What the texts of environmental data are and what
their irrelevant context are is the outcome of such translation prac-
tices. Of course, con/text can always be done differently (Asdal,
2012). It was also completely normal that colleagues questioned
these expected translations, requiring situated and practical
engagement with the problems rather than standardised default
responses (Lippert, 2012a; 2013a, Ch. 2; 2013b). The environmen-
tal data that is produced ‘on the ground’ is not given and deter-
mined by some external environment or is ‘captured’ by a
standardised technique, but it is enacted in situated practices that
arrange and assemble heterogeneous entities. A partial list of them
includes the bookkeeper (i.e., the heterogeneous engineer himself;
see also Krause, 2014), things that were enacted as ‘sources’,
spreadsheets and phone calls to qualify data’s meanings. The data
enacted in these assemblages were later entered into a central
database.
Storing data was not the only function of the database. It was
built, too, to report data. The reporting algorithm translated the
diverse environmental facts into CO
2
e, employing conversion fac-
tors. The latter are by no means self-evident but constructed in
techno-scientific investigations – in life cycle analyses (LCA);
resulting not in facts read off ‘nature’ but contingent effects
(Molloy, 2000; Roth and Bowen, 2001). For each subindicator a dif-
ferent factor was used. This was to link the eventually reported
emissions to the emissions ‘out there’. To illustrate, GFQ used a
conversion factor of 0.18 kg CO
2
e to translate a kilometre flown
on short-haul flights into emissions while it used 0.11 kg/km
CO
2
e to translate long-haul flights.
At this step of the ideal connection further contingencies occur:
For these specific factors to be applied correctly a subsidiary’s data
needed to fit precisely the distinctions of the factors (e.g., flight data
needed to fit the categories ‘short-haul’ and ‘long-haul’ flights) and
this fit was not self-evident (see Lippert, 2013a, 94–104; 2013b).
Thus, resulting emissions were co-dependent on LCA practices as
well as on the precise, situated, quality of the (non-)fit of local data
with the conversion factors’ assumptions of reality. Interestingly,
while GFQ mostly claimed it used the VfU standard’s conversion fac-
tors in its database GFQ partially employed non-VfU conversion fac-
tors that lowered emissions. The pair of conversion factors above
(0.18 and 0.11 kg CO
2
e) was sourced not from VfU but from WBCSD
3
– because WBCSD excluded airport infrastructures from accounting
for flights’ effects on the atmosphere (while VfU included the airport
infrastructures and, thus, would have led to 5–45% higher emissions).
This constitutes economic externalities. Thus, emission facts are also
co-enacted by the actual ways standards are interwoven in calcula-
tions. It is the practice of interweaving standard factors that config-
ures conversion factors within the database, rather than the
standard, that determines the configuration.
2
GFQ’s publications staged its environmental accounting as standardised by the
Greenhouse Gas Protocol developed by the Global Reporting Initiative and a finance
industry specific standard (‘VfU’).
3
World Business Council of Sustainable Development.
4I. Lippert / Geoforum xxx (2014) xxx–xxx
Please cite this article in press as: Lippert, I. Environment as datascape: Enacting emission realities in corporate carbon accounting. Geoforum (2014),
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2014.09.009
Yet, I cannot understand the reality of reported emissions by
solely attending to the data enacted on the ground by bookkeepers.
In addition, I also (would) need to trace the range of the processing,
translations and shifts in data that are configured into the database
(space does not permit reporting more results here; but see
Lippert, 2013a, Ch. 5). And these configurations are decisive as well
as problematic. They are adapted in relation to various tactical
considerations.
After following through all these selected and/or not chosen
paths of data transformations, data are reported as emissions-on-
a-balance sheet. Such emissions are then used by the company to
report them to other organisational units – inter alia to the PR
department to create a glossy sustainability report but also to rat-
ings and rankings, performing the greenness of GFQ publicly. For
each of these parallel translations, data are remodalised, specifically
con-texted and con-figured, to make carbon fit for documents’
respective purposes. Here the story links to the ‘capitalist market’
4
:
For markets to ‘work’, its participants assumably need to know the
goods and bads traded. The particularities of inscribing and format-
ting GFQ’s emissions shaped how ‘internal’ and ‘external’ actors were
informed.
