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Sustainability lives on

I attended my very first academic conference in 2011. It was the British Accounting and Finance Association (BAFA) Accounting Education Special Interest Group Conference. I can still see myself sitting at the final plenary session in a beautiful oak-beamed room at Winchester University, and hearing Professor Neil Marriott talk about academic responsibility – about how it is up to each of us to support our fellow researchers. An apparently simple idea but one that resonated with me hugely.

That autumn I was the beneficiary of such support when the Group held a weekend where novice writers were helped to write their first journal articles – and I was so lucky that Professor Alan Sangster was my mentor. Nearly ten years later I am still learning but am now in a position to be able to support others. It is just so important that each of us takes from and then gives back to that development cycle, if we are going to sustain our academic communities into the future. I am indebted to so many academic colleagues who have supported me over the last ten years.

One of them, tragically, is no longer with us. Professor Jeffrey Unerman died in November after a short illness. Jeffrey was most recently the Professor of Sustainability Accounting at Lancaster University having previously worked at Royal Holloway College, London. The tribute in the recent BAFA newsletter read: 

'Jeffrey has been a key figure in the academic accounting community, and has significantly extended the boundaries of knowledge particularly in the field of sustainability accounting and accountability. He was the recipient of the British Accounting and Finance Association’s 2016 Distinguished Academic Award and in 2018 was awarded a Fellowship of the Academy of Social Sciences. He has contributed extensively to BAFA in his previous capacities as President and General Secretary, and as part of the Committee of Professors in Accounting and Finance (CPAF).'

As well as all these achievements, Jeffrey was someone who believed passionately in research that made a difference to society and he completely lived his values. He was the member co-opted from academia to the ICAEW Council. Some of you may have seen the announcement in the press this autumn that ICAEW is the first professional body that has pledged to become carbon neutral. At Jeffrey’s funeral, ICAEW Deputy President Will Brooks explained that had happened solely because Jeffrey had raised the issue at the Annual Council Conference and encouraged Council to walk its sustainability talk.

Above all, though, Jeffrey was someone who had time for people. So many academics owe so much to his counsel and feedback (honest but sensitive), his encouragement, his humility and his taking the time to listen. Jeffrey’s legacy will live on in the many lives he touched and the impact he has had.

A sustainable world, sustainable accounting and a sustainable body of colleagues – Jeffrey made a huge difference in all three areas and will be sorely missed. 

Hilary Lindsay

The views expressed are the author’s and not ICAEW’s.