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Journal of Cleaner Production 47 (2013) 165e173

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A review of environmental monitoring and auditing in the context

of risk: unveiling the extent of a confused relationship
Cludia V. Viegas a, *, Alan Bond b, c,1, Jos Luis Duarte Ribeiro d, 2, Paulo Maurcio Selig a, 3

Engineering and Knowledge Management Department, Federal University of Santa Catarina (EGC/UFSC),
Campus Universitrio Reitor Joo David Ferreira Lima,
Mail Box 476, Trindade, Florianpolis, Santa Catarina 88040970, Brazil
School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK
School of Geo and Spatial Science, North-West University Potchefstroom Campus, Private Bag X6001, Potchefstroom 2520, South Africa
Department of Industrial and Transportation Engineering, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (DEPROT/UFRGS), Av. Osvaldo Aranha, 99 e 5 Floor,
Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul 90.035-190, Brazil

a r t i c l e i n f o

a b s t r a c t

Article history:
Received 19 April 2012
Received in revised form
18 November 2012
Accepted 27 December 2012
Available online 4 March 2013

Monitoring and auditing are regarded as essential activities for process control and follow up, which
contribute to improving performance in organizations and provide a key role in preventing or reducing
environmental harm. However it is not unusual to nd them confused with each other in the academic
literature. This paper provides a detailed literature review of theoretical and review papers in order to
clarify concepts and characteristics of environmental monitoring and auditing; and to suggest ways
forward which can overcome this confusion. It was found that confusions stemmed from considerations
of: similarities, hierarchy, overlaps, scope, risk issues and timeliness. The development of accounting and
auditing over time was found to have led to a exible understanding of follow up practices, and the
disregard of adaptive management as originally understood in the impact assessment eld. It is suggested that adaptive management, recovered from impact assessment and recent specic literature, can
be applied to improve environmental monitoring and auditing.
2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Environmental monitoring
Environmental auditing
Impact assessment
Adaptive management

1. Introduction
Environmental monitoring and auditing are deemed essential
procedures for organizations pursuing better control of their activities to avoid environmental harms (that is, it is inherently riskbased) or to bring positive impacts to the environment while getting a desirable performance towards economic and social assets
involved in their business. In a broader sense, environmental
monitoring is considered to be internal to an organizations scope
and should address technical aspects of processes, such as operational controls (Pfaff and Sanchirico, 2000; Viladrich-Grau, 2003;
Ramos et al., 2004; Kemp et al., 2012) or daily inspections through
repetitive observation (Verschoor and Rejinders, 2001; Heyes, 2002)
for facilities improvement (Mahwar et al., 1997; Stone, 2006).

* Corresponding author. Tel.: 55 (48) 3721 7121.

E-mail addresses: (C.V. Viegas),
(A. Bond), (J.L. Duarte Ribeiro),
(P.M. Selig).
Tel.: 44 (0) 1603 593402.
Tel.: 55 (51) 3308 3491.
Tel.: 55 (48) 3721 7121.
0959-6526/$ e see front matter 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Environmental auditing, usually seen as different, is dened as a

management tool comprising a systematic, documented, periodic
and objective evaluation of how well environmental organization,
management and equipment are performing with the aim of helping
to safeguard the environment by: (i) facilitating management control of environmental practices; and (ii) assessing compliance with
company policies, which would include meeting regulatory requirements (Moor and Beelde, 2005: 206).
At rst sight, it is possible to assign an objective distinction
between environmental monitoring and auditing, mainly due to
the operational status of the former versus the managerial status of
the latter. However, a detailed academic literature review on both
terminologies e environmental monitoring and environmental
auditing e reveals that these expressions are often used interchangeably (Colwill and Gray, 2007; Eckert and Eckert, 2010;
Oliveira et al., 2011; Parmigiani et al., 2011) or overlapped
(Spraakman, 2001; Evans, 2003; Ellis et al., 1996; Humphrey and
Hadley, 2000; Gray, 2000; Toms, 2002; Hopkins, 2007; Cohen
et al., 2008; Labadie, 2008). Humphrey (2008) warns about the
tendency of lack of direction in both monitoring and auditing
research. Another thread of confusion between monitoring and
auditing comes from diversity of contexts in which they are