For corporate carbon management as well as for carbon markets
it is not molecules that matter in any direct way but data. Knowing
emissions enacts the emissions – not by inviting ‘out-theres’ into
the headquarters to touch data but precisely through the material
practices of knowing the entity. In corporate practice, knowing and
bringing emission into being are not distinct. If data can travel then
corporate emissions can travel. ‘GFQ’s emissions’ can be brought
into existences within the company as well as outside, by an
NGO, by shareholders, in this article. Thus, the social and material
doing of data effects what emissions become the reality for their
users. For a company’s practical purposes, corporate emissions
are the effect of these distributed and extended practices of
accounting.
Finally, we need to recognise that yearly emissions are not
established simply once. Consider the baseline year’s emissions.
These emissions kept changing as subsidiaries were in the process
of learning the implications of the baseline (Lippert, 2013a, 488–
499). The higher the baseline, the easier it was to perform emission
reduction. In a phone conversation Frederik let me know it was
very normal to retrospectively alter numbers. According to him
‘numbers have always been changed’.
The database, thus, does not report once and forever, but users
can generate many reports, each being travelling data, each co-
constituting the emission realities depending on the particular
database configuration. Resonating with changing ‘foundational’
data inputs and ongoing stabilisations as well as re-con-figurations
within the database, the effective emissions change. Not one bal-
ance sheet is produced but many. Carbon realities come in ver-
sions. Within GFQ’s data work, emission realities exist in
spreadsheets: e.g., ‘Version: 20.04.2009 10:22:42’. A spreadsheet
without that information is quite useless; it might be out of date;
then, in GFQ’s logic, this reality should be discarded. Emissions
thus are not only distributed over versions that travel organisa-
tionally but they also shift temporally.
Recognising unequal and materially heterogeneous distribu-
tions of emissions adds to my argument about emissions-as-data-
scape. Distributions of data are not arbitrary but contingent on
how the dataspace is materially-semiotically shaped. In contrast
to Mol’s account of the body that is, eventually, singularised, GFQ’s
realities maintain their distributed and extended multiplicity,
accommodating emissions/versions discrepancies (e.g., various
statuses of ‘truth’, authorisation or (non-)update).
This discussion proposes that accounting practices matter for
what and how carbon exists in and for the company, and conse-
quently, capitalism. The techniques of environmental accounting
shape carbon. ‘The plethora of techniques makes for a multiplica-
tion of reality.’ (Mol, 2002, 75) The effect of how emissions are
practiced is not so much a representation of carbon ‘out there’
but the effect is enacting carbon for all the practical purposes of
their practitioners. And this reality of corporate emissions is not
predetermined by molecules or standards but is contingent on
how humans, spreadsheets, a central database, team meetings sit-
uationally interact. Still, molecules join the practices through com-
plicated translations (partially interwoven with standards) that
contingently and very weakly connect GFQ’s practiced emissions
to impacts ‘out there’. Each eventual reality produced could have
been practiced differently. The reality of carbon is better under-
stood as multiple rather than as singular. Furthermore, not only
is the reality of carbon multiple but also is carbon existing multi-
ply: Many file versions of emissions exist and they travel. I, hence-
forth, conceptualise environmental reality as multiple mobile
multiples. Emissions exist for situated organisational and eco-
nomic practices in carbon-as-data, not in molecules. Carbon-as-
data is not coordinated through some antecedent body but in the
practices of enactment.
Ordering emissions
Recognising the multiplicity in carbon and the practical pres-
ence of various versions raises the question of how the emission
scape was kept in order. This question exceeds a focus on trust
in seemingly standardised and rigorous methods that allow num-
bers to be enrolled as objective. I am concerned here not only with
the methods and particular numbers but also with the practices of
achieving and ordering a space of numbers that can be tactically
employed. Engaging with this question, I offer a twofold sense of
order to understand environments-as-data. First, order is an
achievement. Law (1994) calls us to study order as practice, order-
ing. Second, ordering emission versions means making some more
present than others and that includes deleting as well as shifting
versions. To extend our analysis of the ways emissions are aligned
and directed, I engage with Suchman’s (2012) work on configura-
tions as practice and offer accounts of ordering – of learning and
boundary-drawing.
