An accountant’s role in sustainability


The concept of sustainability involves operating in a manner that takes full accountability and consideration of an organisation’s footprint on the planet, its people and the future.  In other words, taking into account the consequences of economic decisions on the natural environment, on economic development, and on the financial conditions in which people live and work. Individuals, societies and government are now more than ever interested in the economic and social effect that organisations and accountants are likely to have in meeting current concerns.

Sustainability is not about just getting on with doing the right thing. It is concerned with the upkeep and long-term enhancement of fundamental resources that reflect and affect an organisation’s overall impact and prosperity. It is entrenched in the comprehensive idea of sustainable development and presents key challenges and opportunities for the professional accountant in business. Sustainable development means taking account of the long term consequences of decisions on the natural and human resources on which organisations depend. It means ensuring the productive capacity of these capital and resources is not irreparably damaged, and that resources are not depleted faster than they can be replenished.

The on-going debate regarding the role of certified public accountants in sustainability has generally leaned towards sustainability reports and their effectiveness. Generally, the pursuit of sustainability depends on the gathering, analysis, reporting and assurance of accurate financial and non-financial information. According to ACCA, accountants perform a substantial role in the understanding, validating and attaining of efficiencies that organisations could gain from sustainable business practices. An accountant’s role in sustainability encompasses beyond the obvious one of collecting, analysing and reporting sustainability-related information.

“Professional accountants, directly or in a supportive capacity, perform a valuable role and can assist organisations drive sustainability matters into business strategy and implementation” – Karen Smal, Acting Head of ACCA South Africa

An accountant also plays a role in developing policies to address economic, environmental and social issues and should be aware of the trend towards the use of a multi-stakeholder process in communicating reporting recommendations. In terms of sustainability, accountants can provide organisations with much needed advice such as the benefits of reducing effluence and energy costs. “Companies are starting to see the link between sustainability and financial results”- Yvo de Boer, KPMG Special Adviser and former UN Climate Chief. The view that accountants are getting increasingly involved in sustainable matters is also resonated in ACCA’s environmental accountability document.

Evidently, accountants who are committed to sustainable accounting as an ideal, trend to be enthusiastic about sustainable matters and the role they play in sustainability.


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