C.V. Viegas et al. / Journal of Cleaner Production 47 (2013) 165e173

applied: two in particular recur in literature reviews: accounting

(Milne, 1996; Pruzan, 1998; Trotman et al., 2011) and impact
assessment (Tomlinson and Atkinson, 1987; Thompson and Wilson,
1994; Ramos et al., 2004). Further confusion arises from the evolution in meaning of the terms over time in a single context.
Given the key role of environmental monitoring and environmental auditing in avoiding or managing environmental harm in a
number of different elds, confusion over the meaning of the terms
has the potential to hinder further development and learning. To this
end, this paper seeks to clarify the nature of the confusion between
the two terms, and to identify whether any opportunities exist for
improving the ability of environmental monitoring and environmental auditing to reduce environmental harm.
This paper is structured as follows. Section 2 presents the
methodological procedures based around a literature review. Section 3 presents the results in three parts: rstly depicting the main
characteristics, roles and current criticism on environmental
monitoring and auditing; secondly, categorizing the relationships
between these concepts and practices; thirdly, shedding light on
the evolution of the meaning of the terms in relation to auditing/
accounting and impact assessment, deemed as the foundations of
confusion over the meaning of these terms. Final remarks are
presented in Section 4.
2. Methodological procedures
A literature review was carried out using two databases, Web of
Knowledge and Scopus, taking into account the whole content of
both up to July 12th 2012. Three main searches were made using
the advanced search feature and the Boolean operator AND. For
the rst search in Web of Knowledge, the expressions environmental monitoring AND environmental auditing were combined. This delivered 190 raw results, from which 79 were
considered, after the exclusion of incomplete ndings and articles
not subject to peer review. For the second search also in Web of
Knowledge, the expressions environmental auditing AND environmental accounting were submitted, and 90 references were
found e from which 40 were kept after the exclusion of incomplete
ndings and documents not subject to peer review and after the
elimination of redundant results. The third search, in Scopus,
considered the expressions environmental monitoring AND
environmental auditing, which delivered 1189 raw results. For
practical reasons, further rening of the search was required to
reduce the results to manageable proportions. This search was
rened with the use of the expression risk, considering that risk
issues, i.e. potential for harms of environmental, economic or social
aspects of organizations, are of common concern for monitoring
and auditing. Through this procedure 485 documents were identied. Incomplete references were eliminated, as well as references
with no authorship details and those duplicated in the Web of
Knowledge search. Analyzing in detail these 485 ndings, the selection was rened to 161 papers by focusing on those whose abstracts contained at least the expressions e environmental
monitoring and environmental auditing or environmental
monitoring and risk, or environmental auditing and risk. The
result of the three searches therefore delivered 280 papers: 79 from
the rst, 40 from the second, and 161 from the third.
To better underpin the theoretical foundations of the subject
under analysis, an extra advanced search was carried out in Web of
Science using the terms environmental monitoring AND environmental auditing AND origins of. It delivered 526 results, from
which the rst 100 were considered because the remainder were
not signicant in content or were repeated in previous searches.
From these 100 results, 15were deemed relevant to contextualize
the issue. A further procedure was conducted in order to classify

the results of all searches based on whether they referred to

theoretical/review papers or applied studies.
For the purposes of this research, only the theoretical/review
ones were considered, which comprised 90 results: 10 from the rst
retrieval, 18 from the second, 47 from the third, and 15 from the
fourth. Another classication enabled the clustering of the theoretical papers regarding their subject: 18 are related to monitoring,
39 to auditing, 21 to accounting, and 12 are mixed e 7 focusing on
monitoring and auditing, and 5 covering auditing and accounting.
The key ndings of this study have been extracted from these
theoretical/review papers as it has been assumed that these provide the basis either for consolidating the current thinking on the
meaning of the terms environmental monitoring and environmental auditing, or developing new directions.
The analysis of the literature is based on the authors interpretation of the papers extracted from the literature search coded into
specic categories which are subsequently subjected to content
analysis to identify and explain the relationship between environmental monitoring and environmental auditing. Such an approach
is standard in qualitative interpretation of, interview transcripts
and literature reviews (Burns, 2000), but the authors acknowledge
that their own values and biases inevitably play a part both in the
coding exercise and the content analysis. Whilst the sampling of
literature is objectively conducted, the subsequent analysis is
necessarily subjective and there is no certainty that other researchers would produce the same interpretation.
3. Results
Raw results of this research are presented in Table 1. Papers
whose contents were considered for underpinning the characterization of environmental monitoring and auditing, as well as for
outlining their respective relationship and/or for clarifying meanings, are highlighted in bold in Table 1. Authorship of the references
used as the basis for Table 1 are depicted in Table 2.
3.1. Environmental monitoring and auditing: characteristics and
The usual way of framing monitoring is based on its operational
characteristics. Early literature regards environmental monitoring
as actions performed to determine the links between causes and
effects, in a chain, at regular time intervals, aimed at avoiding or
tackling pollution (Russel and Landsberg, 1971; Keiser, 1975).
Monitoring can be seen by some observers as surveillance, an
almost unstructured repeated sequence of surveys or observations
with the aim to detect change, but with no requirement to carry it
out (e.g., Alexander, 2008). Monitoring is dened separately as
mechanisms to demonstrate performance against commitments
(Walton, 2000; Eckert and Eckert, 2010), control (Kelcey, 1986) and
alerting observers when a system is deviating from the desired
state (Legg and Nagy, 2006). The main attributes of monitoring,
according to Verma et al. (2010), refer to the capability of capture,
control and reporting a specic event while it occurs, maintaining
its accuracy e closeness of analytical values to reference or standard values e and traceability e ability to replicate a sequence of
measured values (Quevauviller, 2000). Risk avoidance is one of the
central reasons for monitoring (Aintablian et al., 2007). However,
studies applied to environmental analysis have shown, time after
time, a relentless disregard of risk assessment in monitoring
(Clement et al., 1991; Clement and Yang, 1997) and a tendency to,
focus monitoring on stringent procedural aspects such as sampling,
extraction and calibration (Rubio and Perez-Benedito, 2009).
Although the improvement of outward aspects of organizations e
as a public relations exercise e is also mentioned as being

C.V. Viegas et al. / Journal of Cleaner Production 47 (2013) 165e173


Table 1
Raw retrieved results of academic literature on monitoring, auditing and accounting.