The headquarters systematically reviewed subsidiaries’ envi-
ronmental balance sheets and translated subsidiaries’ resource
and service consumption into carbon emissions. The reviewed
emissions versions were shared with subsidiaries’ environmental
managers. Sometimes Elise and Frederik accompanied these ver-
sions with questions (e.g., was the subsidiary sure about a particu-
lar number) or inquired into further creative possibilities to
‘gather’ data. In corporate logics, such requests for review consti-
tute a form of quality control. Usually, ‘quality control’ denotes
the idea that an ‘increasing’ quality is ensured. For GFQ’s environ-
mental data, however, what constitutes quality was highly situ-
ated: Members considered it a desirable quality to have data at
all; Frederik sometimes resorted to what he called ‘professional
unprofessionality’ to construct foundational data if subsidiaries
could not enact the needed data. Doing data pragmatically side-
lined explications of how data was enacted. The notion of ‘control’
is challenged when we consider the following: Because environ-
mental balance sheets were sent back and forth between HQ and
subsidiaries, environmental realities often stabilised only after sev-
eral months, sometimes years, if at all. Frederik proudly cited the
auditors, calling him ‘out of control’. Despite auditor’s recognition
4
While I address GFQ as participating in ‘capitalist markets’, I recognise that the
data practices analysed in this paper are not necessarily unique to capitalist relations.
Also non-capitalist markets may be configured by problematic accounting practices.
I. Lippert / Geoforum xxx (2014) xxx–xxx 5
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that GFQ’s data was not well ordered, the auditors could not well
hinder the data practices that were necessary to bring data into
being.
GFQ’s top environmental accountants approached shifts and
hurdles in data as ‘learning’. As described above, one particular
‘quality’ that was desirable for the company was to ‘improve’ and
‘repair’ baseline emissions. When subsidiaries found mistakes in
baseline data that indicated that the baseline emissions had actu-
ally been higher, this was welcomed (while lower baseline emis-
sions were not welcomed). So it was not surprising when
Victoria approached data update requests in terms of ‘corrections
in which emissions improve’. ‘Learning’ and ‘improving’ emissions
suggest that emissions are not merely the result of undirected
encounters of actants but also of the tactical arrangement of rela-
tions within the company.
Briefly, I trace the directedness of enacting environmental real-
ities in GFQ by attending to the boundaries that the company drew
to include some environments in their accounting while excluding
others. GFQ’s accounting for environmental impacts by employing
five ‘key indicators’ implied that other environmental impacts
were ignored. The company attended to this through the notion
‘system boundaries’. What was outside the boundaries constituted
‘externalities’ (in economics’ terms) or ‘overflows’ (in the terms of
the performativity of economics literature, Callon, 1998). Not
within the frame of GFQ’s environmental accounts were emissions
related to, inter alia, the construction of offices they were using and
emissions caused by GFQ’s core practice (of investing money in
other industries that enabled these industries to produce and, thus,
to emit). So, all of this was excluded from GFQ’s ‘internalised’ envi-
ronmental realities. While the language of system boundaries ren-
ders the overflow present within the environmental management
team, GFQ’s PR agents would not emphasise the exclusions in,
say, their corporate sustainability report.
Both approaches, ‘learning’ to ‘improve’ emissions and exclud-
ing environments from the accounts, are not some form of abstract
greenwash but they are the effect of the material practices of GFQ’s
distributed actants. If a bookkeeper – mistakenly or subversively –
included wrong environments (i.e. environments that officially
were to be excluded; see Lippert 2012a, 152–156) in environmen-
tal data, then different emissions would result. Prescriptive devices
– like methodologies, standards, database interfaces or meetings
with a boss – did not determine emissions but co-configured them.
What emissions were enacted was always situated and, thus, con-
tingent. Official plans were not in complete control (see Suchman,
2007). Mol’s ‘enactment’ points us to reality-making’s contingen-
cies. With her I grasp the both knowledge and material character
of enacting emissions through ‘improving’ emissions and
excluding some environments from turning into corporate
emissions at all.
As indicated, in ‘improving’ and boundary enactment I identify
directedness. Humans, databases, standards, meetings, and other
actants were subject to some of these actants’ moves to align them
in particular ways. Thus, emission practices did not cohere in some
simplistic way but assembled (see Mol, 2002, 150). Significant to
the study of corporate carbon is that this assemblage was given
direction – even if not determined by standardised methodologies
– still effectively (see Foucault, 1978, 94–95).
A generative way of conceptualising the tension between
directedness and contingency in technological practices that
enact realities uses the paired notion configuration/configuring.
