Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 283–294 | Cite as

Can sustainability auditing be indigenized?

  • John Reid
  • Matthew Rout


Although there are different approaches to sustainability auditing, those considered authoritative use scientific indicators and instruments to measure and predict the impact of organizational operations on socio-ecological systems. Such approaches are biased because they can only measure phenomena whose features lend themselves to quantification, control, and observation directly with the instruments produced by technology. This technocratic bias is a product of the mechanistic worldview, which presumes that all components of socio-ecological systems are identifiable, discrete, and material. In contrast to the mechanistic worldview, indigenous people use animist familial representations. In the case of New Zealand Māori a family tree (whakapapa) is used to represent socio-ecological systems. This is a flexible conception, which views socio-ecological systems as both composites made up of interlinking causally-connected parts but also as reciprocating systems that have intangible elements such as consciousness, emotion, and agency. The technocratic approach is ontologically incapable of incorporating intangible elements to such a degree we consider that it incompatible with animist approaches. It is not, however, epistemologically-incongruous for indigenous peoples because of the flexible hybridity of their worldview. This worldview provides a broad moral framework, which avoids discrediting subjectivity and reducing socio-ecological systems to only their instrumental value. Finally, we conclude that the indigenous approach has much to offer the field of sustainability auditing, given that it provides a moral framework, and insight into building assessment systems upon abductive reasoning.


Audit culture Indigenous Indigenous knowledge Instrumentation Māori Market assurance Standardization Sustainability Sustainable agriculture 



Global positioning system


Information and communication technologies


Ngāi Tahu Holdings Corporation


Technocratic sustainability auditing



This study was funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (Contract Number AGRB1201).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ngāi Tahu Research CentreUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand

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