Air Quality/Indoor environment
GHG (greenhouse gases)
Health cleaning/hospital/exposure/occupational)
Polluted land/Toxicology
Public policy/Planning
Solid wastes
Species (control/biodiversity/invasive)
Theoretical/Review papers
Papers sum

1st search*

2nd search**

3rd search***

4th search****

Subject sum






*Database: Web of Knowledge: search terms: environmental monitoring AND environmental auditing 79 valid results e July 12th 2012.** Database: Web of
Knowledge, search terms: environmental auditing AND environmental accounting 40 valid ndings e July 13th 2012.*** Database: Scopus, search terms: environmental monitoring AND environmental auditing 1189 results AND risks 161 valid results.****Databasis: Web of Science, search terms: environmental
monitoring AND environmental auditing AND origins of 526 results, from which 15 were deemed relevant and not conicting with previous searches. In all searches
references not subject to peer-review, or missing authorship details or abstracts were excluded., Paper subject was drawn from the focus of the paper extracted from the title
or abstract and represents sub-categories of applied studies, apart from the single category of theoretical/review papers.

achievable through monitoring (Batzias and Lagodimos, 2008;

Cormier et al., 2010), it is not always performed under legal requirements (Viegas et al., 2011).
Noticeably more structured, auditing was originally understood
as a way of hearing (Packham, 1998), meaning the systematic and
periodic review of management systems, policies or practices of
corporations, institutions, governments, to assess how they affect
the environment and suggest possible corrections (Thompson and
Wilson, 1994). Some scholars refer to auditing as the second stage

of monitoring (Heyes, 2002), which indicates a step further than

simple compliance, towards management improvement (Birkmire
et al., 2007). Power (1997) and Viladrich-Grau (2003) identify
similarities between general and environmental auditing, emphasizing that science is on the mainstream of the latter, although
subordinated to accounting procedures as part of a wide regulatory
process. So, environmental auditing is also understood as an internal practice subject to external verication as in the case of
voluntary or mandatory certication (Watson and Emery, 2004).

Table 2
Authorship of the theoretical references considered to develop the research.


Papers sum


Russel and Landsberg (1971), Keiser (1975), Kelcey (1986), Clement et al. (1991), Clement and Yang (1997),
Quevauviller (2000), Walton (2000), Verschoor and Rejinders (2001), Viladrich-Grau (2003), Kliopova and
Staniskis (2006), Legg and Nagy (2006), Aintablian et al. (2007), Alexander (2008), Batzias and Lagodimos (2008),
Rubio and Perez-Benedito (2009), Cormier et al. (2010), Eckert and Eckert (2010), Verma et al. (2010)
Tomlinson and Atkinson (1987), Roussey (1992), McMillan and White (1993), Thompson and Wilson (1994),
Ellis et al. (1996), Sinclair-Desgagn and Gabel (1997), Mahwar et al. (1997), Nitkin and Brooks (1998), Packham
(1998), Houghton and Jubb (1999), Gray (2000), Humphrey and Hadley (2000), Pfaff and Sanchirico (2000), Petroni
(2001), Spraakman (2001), Heyes (2002), Power (2003), Wallace (2004), Watson and Emery (2004), Fadzil et al.
(2005), Birkmire et al. (2007), Knechel (2007), Pagano and Immordino (2007), Savcuc (2007), Balzarova and
Castka (2008), Humphrey (2008), Whitford (2008), Clarke and Kouri (2009), Rika (2009), Sahnoun and Zarai (2009),
Sinchuen and Ussahawanitchakit (2009), Alin et al. (2010), Kolk and Perego (2010), Penini and Carmeli (2010),
Boiral and Gendron (2011), Kells (2011), Oliveira et al. (2011), Parmigiani et al. (2011), Tangpynioputtkhun and
Thammavinyu (2011)
Maletta and Kida (1993), Milne (1996), Power (1997), Pruzan (1998), Short et al. (1999), Ittner and Larcker (2001),
Toms (2002), Moor and Beelde (2005), Lee and Humphrey (2006), Colwill and Gray (2007), Kent and Monem (2008),
Kent and Stewart (2008), Alvarez et al. (2009), Gordon et al. (2009), Nicholls (2009), Reverte (2009), Auld and
Gulbrandsen (2010), Rof and Danuletiu (2010), Campbell and Slack (2011), Trotman et al. (2011), Kemp et al. (2012)
Morrison-Saunders and Bailey (1999), Evans (2003), Strausz (2005), Stone (2006), Spekl et al. (2007), Verver (2008),
Viegas et al. (2011)
Feess (1999), Lehman (1999), Cooney and Lang (2007), Langeld-Smith (2008), Sutantoputra et al. (2012)