Suchman (2012) proposes to study heterogeneous assemblages
that constitute IT devices and practices simultaneously as a con-
figuration as well as existing through practice, i.e., configuring.
Significantly, within configurations, diverse actors and entities
can exist – existing in their configured/ing relations. Grasping
configurations as material practices, IT devices themselves
emerge in a mode of ongoing reconfigurations. Within these rela-
tions, it is not necessary for every-thing and -body to practice
shared imaginaries of what is happening or what the device is
about. The effects of the practiced relations are the inclusions
and exclusions, ‘insides’ and ‘outsides’ that are constitutive to
the device. The agency and constitution of the entities’ ‘inside’,
respectively, is not antecedent but is the outcome of the prac-
ticed relations. Similarly, ‘fixity of an artefact is an effect of reit-
erative enactments of a particular subject/object configuration,
while fluidity articulates the inherent multiplicity of objects in
ways that facilitate their travel’ (56). Both, Mol and Suchman
conceptualise stable, fixed, singular, particular ‘things’ as effects
of material practices. Achieving such fixity, singularity and stabil-
ity requires alignment work of ever-changing and mutually con-
stituting non-antecedent entities. This alignment work would not
be possible were the constituents intrinsically fixed. Entities need
to be fluid and flexible – amendable to shifting relations within a
particular configuration.
GFQ’s drawing of system boundaries takes part in configuring
what is ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, thus co-shaping what GFQ’s
environment is. Here we are in the realm of ontological practices.
Boundary drawing co-enacts any organisation’s environment.
Boundaries, as formative relations, become part of the configura-
tion. In addition, what counts as environment (for the company)
is co-configured by the learning processes that change the consti-
tution of versions of multiple environments over time. Engaging
with an analysis that retraces such complexity and mess is partic-
ularly appropriate in the GFQ case because GFQ’s agents them-
selves considered their carbon accounting apparatus messy,
requiring too much maintenance and alignment work, and, as
‘inefficient’. Considering problematic relations as well as entities
and their shaping within the carbon accounting configuration,
Frederik and Victoria considered these ‘out of control’. This implied
a call for getting carbon in control – to improve environmental
reality’s directability.
Optimising environmental reality-making
To get carbon in control, GFQ teamed up the environmental
accountants with those actors in the company who, supposedly,
were most experienced in directing the flows of the company’s key
reality: Financial data strategists. The structure of this optimisation
process resonates with a practice reported by Mol (2002, 102).By
deciding how a problem is treated members also opt for a technique
that shapes how reality will be enacted. In short, I suspect this: Real-
ity follows technique. Therefore, I retrace how environmental reali-
ties were prefigured in GFQ’s data optimisation process.
Underlying the environmental and financial agents’ cooperation
was an analysis of GFQ’s existing environmental data: A represen-
tation of their data practices in form of a ‘business process model’.
This took part in coordinating members’ work. To understand cor-
porate environments’ coming into and shifting reality, I attend to
the team’s work of imagining and optimising their carbon account-
ing configuration.
When I had entered the field, the company had already decided
that the accounting configuration was to be reworked. GFQ’s ‘pro-
gressive’ paradigm shift was to tear down the walls between envi-
ronmental and financial accounting. Greening-wise, this move fit
perfectly the promises of ecological modernisation theory (Mol,
2010, 23): The environment was to move centre stage in the con-
cerns of modern organisation – internalisation by processing ‘the
environment’ like other data. While, officially, the precise future
configuration was yet to be developed and decided upon, team
members had informally settled two configuring moves: (a) GFQ
was to phase out the database system they had used hitherto;
instead environmental data would merge with financial data
6I. Lippert / Geoforum xxx (2014) xxx–xxx
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inhabiting GFQ’s SAP infrastructure
5
; (b) they enacted a dynamic
colleague as a promissory agent – to substitute Frederik, who had,
hitherto, closely attended to much of the messy-but-necessary align-
ment work. By excluding the old database and its manager, the sus-
tainability team hoped to reduce mess and establish a configuration
(a) they could effectively control, (b) to more easily stage emission
facts as stable and singular.
When I first saw the business process model, I immediately
sensed that GFQ’s analysts had understood and depicted significant
moments of their data practices’ mess (Lippert 2013a, 328): We
find 1.5 m of directed (arrows) and non-directed relations, rectan-
gles, diamonds and ovals (distributed over six pages). Some
months later, the group had succeeded; they had assembled a
new emission accounting process – on paper: The new process
fit just two pages, it was cleaned up. Diving into the group’s meet-
ings allows us to study how they achieved to optimise their
practices.
