Professor Jeffrey Unerman was one of the leading figures in the field of Sustainability Accounting, his contribution to the field and discipline of accounting in the last 25 year has been immense in both its breadth and its depth. Jeffrey contributed to academic life in the broadest sense: engaging in teaching, research and administration, he was also an active advocate for the accounting academy, engaging with our professional bodies and other policy makers. His legacy lies particularly in the many scholars he worked with and mentored over his career. The discipline of sustainability accounting is richer for his personal contribution, and will continue to develop because of the efforts he made to help others to grow intellectually on their own terms.
Jeffrey trained as a Chartered Accountant in 1989 and worked as an accountant before entering academia. He joined the accounting department in 1992 at what was then Thames Valley University, and now the University of West London. It was here that Jeffrey started his PhD and research career. Doing a doctorate part time whilst teaching many hours a week is no mean feat however, Jeffrey produced an outstanding thesis without any need for corrections. His thesis entitled, ‘An Investigation into the Development of Accounting for Social, Environmental and Ethical Accountability: A Century of Corporate Social Disclosures at Shell,’ signaled the start of a highly influential research trajectory. He published widely in all the major accounting journals.
Since those early days, Jeffrey graced the faculties at Kings College London, The University of Manchester, Royal Holloway, University of London (where for five years he was the Head of the School of Management), and most recently Lancaster University. As a teacher, he wrote a highly influential Financial Accounting Theory text book that is widely used by many universities.
As the Head of the School of Management at Royal Holloway, Jeffrey led the growth of the School from 40 academics to 100, managing to attract top researchers to the School by developing and maintaining a collegial atmosphere.
Jeffrey also held visiting academic positions worldwide; in South Africa, Italy, Australia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand and in Japan. Over the past 25 years Jeffrey earned many awards, including, in 2016, the British Accounting and Finance Distinguished Accounting Academic Award. These attest to the excellence of his research, which is qualitative in nature, and the inter-disciplinary perspective that he studied accounting from. He supported the academic field through his editorial work and his engagement with a multiplicity of organizations and institutions.
Jeffrey was a huge friend and supporter of the academic social and environmental accounting community in particular, giving of his time and expertise engaging with the Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research (CSEAR) the worldwide network of academics working in this field. His contributions extended beyond his own work. They flowed through the support he gave to early career researchers, PhD students and prospective authors as he actively mentored, advised and coached all who sought his support. Jeffrey gave his time without expecting any reciprocity.
Jeffrey played a leading role in work to integrate and connect accounting practices with the social, environmental and ethical issues of today. In 2004, when The Prince of Wales established his Accounting for Sustainability Project (A4S), Jeffrey was invited by the late Anthony Hopwood to contribute to this drive to help the business community and public sector recognize the benefits of considering the environment and wider society as part of their mainstream day-to-day business decisions. He was the leader of the Integrated Reporting Academic Network (providing academic evidence to the International Integrated Reporting Council) (2011 to 2012); was the Deputy-chair of the Research Advisory Board of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. Since June 2015 he was a member of the Research Advisory Board of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and since June 2014 a Co-opted member of the governing Council of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. In March 2017 Jeffrey was invited to be a member of the Expert Panel of the Prince of Wales’s Accounting for Sustainability Project.
Jeffrey Unerman was an inspiring individual. He connected ideas and people, creating spaces for these connections to flourish. A charming, sensitive and intelligent person with a steely determination and managerial acumen. But more than anything, Jeffrey was a compassionate and loyal friend who made his mark by embracing the world and the people around him. The most important things about Jeffrey were his personal qualities , and these were the driver for all that he did and achieved, whether academically, managerially or personally. Jeffrey's mindset; ‘ You can’t go far wrong by prioritising the most important things, always acting with integrity and respecting others,' will undoubtedly be confirmed by all those who met him.
Jeffrey was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2020 and died at home on 17 November 2020.
He will be missed by his partner, family, friends and the communities of academia and practice.