Monitoring and auditing

Auditing and accounting





C.V. Viegas et al. / Journal of Cleaner Production 47 (2013) 165e173

Evans (2003), recounting the history of auditing, states that it is

mainly about the, relationships between the companies owner and
the stakeholders management, as a way of monitoring contracts,
but she recognizes that audit assumes different meanings
depending on the context in which it arises. It can be even
considered as a managerial monitoring mechanism (Evans, 2003).
Morrison-Saunders and Bailey (1999) posit environmental audits as
bridges between impact assessment and management.
The usual understanding for environmental auditing is based on
the way environmental aspects (Alin et al., 2010), resources
(Sinclair-Desgagn and Gabel, 1997; Penini and Carmeli, 2010), or
raw material and energy ows (Mahwar et al., 1997) are managed
by organizations, driven by external demands (Pagano and
Immordino, 2007). The existence of measurable standards is often
highlighted as an essential attribute for auditing (Nitkin and
Brooks, 1998; Humphrey and Hadley, 2000; Petroni, 2001;
Balzarova and Castka, 2008). Rather than operational checks and
control, auditing comprises issues of judgment and auditors
opinions (Tomlinson and Atkinson, 1987) and behaviors (McMillan
and White, 1993), and a social construction of, auditing, riskoriented, is noticed as evolving in the environmental management eld from the 80s onwards (Power, 2003). Also in auditing
there are considered the expectations of stakeholders (Evans, 2003;
Sahnoun and Zarai, 2009), side by side with the level of expertise in
performance (Houghton and Jubb, 1999). Recent research in
auditing values interdisciplinary knowledge, in the realm of environmental and risk assessment (Humphrey, 2008) and relational
capabilities in the sense of improving information sharing and
stakeholders commitments (Parmigiani et al., 2011).
Spraakman (2001) compares internal auditing with a form of
insurance, risk management and value adding to processes. He includes in internal auditing the appraisal of operations, as processes
monitoring. Similarly, Knechel (2007) states risks assessment as
being embedded in the original culture of auditing. With the evolution in this eld, investigation of risks (Boiral and Gendron, 2011),
aimed either at reduction, or understood as both threats and opportunities (Oliveira et al., 2011), became the cornerstone of auditing
especially addressed to environmental issues. The targets of information disclosure and transparency, related to the governance aspects of management, are increasingly valued in environmental
auditing (Whitford, 2008; Kolk and Perego, 2010; Kells, 2011).
Nevertheless, effective risk abatement is generally not achieved
through environmental auditing mainly due to implementation
aws (Ellis et al., 1996) and too little attention being paid to participative processes that could enable continuous learning (Penini and
Carmeli, 2010). Regardless of the structural failures it presents,
auditing comprises a mixed product of objective, explicit, and
cognitive competences and it is deemed as strategic in the context of
the overall performance assessment (Langeld-Smith, 2008).
Although no universally accepted denition of environmental
auditing exists (Rika, 2009), it remains as a strong notion of an
ongoing accepted concept in which a strategic overview, interdisciplinarity and risk assessment procedures are synchronized towards
Ussahawanitchakit, 2009; Spekl et al., 2007) under the inuence
of dynamic knowledge tailored by the recent increase of professionalism in the eld of environmental auditing (Tangpynioputtkhun
and Thammavinyu, 2011).
3.2. Relationships between environmental monitoring and auditing
Supported by the literature review, it was possible to outline six
types of relationship between environmental monitoring and
auditing under which a signicant amount of confusion can arise.
This classication is described as follows:

- Similarities
When operational and managerial aspects are indistinctly
considered, a common meaning appears for monitoring and auditing: they are described to be the same, addressed to inspections
(Eckert and Eckert, 2010) or to better management (Oliveira et al.,
2011; Parmigiani et al., 2011), with no clear boundary to identify
any difference. Another source of confusion in similarity comes from
the idea of a continuum relationship, as stated by Colwill and Gray
(2007). They refer to monitoring and auditing as complementary:
the former related to compliance, and the latter to assurance; in this
case the confusion arises because, while assurance is usually based
on a standard (of environmental quality), outwardly known and
shared, compliance refers to conformity that can embrace internal
or external rules, mandatory or not, therefore comprising both
monitoring and auditing procedures. Humphrey and Hadley (2000:
229) also consider that environmental auditing is the monitoring of
a companys performance against previously agreed policy or statutory standards. A third similarity is to refer to environmental
monitoring or auditing as follow up for controlling processes or
procedures e which is common in the cleaner production eld or
similar frameworks where informal arrangements prevail (Viegas
et al., 2011). In the supply chain eld, Parmigiani et al. (2011)
deem monitoring capabilities as central skills that are performed
throughout the auditing function, so that is difcult to clearly
distinguish one from another.
- Hierarchy
The conception that monitoring exists within auditing (Birkmire
et al., 2007; Savcuc, 2007) serving to improve it (Batzias and
Lagodimos, 2008) is widely accepted for those that frame monitoring within the operational eld and auditing within the managerial eld. So, a picture of auditing as more complex and structured
than monitoring (Maletta and Kida, 1993) is easily drawn. If monitoring is deemed as fullling follow up commitments, conducted for
internal purposes only, while auditing is mandated on regulatory
pressures (Tomlinson and Atkinson, 1987), this reasoning is reinforced. There are several other ways to frame the same: to state that
auditing is strategic (Sinclair-Desgagn and Gabel, 1997; LangeldSmith, 2008) or that it is a more advanced stage of monitoring
(Nitkin and Brooks, 1998). All these conceptions present monitoring
as hierarchically subordinate to auditing. Nevertheless, other academic sources reverse this. Criticism about the lack of regulation for
environmental auditing, making it discretionary (Boiral and
Gendron, 2011), entail an inverse order in this relationship, and it
can lead to ambiguity in respective meanings.
Verschoor and Rejinders (2001), for instance, look to environmental monitoring as more comprehensive than environmental
auditing while extending monitoring to business activities. In the
impact assessment eld also, it is common to nd environmental
audits referred to as part of the monitoring programs, aimed at
process effectiveness (Thompson and Wilson, 1994; MorrisonSaunders and Bailey, 1999). In this eld, monitoring is often
conceived around the idea of adaptive management e a concept of
the early 70s coming from merged assumptions of ecology and
environmental management elds, which indicates a exible and
participatory path for dealing with the complexity of ecological and
human systems evolving together in, dynamic co-dependency
(Armitage et al., 2008). In this sense, it is relatively difcult to
indicate a hierarchic relationship between both practices due to
exibility and continuous rethinking of the processes. However,
once monitoring is conceived in this context as an umbrella activity
under which the management of the impacts is below scrutiny, the
subordinated relationship cannot be dismissed.

C.V. Viegas et al. / Journal of Cleaner Production 47 (2013) 165e173

- Overlaps
Overlaps between environmental monitoring and environmental auditing could be identied as similarities, but they differ
because whenever the meanings are superimposed, they can assume common or diverse aspects. Ellis et al. (1996), for instance,
rstly consider environmental auditing systems aimed at the
monitoring practices of environmental management in
manufacturing, as monitoring embracing the whole system.
Nevertheless, further on, they state monitoring as a localized activity, operational and proactive at the same time. And in the
sequence, they move backwards referring to monitoring as an opportunity for learning in order to provide continuous advances in
manufacturing. Gray (2000) advocates that there is not a clear
terminology in the eld of environmental auditing, which leads to
alternate understanding. The overlaps become clearer while highlighting the argument that risk assessment and judgments are
inherent to both monitoring and auditing (Hopkins, 2007). This
apparent similarity in fact reveals a superposition. Studies related
to internal auditing (Fadzil et al., 2005; Savcuc, 2007; Cohen et al.,
2008), conceived as independent, objective assurance and
consulting activity designed to add value and improve an organizations operations (Labadie, 2008: 580), make it easy to become
confused over the extent to which this type of auditing is really
distinct from ordinary monitoring or to what extent they overlap.
Other references regarding superposition are those which indicate
some common features between operational monitoring and internal auditing (Spraakman, 2001; Spekl et al., 2007) and those
which recover the origins of auditing. In this latter case, Evans
(2003) shows that separation between the owner activities (risk
embracing and control) and stakeholders responsibilities (management and decision) provides an opportunity for two-way
monitoring, from one part to another, with different tools but
with an eventual concurrent purpose, linked to liability and trust of
the companies activities. Therefore in the roots of auditing, some
monitoring routines can stand as concurrent.
- Scope: internal vs. external
It is not difcult to differentiate the scope of monitoring and
auditing once operational and managerial aspects are separately
considered. Pfaff and Sanchirico (2000) and Kells (2011) argue that
in monitoring data and information are recorded for internal use
only, but in auditing their openness is essential due to the need to
achieve transparency. The same is the case for internal and external
auditing: Internal audits are audits prepared for clients internal to
the organization such as managers and boards; external audits are
primarily prepared for external parties such as stockholders,
stakeholders, government agencies, banks, and so on (Labadie,
2008: 502). Thus, under a wide understanding, scope would not
be a matter of confusion for environmental monitoring and environmental auditing as well. However, a deeper look at the scope
issue makes things somehow blurred. Because auditing takes place
not just due to internal processes, but is also pushed by external
questions that affect organizations, such as the costs of enforcement and compliance and incentives, it is argued that it avoids
ambitious targets (Pagano and Immordino, 2007; Kells, 2011) and
can lessen monitoring efforts as result. On the other hand, when
internal audits are carried out with stringent controls, they can also
produce the same effect e fading of monitoring (Fadzil et al., 2005).
So, a careful analysis is needed about the extent to which the scope
must be considered especially when environmental issues are at
stake, because in this case the interfaces become more numerous
than in single nancial monitoring or auditing. Scope issues can
trigger a dichotomous relationship between environmental