Prefiguring problems
In one of the meetings, a financial data flow strategist shared
reflections on how the transformation from the ‘old’ configuration
to the ‘new’ would influence the processes of data gathering. Con-
sidering how data gathering should and might improve, the strat-
egist remarked to the meeting: ‘obviously, data quality won’t
improve either’. Then, Victoria pointed to subsidiaries having lump
sum contracts: Invoices resulting from these do not split electric-
ity, water and heating, but provide a total. She referred to subsidi-
aries in Malaysia and the US. Neither the old nor the new
configuration could ‘reasonably’ construct high quality environ-
mental facts based on totals. The strategy staff opinionated that
they, too, could not sort out this problem. The strategist who had
offered the remark asked: Would it be possible that suppliers break
down the data? Directly, one of his colleagues countered: The
Anglo-Americans won’t. Victoria affirmingly shook her head. Those
realities that for practical reasons could not be translated into data
practices would emerge, systematically, as overflows.
6
In another meeting strategists shared, they would not expect
financial bookkeepers ‘on the ground’ to care for intricacies when
entering environmental data. In the old configuration designated
environmental agents were involved to enter data; and some of
these actually cared about the data they entered. In contrast, ‘nor-
mal’ finance administrators would ‘obviously’ not interest them-
selves in something as irrelevant to their work routine as ‘the
environment’; hence, strategists foresaw missing care within the
new configuration. Thus, while in the old configuration agents con-
tained some overflows, the optimised approach was prefigured to
overflow.
While the optimisation process was about improving the qual-
ity of emission data and of data practices, staff also identified infra-
structural limits and mess. However, team members did not allow
these limits to enter ‘governance’ talk about GFQ’s environmental
management system. Instead, the limits were to stay in the room.
The limits to emissions were not to be communicated alongside
the emissions, neither within GFQ nor to external actors.
Members discursively contained spreading the limits by way of
translating neither the problems in nor the hitherto practiced
messy solutions to data gathering into the ‘optimised’ emission
accounting business process model. The new model enacted data
gathering as a ‘non-issue’ (Rappert and Gould, 2014); the team
collectively ignored data mess, turned data into black boxes, hiding
prefigured problems from the document’s users. Realities of what-
ever matter that did not fit the form were not emitted by GFQ.
Messy environments were not to enter the company’s clean carbon
accounts.
Organising trust
GFQ and their partners – a Big Four audit company and one of
the world largest environmental NGOs – recognised that the emis-
sion reality was not in control, thus not trustable. Therefore, the
optimisation team turned to organise trust via a proxy. The chosen
proxy was a certification by an auditor, to signal that GFQ’s emis-
sions were all well. Victoria informed the group: Initially, the new
software is supposed to be audited centrally; the Big Four auditing
company is to audit the process of collecting data. And Frederik
suggested, any audit of GFQ’s financial accounting system would
automatically co-audit their new environmental database system.
In parallel Frederik whispered to me: Their NGO partner preferred
another auditor, a ‘green’ one. Yet, GFQ, he elaborated, insists on
their Big Four auditing partner.
The expected advantage for GFQ to work with the Big Four com-
pany was that the latter would focus auditing GFQ’s accounting
reality on financial data, i.e., on what ‘really’ mattered. GFQ
expected the auditor to not worry much about environmental data.
This also means that GFQ was not much concerned about the links
between accounting and the imagined corresponding reality of
emissions ‘out there’. They worked towards optimising emission
accounting such that the auditor stamps the emissions, renders
the emissions trustworthy. To ensure this would happen, they pre-
pared a presentation with a neat accounting model for the auditor,
not representing actual problems and partial solutions in and to
environmental accounting. The emissions of the new configuration
were, thus, prefigured to exist as neat independently of their socio-
techno-environmental messy character. Emissions reality was con-
sidered optimal – sufficiently optimised – if internal and external
actors stopped questioning data, i.e., if GFQ could get an auditor
to sign off their emissions-data as trusted. I conclude that for
GFQ the effect of the carbon accounting configuration mattered,
not the greenhouse gases emitted ‘out there’.
