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Chartered accountants building a better future

2 February 2021: Finance professionals are being urged to step up to their pivotal role in building a green economic recovery as they transition from keeping businesses alive to being at the heart of strategies that fully embrace sustainability.

Two new reports published by Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) highlight the huge opportunity for accountants to be a driving force behind business strategies that address the environmental and social risks brought into relief by the Covid pandemic. A4S is urging the profession to look forward to the vital role it should be playing in changing the way businesses function to make them greener, fairer and ultimately more successful.

Sustainability momentum was given a further boost this month after Joe Biden, in one of his first acts as US President, took the USA back into the Paris Agreement to limit climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions. 

Richard Spencer, ICAEW’s Director of Thought Leadership who along with colleagues from other professional bodies in the A4S network contributed to the reports, said there was a huge opportunity for accountants to help organisations turn the rhetoric into practical action against a backdrop of massive ambition for sustainable recovery. “Sustainability has become a mainstream ambition but there’s a huge role for the profession in helping to make it happen.”

In particular, Spencer said the enabling role of accountants would span advising clients on sustainability strategies, interpreting new sustainability-focused regulations and policy and helping to put in place the systems, processes and data needed to make the transition to a sustainable business. “Their skill set and knowledge of organizational governance, strategy, risk management and performance through metrics and targets are vital for a sustainable recovery,” A4S says. 

Meanwhile, the lifeline provided to small businesses by their accountants - not just in terms of business advice but also emotional support – had prompted more regular discussions on a broader range of issues. “This advisory role can also extend to sustainability, for example, helping to equip businesses of all sizes with the information and skills needed to respond to the climate crisis,” A4S adds.

The government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution published in November last year sets out its approach to build back better, support green jobs, and accelerate the path to net zero. The government says the plan will create up to 250,000 jobs by 2030, with much of the focus aimed at the north of England, Midlands, Scotland and Wales.

As we emerge from the pandemic, organisations have an opportunity to redefine how they will operate and what they are known for, the A4S Building a Better Future report says. “Our research suggests that companies with strong environmental and social credentials have performed better during the pandemic. Purpose-led organisations have shown that they have competitive advantages and less exposure the risks, making them better prepared to weather the pandemic and its aftermath.”  

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