monitoring and environmental auditing. It is especially noticeable

when social and environmental disclosure are targeted in wide
auditing with sustainability purposes (Rika, 2009).
- Risk issues
Risk investigation, specically aimed at risk reduction, is the
cornerstone of auditing (Moor and Beelde, 2005; Verver, 2008; Alin
et al., 2010; Boiral and Gendron, 2011). In monitoring, risk often
represents an unintended troublesome issue, because timely data
collection and registration does not give opportunities for further
interpretation on risk, which depends on better designed indicators
and on available time for assessment. Conversely, in auditing risk
receives more attention under conformity standards (Kolk and
Perego, 2010), although the focus on risk has been the subject of
recent attention in auditing (Knechel, 2007), mainly while a socially
constructed and strategic knowledge (Power, 2003; Sinchuen and
Ussahawanitchakit, 2009; Tangpynioputtikhun and Thammavinyu,
2011). Nevertheless environmental risk being considered by auditors as relevant but disconnected from environmental auditing
routines is not unusual, as identied by Alin et al. (2010). It mischaracterizes what environmental auditing is meant to be and poses
environmental risk as an isolated subject of performance, under lack
of qualitative analysis and theoretical basis.
(Humphrey, 2008). So, under this disconnection, it is easy to
misunderstand what is, monitoring and what is auditing when
considering the treatment of environmental risk. The resurrection
of adaptive management for ecological and human risk assessment
somehow depicts a way back into the integration of risk monitoring
with risk management (auditable) because it offers a participative
and learning perspective to deal with uncertainties related to risk
measurement and to causal relationships on risks also for organizational subjects: Ecological risk assessment embodied in an
adaptive management framework is becoming the global standard
approach for formally assessing and managing the ecological risks
of technology and development (Gibbs, 2011: 1784).
- Timeliness
The pace of environmental monitoring is usually regarded as
faster than the pace of environmental auditing, mentioned as the
second step of monitoring (Heyes, 2002). According to Strausz
(2005), monitoring has a synchronic perspective; it takes place
when the agent chooses his/her action and does not depend on
additional information, while auditing occurs after the agent has
taken the action. In monitoring, data to be checked out are generated in the process itself, while in auditing data are compared with
a standard outside the process (Viegas et al., 2011). Therefore,
environmental auditing is possibly a reective action as opposed to
environmental monitoring, where the timeframe is shorter (Russel
and Landsberg, 1971). Viladrich-Grau (2003) considers auditing as
long term monitoring. It suggests that timeliness is not at rst a
confused relationship regarding environmental, monitoring and
environmental auditing. Unless multiple scales and/or multiple
controlling stakeholders are embraced under the adoption of
adaptive management principles (Cooney and Lang, 2007;
Armitage et al., 2008; Eberhard et al., 2009; Karatzoglou and
Spilanis, 2010), it is stated as a clear, uncontested relationship.
3.3. Auditing/accounting and impact assessment evolution:
unraveling the foundations of confused meanings
It is possible to recover two main streams for understanding
why monitoring and auditing are nowadays not related to each
other in a simple way and why there are so many different


C.V. Viegas et al. / Journal of Cleaner Production 47 (2013) 165e173

conceptions about their meanings and relationships (Thompson

and Wilson, 1994). One stream is related to general auditing/accounting studies, which include the environmental management
eld regarding voluntary and mandatory certication systems
(Power, 1997; Watson and Emery, 2004), and another one to
environmental studies seen specically through the lens of environmental impact assessment (EIA) given this is now identied as a
formal decision-making tool in all but two countries in the world
(Morgan, 2012). Both have been developed simultaneously and
brought remarkable inuences on how environmental monitoring
and auditing are understood and used. The term audit has been
transferred from the language of nance to environmental science,
since it effectively portrays the concept of, examination and
assessment of performance. In nance, the audit seeks to certify the
activities against accepted accounting practices; while in EIA
standards are poorly developed, only indicating general issues to be
addressed (Tomlinson and Atkinson, 1987: 188). It is therefore
possible to suggest that nancial accounting and impact assessment practices related to projects and their potential environmental harms were brought together and evolved to a plurality of
contexts in which environmental monitoring and auditing have
assumed a confused meaning. In this review, the whole theories
behind EIA or accounting were not stressed. Rather the main insights that are supposed to clarify how the meaning of the terms
environmental monitoring and environmental auditing became
differently entrenched from each other and how they are detrimentally divorced from adaptive management principles were
jointly captured.