The optimisation of corporate carbon accounting is particularly
interesting because of the discursive-technical shifts that GFQ
achieved. On the one hand the company managed to develop a sys-
tem that could be performed as taking emissions seriously into the
heart of the company. On the other hand, they could only enact this
move successfully by means of excluding and ignoring problematic
particularities of environmental data – i.e., by keeping Other envi-
ronments out of the core. The new configuration would allow envi-
ronments that easily fit the company’s core to move to the centre;
environments that did not fit in had to stay out.
This has two relevant theoretical implications. First, where the
notion of overflows may suggest a clearly defined exclusion at,
e.g., system boundaries, here are more messy exclusions.
Strathern (2005) conceptualises how and where such kinds of
overflows are effected: Internally. ‘Internal externalities’ are the
product of the material and discursive practices that exclude,
silence or make invisible particular realities in the midst of par-
tially internalising projects. By way of taking nature into account
it is not only some clearly defined overflows that are left out of
the nature that will matter, but within those natures that are
actively accounted for further significant realities cannot be
accounted for.
Second, I reintroduce the notion of staging. This is helpful
because it allows analytically differentiating enactments that
actors are committed to and realities that actors are not committed
to. While this analysis suggests, actors co-enacted all realities,
5
SAP is a leader in software systems that allow companies to manage and plan
‘resources’.
6
If, for example, a subsidiary reported paper consumption but no data on
electricity, water and heating then GFQ’s data practices enacted emissions as only
resulting from paper consumption with zero emissions from anything else.
I. Lippert / Geoforum xxx (2014) xxx–xxx 7
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2014.09.009
actors recognise some of the realities accounted for as problematic.
I here refer to GFQ’s agents who identified problems, mess and
overflows in environmental data practices. They achieved (a) to
collectively ignore these problematic practices and (b) to collec-
tively stage environmental data practices as manageable, effec-
tively optimisable, in control. Engaging generatively with the
corporate ‘context’ of data practices in this paper – resonating with
critiques of formal accounting and audit as myths (Meyer and
Rowan, 1991; Power, 1999; Boiral, 2007) – substantiated: The
environmental performance of an organisation is precisely that –
a performance, a staged exercise. GFQ’s shaping of data practices
only allowed to express alongside core financial data practices
those carbon realities that they could stage as stable, singular, in
control. Performing ‘well’ in environmental accounting means
staging accounts for the purposes of the company.
Environment-as-datascape
This article grasps the contingency and constraints of managing
environments by way of reconstructing managers’ practices as
configuring environments-as-data. The study contributes to an
analytics of ontology-in-practice, in which ‘reality is enacted’,
and not only matter of interpretation. My concern is not with
how managers see the environment but how they achieve its exis-
tence in organisational reality. Studying capitalist corporate prac-
tice with this analytics, the concluding argument takes five steps,
suggesting: The environment within dominant forms of capitalism
(a) is not so much some environment ‘out there’ but, much rather,
(b) are environments that exist as datascapes.
First, this paper showed that various forms of environmental
accounts were translated into carbon emissions. The emissions
leaving the company were informational entities that informed
discourses of climate change and co-produced the carbon econ-
omy. Environmental accounting does not simply represent some
environment ‘out there’ but enacts carbon as an effect of socio-
material-discursive, situated, assemblages. The company’s
emissions were co-constituted by the practices that made these
emissions ‘accountable’. Within these situated practices, the emis-
sions leaving the company were configured in a directed (but not
deterministic) manner. The company staged emissions as clear-
cut, singular, transparent facts. However, emissions were also
recognised (by corporate actors) as ‘out of control’, messy; emis-
sions-in-practice are multiple, they come in many versions that
shift and fluctuate over time, hang together not by means of some
deterministic body (molecules or standards) but by means of the
constituting configuration/configuring.
Depending on the particularities within ongoing configurings of
environmental accounting, different realities are effected. The
informational-technical infrastructure does not determine the
environmental reality-as-data but co-configures the phenomenon.
Although, partially, a configuration may be temporally stabilised,
elsewhere more flexibility exists. A particular configuration, there-
fore, can co-effect a range of environmental realities. Thus, within
configuring environments, it is not a singular reality that is pro-
duced but a space of multiple and situated possible realities.