information about the economic performance of rms; during the

80s, it assumed a planning shape, aimed at preventing risks, which
was similarly mentioned by Wallace (2004); from the 90s onwards,
it started to settle over the expertise paradigm and the awareness
of risk as permanent, multiple-sourced and difcult to control.
Spraakman (2001) and Evans (2003) attribute to the separation
between owners and stakeholders roles the evolution of auditing to
the stage of professionalism. While owners hold the risk taking
role, stakeholders keep management and decision tasks, so monitoring and auditing functions could develop professionally in the
hands of this second group. Until the early 90s, auditing and accounting were deemed as optional for reducing environmental liabilities (Thompson and Wilson, 1994), although effectiveness was
argued to depend on the quality of monitoring and auditing in,
impact assessment. A tendency for accounting to focus on ethical/
human-based values rather than nancial/control ones was noticed
by Pruzan (1998) and Knechel (2007) from the middle 90s onwards, and at the end of this decade, Lehman (1999) emphasized
the need for less instrumentalized accounting which was closer to
societys needs. In the middle of the 90s this type of criticism was
already reported in academic literature by Milne (1996). Power
(1997) advocated the need for an overlap composition between
skills required for both nancial and environmental accounting.
According to him, introducing environmental concerns into auditing can be seen as re-management of the risks, a tendency developed from the last 15 to 10 years onwards.

3.3.1. Financial accounting/auditing thread and the slow pace of

As Nicholls (2009) argues, three types of lens are available to
lter mechanisms as auditing: the positivist lens e considers just
empirical data reporting; the critical lens e focuses on control
mechanisms assessment and liabilities issues (Feess, 1999); and the
interpretative lens e opens the issue to discussion by stakeholders
and the community and advocates the need for information
disclosure (Auld and Gulbrandsen, 2010; Sutantoputra et al., 2012).
Under the latter lens, governance has arisen as an increasing tendency (Short et al., 1999; Kent and Monem, 2008; Kent and Stewart,
2008; Rof and Danuletiu, 2010). An extensive development of the
accounting tradition is also observed, settled in rms assets
quantication (Alvarez et al., 2009) and in specialized work in
which professionals responsible for accounting seek secure baselines and therefore choose to follow their own hypotheses on which
to base their assessments (McMillan and White, 1993; Power, 1997,
2003; Knechel, 2007; Tangpynioputtkhun and Thammavinyu,
2011). Concerning nancial accounting, it seems apparently far
from inuencing environmental issues, but historical development
has shown disclosure of information and participation as key elements of accounting that have gradually come to embrace environmental aspects (Spraakman, 2001; Evans, 2003; Humphrey,
2008; Reverte, 2009; Kemp et al., 2012): There is some support
for the view that accounting disclosure is an important conduit for
signaling facts about environmental management (Toms, 2002:
276). In the next two subtopics we summarize how the evolution of
nancial auditing and accounting relates to the environmental
facets of monitoring and auditing.

Since the 2000s decade, accounting research assumed the

shape of a more pluralistic discipline, not detaching from, but going
further on nancial issues and quantitative approaches, as highlighted by Lee and Humphrey (2006: 184): A number of eld
studies used qualitative techniques to explore how audits are socially constructed. It opened the view for accounting as learning
and strategically oriented (Labadie, 2008; Langeld-Smith, 2008),
but [w]e know little about the development of auditing systems
that emphasize learning, process improvement, motivation and
deterrence (Penini and Carmeli, 2010: 53). It implies that environmental monitoring and auditing are somehow far from being
processes addressed to effectiveness through best practices, lessons
learned and better behavior in the sense of dissuading attitudes
that can be environmentally harmful. As already stated by Power
(1997: 142), the eld of environmental audit is one in which
existing knowledge are both transferred and transformed, in which
a new conguration of expertise is constructed by the realignment
of a particular portfolio of competences. What must be noticed is
that, behind the advancement of a proclaimed more open and
participative and less top down auditing and accounting initiative,
old reasoning structures remain, and new mechanisms to support
overture, participation and governance were in fact introduced in
monitoring and auditing at a slow pace. It therefore resulted in
confused conceptualization and applications for both environmental monitoring and auditing, while old and new paradigms for
accounting continue to run in parallel.

- Owner/stakeholder separation
Up to the beginning of the 90s, accounting theory and application was a long way distant from the environmental issues
(Roussey, 1992). Trotman et al. (2011) identify three main stages of
development in this area: in the 70s, nancial accounting relied on

- Knowledge expertise and risk treatment

3.3.2. Impact assessment thread and the inputs of adaptive

There are a signicant number of studies criticizing the poor
effectiveness of environmental impact assessment (EIA). The
recovering of some older and recent research in this area e
Tomlinson and Atkinson (1987); Thompson and Wilson (1994);
Bailey (1997); Morrison-Saunders and Bailey (1999); Ramos et al.
(2004) e allows us to reinforce the contribution of impact assessment evolution in confusing environmental monitoring and