Second, I reconstruct this space as scape. By this I mean that the
dataspace is not homogenous, arbitrary or deterministic but that it
contains differentiating material practices distributed heteroge-
neously within the space that achieve that some data are locally
and materially-temporally stabilised while other data are rendered
fluid or even more unstable. The space is, thus, structured through
material-semiotic practices generating different environmental
realities at different points, several of which are transformed into
carbon-data layers that, again, are configured. The locally, tempo-
rally and historically specific practices qualify how carbon comes
into being. Where landscape refers to the qualities embodied in
the land – inscribed into the land by the land’s ‘governing’ assem-
blies (Olwig, 2005), carbon-landscape, or carbonscape (Lippert,
2013b, Ch. 6), refers to the shaping of the differentiated and heter-
ogeneous distribution of qualifying material-semiotic practices
that enact carbon. Differentially enabled and constrained actants
scape carbon. Just like market design is ongoing politics within car-
bon markets’ performativity (Blok, 2011), so is the space of (possi-
ble) emission realities enacted and shaped tactically.
Third, the participants in shaping environmental datascapes are
not in complete or ‘global’ control. Rather, any management or
governance of and control over environments is materially and
socially situated as well as partial. In the office, environments sup-
posedly under management are socio-material data practices. That
data comes with characteristics that undermine complete control:
Digital environments are multiple, fluid and exist within multiple
configuring enactments. Management practices can only ‘access’
environments in this complicated and messy realm. This implies,
management can never grasp a complete environment: Internal
externalities, prefigured overflows, shifting ontological statuses
question the imaginary of ‘control’. Any particular management
act can only relate to the situated participants of the assembling
encounter. At any point in time, GFQ’s agents only engage with
particular situated carbon realities – that a minute or, for that mat-
ter, years later could have easily changed. Again, the landscape
metaphor is generative: Environment-as-datascape only allows
local, situated relations. Managers practically work ‘in’ a landscape
but not in the abstract ‘on’ it. Any imagined abstraction is merely a
different form of practical configuration. Totality is impossible.
Instead, managers can go to a particular place and manage
from there, with the place’s assemblages. Managers’ practices
co-configure the company’s carbonscape. Any other environmental
manager will be positioned similarly: Environmental management
is enacted within socio-material-discursive datascapes. Environ-
ments are not in control but are in enacted in configuring practices.
Data-as-practiced experienced non-predictable shifts. Indeed,
emissions were ‘out of control’. On that the environmental manag-
ers were right. Not exercising complete control also meant they
could not successfully ensure the intended internalisation. These
constraints, unfortunately, were multiplied by the relational
requirements within which GFQ positioned itself: The company
needed to stage itself as in control vis-à-vis investors, auditors
and civil societies. A performance of control that ensures that prob-
lems, mess, contradictions and non-coherencies are not engaged
with diminishes the possibility for explicitly situated ‘accounts’.
In other words, the management of environments was configured
to be not accountable; the staging of facts was configured to not
respond to critical questions – impossibilising GFQ to act
responsibly.
Fourth, I generalise the environmental management office as a
space that can be locally materially-semiotically configured to
stage, beyond carbon, other globalised environments as well. GFQ
actors several times suggested that climate change is a fad. Before
‘carbon’ they managed ‘resources’. They ‘knew’, in a decade or so,
the dominant environmental discourse may well overcome carbon.
What comes afterwards? They mentioned ‘water’. And this they
translated into ‘water footprints’. Alternatively, ‘after carbon’ the
centre of capitalism might imagine its environmental relations
through accounting for ‘ecosystem services’. In parallel loom dis-
courses of ‘risk’ management that demand environments to be
staged as rational and in control. Within this landscape’s situated
norms and practices, environments-as-data are neither deter-
mined by some superior scientific or accounting standards nor by
a profession’s organisation but are tactically and generatively
enacted to be compatible with capital accumulation. For the com-
pany the environment ‘out there’ does not matter. What matters
for the company is to be able to generate facts that sustain the
8I. Lippert / Geoforum xxx (2014) xxx–xxx
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organisation’s relations – internally or with other players, be it the
largest international environmental NGOs, auditing and standardi-
sation organisations or governments.
How can the company ensure that their facts are not deeply
questioned? It can achieve this by offering users’ discourses what
they need. Least of all, to stay successful, the company would want
practitioners to care for particularities of the environments they
exist through and off. Keeping those particularities that differenti-
ate environments out ensures that the company can switch
between environmental discourse by swapping conversion factor
tables and by developing new spreadsheets: From carbon footprint
tables to the next fad. Environmental datascape is structured to
allow enactments for a variety of purposes, from resource and risk
to reputation management.
The company is practically ‘constructivist’ behinds its realist
epistemic performance. To sustain itself in the midst of environ-
mental discourses and ever-new discourses that point to local
and global environmental issues, the easiest is to respond superfi-
cially while ensuring that the company can easily flick between
discourses. The more environmental accounting is configured
formable, the more profitable it is for the company. The more real-
ities the company’s managers ignore, the ‘better’ they perform cap-
italism. These conclusions question the promissory accounts by
ecological modernisation scholars like Arthur Mol (2006, 2010)
as well as MacKenzie’s (2009) optimism.
Finally, these considerations question how to imagine interven-
tions in environmental management – in datascapes and offices.
GFQ’s top environmental managers knew perfectly that they per-
form environments in particular ways, that they could enact differ-
ent environments and that they were supporting a particular tactics
of attempting to make capitalism engage with the environment.
‘Managing’ environments can be staged in the face of catastrophic
circumstances that make plain evident for managers that their
approach to management guarantees everything but challenging
destructive business (see also Rojas, in press; Lippert, 2010b). Draw-
ing tactically and creatively on the datascapes, managers can easily
stage environments that satisfy policy demands for clear facts and
figures. This supports mutually affirming performances in de facto
collaborations of environmental managers, PR agents, standardisa-
tion and professional organisations. My analysis calls to question
not merely specific numbers and facts but the reconfigurations of
and in environmental-dataspaces, i.e., environments-as-datascapes.
Readers might then ask what environmental managers should
do. It would be foolish for me to end with a simplistic call for a par-
ticular new standard, a new recipe that everybody, every organisa-
tion, should adopt. If the ‘solution’ is not something that can simply
be implemented, how else to proceed? I see this analysis as calling
for subversive research. We might be moving on if we engage with
environmental managers as situated practitioners, undermining
dominant configurations/configurings: Working towards opening
up environmental practices for critical reconfigurations.
Acknowledgements
The work underlying this analysis was conducted while I was
supported by scholarships by Hans-Böckler-Foundation and the
German National Academic Foundation. The analysis would not
have been possible without GFQ and its sustainability staff grant-
ing access for fieldwork. I would like to thank two anonymous
reviewers for their comments on an earlier draft of this essay. I
am particularly grateful for generative conversations with Chris-
toph Lau and Lucy Suchman and for detailed questions and
comments by Christopher Gad, Rachel Douglas-Jones, Niklas Hart-
mann, Franz Krause, Lydia Stiebitz and Steffen Dalsgaard.
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Landscape, Nature, and the Body Politic explores the origins and lasting influences of two contesting but intertwined discourses that persist today when we use the words landscape, country, scenery, nature, national. In the first sense, the land is a physical and bounded body of terrain upon which the nation state is constructed (e.g., the purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain, from sea to shining sea). In the second, the country is constituted through its people and established through time and precedence (e.g., land where our fathers died, land of the Pilgrims' pride). Kenneth Olwig's extended exploration of these discourses is a masterful work of scholarship both broad and deep, which opens up new avenues of thinking in the areas of geography, literature, theater, history, political science, law, and environmental studies. Olwig tracks these ideas though Anglo-American history, starting with seventeenth-century conflicts between the Stuart kings and the English Parliament, and the Stuart dream of uniting Scotland with England and Wales into one nation on the island of Britain. He uses a royal production of a Ben Jonson masque, with stage sets by architect Inigo Jones, as a touchstone for exploring how the notion of "landscape" expands from artful stage scenery to a geopolitical ideal. Olwig pursues these contested concepts of the body politic from Europe to America and to global politics, illuminating a host of topics, from national parks and environmental planning to theories of polity and virulent nationalistic movements.
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Global warming skeptics often fall back on the argument that the scientific case for global warming is all model predictions, nothing but simulation; they warn us that we need to wait for real data, “sound science.” In A Vast Machine Paul Edwards has news for these skeptics: without models, there are no data. Today, no collection of signals or observations—even from satellites, which can “see” the whole planet with a single instrument—becomes global in time and space without passing through a series of data models. Everything we know about the world’s climate we know through models. Edwards offers an engaging and innovative history of how scientists learned to understand the atmosphere—to measure it, trace its past, and model its future.