C.V. Viegas et al. / Journal of Cleaner Production 47 (2013) 165e173

environmental auditing. According to Tomlinson and Atkinson

(1987), the search for accuracy in predictions has forced audit
development in EIA, but it has not attained instrumentalization at
earlier stages, and monitoring was subsequently referred to as
follow up with commitments or stated as post-auditing activities
(Dipper et al., 1998). Later on, Thompson and Wilson (1994)
claimed audits as parts of wider monitoring programs in EIA,
which inverted the usual logic of considering monitoring as operational processes, subordinate in hierarchy to auditing, usually
considered as having a managerial role. In this context, monitoring
was proposed to be regionally addressed, similarly to the understanding in which it is applied nowadays in adaptive management
e as ecological monitoring, exceeding organizational boundaries.
Bailey (1997) warned of the importance of impact assessment
theory in interpreting the meaning of environmental monitoring.
According to him, one of the traditional branches of EIA is related to
adaptive environmental assessment and management as originally
conceived in the 70s and more recently developed as adaptive
management (Cooney and Lang, 2007; Armitage et al., 2008;
Eberhard et al., 2009; Karatzoglou and Spilanis, 2010). In impact
assessment, adaptive management is understood as continuous
monitoring for process improvement, and post audit for accuracy,
therefore a matter of precision remains as a small distinction.
Ramos et al. (2004) refer to impact assessment monitoring as metamonitoring, and to auditing as a set of compliance procedures.
Their perspective of monitoring in impact assessment is fueled by
criticism related to poor achievement of effectiveness. This is the
goal that actually remains as the background of all these impact
assessment studies: the pursuit of effectiveness as it is nowadays
conceived under the adaptive management principles as exibility,
addressing multi-stakeholder/multi-scaling, participative and
learning shaped through uncertainty and risk management.
Although explicitly proclaimed, these principles barely help to
clarify monitoring and auditing meanings in the environmental
systems they intend to embrace.
4. Final remarks
Environmental monitoring and environmental auditing,
although generally distinguished, are often misunderstood and
confused with each other. It is not unusual for their interchangeability to be referred to in the academic literature. At rst sight,
operational procedures are associated with monitoring, and
managerial with auditing, but many differences and even inverted
meanings arise through auditing, accounting and impact assessment literatures, where the foundations for this confusion were
identied. After a detailed review in Web of Science and Scopus
databases, 90 theoretical peer-reviewed references on monitoring,
auditing and accounting were analyzed regarding the relationships
presented for monitoring and auditing towards environmental issues. It was possible to outline six types of relationships in between: similarities, hierarchy, overlaps, scope, risk issues, and
timeliness. For all but the latter e inconsistencies were identied,
leading to a confused meaning for environmental monitoring and
environmental auditing.
Analyzing the evolution of the auditing/accounting and the
impact assessment elds, relevant foundations for underpinning
the misleading use of environmental monitoring and environmental auditing concepts were found. The analysis is necessarily
subjective given a coding and content analysis approach, and this
suggests that other researchers may identify different relationships
not identied in this paper. Nevertheless, it is clear in the literature
that the advancement of the auditing/accounting eld from the 70s
onwards lead to the introduction of more exible inputs for
monitoring and auditing through governance, information


disclosure and intended participatory processes. However, traditional ways of reasoning about control and follow up mechanisms
for operations and management still blur the good distinction of
both concepts and practices. Furthermore, impact assessment
evolution was pointed out as another conicted eld serving to
exacerbate an already unclear distinction. Because the impact
assessment eld has traditionally associated monitoring with the
pursuit of effectiveness in EIA, it identied monitoring as an umbrella for auditing. In doing so, the impact assessment tradition left
behind adaptive management, although originally conceived as one
of their theoretical branches in the early 70s. This introduced a,
signicant gap through time for a more integrative understanding
of environmental, monitoring and auditing as simultaneously
associated with ecology and environmental, management elds.
Untangling confused relationships between environmental
monitoring and auditing could imply, at the rst sight, the imposition
of clear boundaries for both roles. Ordinarily, it is possible to keep
framing monitoring as operational sets of procedures, focused on
internal subjects of organizations, and auditing as managerially
focussed, for organizational and interorganizational reasons. However, the awareness of adaptive management as one of the origins for
monitoring, in the context of impact assessment of natural systems
(as identied in the present research), and the development of
adaptive management itself in diverse elds related to ecological and
environmental management studies, opens the opportunity to also
consider the adaptive management principles for improving both
environmental monitoring and auditing especially for lling gaps
between the operational and managerial aspects of organizations.
It is not proposed that adaptive management will provide a
solution for all failures or inadequacies in environmental monitoring and in auditing. Rather, it is suggested that the adaptive
management set of principles: exibility, consideration of uncertainties, participatory overture and continuous learning, are
appropriate characteristics to be embedded in environmental
monitoring and auditing, and could enhance their connection.
It must be highlighted that impact assessment, as just one
source of adaptive management, is applied to both natural and
man-made projects (organizations). Because impact assessment
relates to the interfaces of natural and anthropogenic environments, adaptive management principles also can be related to the
relationships between environmental monitoring and auditing for
harnessing one to each other. This is nevertheless a missing insight
in industrial engineering systems where monitoring and auditing
are usually confounded. The input of adaptive management in this
context is considered worthy mainly due it comprehensiveness in
the integration of processes, operations and concerned people.
This research was possible under grants from CAPES and CNPq,
Brazilian funding agencies for academic investigation.
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