As Academic Director of the MBA Chief Value Officer, Director of the Multi-capital Global Performance research centre and Associate Professor, Delphine Gibassier of French business school Audencia has put a huge effort into corporate social responsibility teaching and research.
She set up an executive MBA at Audencia to support the teaching of sustainable accounting in finance. Her work on this was Highly Commended in the Driving Change category of the ICAEW-backed 2021 Finance for The Future Awards. Gibassier and Audencia’s work with Nepsen, a group of 13 French SMEs, won the Innovative Project category at the Awards.
The MBA CVO programme, the first MBA on the topic worldwide, is designed to train CFOs to become CVOs with the current thinking and practices in sustainable accounting. This allows them to return to their businesses and implement the thinking and leadership to build value and make decisions for the climate.
“The responsibility of business school is huge as we will integrate the challenges that we see in the world. It’s not just CSR but being more connected to how businesses have a political role; a voice into the world,” she says.
“We have integrated CSR as much as we can into our teaching, responsible marketing, and accounting for sustainability, and we are also moving into sustainable finance and sustainable supply chain. So it’s not CSR at the side of things, but central to how you currently do business.”
A fast-moving field
As governments grapple with commitments to cut pollution and reorganise society to tackle climate change at pace, curating a course on sustainability requires that it is up to date.
“What we are teaching is evolving really quickly,” says Gibassier. “It’s been like that with teaching accounting for sustainability for a number of years.
“You have newcomers, you have new examples of companies’ actions: you can’t repeat year on year. The professors need to keep on top of their areas and renew their examples of what companies are doing, the current knowledge that they have and what they are doing.
As the students are CFOs, managers in supply chains or in sales, who know what they are talking about and what they want to hear, the standard is set very high, says Gibassier.
“Despite us already having given a lot of effort on the cases, we really have to challenge ourselves, as the students are really aware and will let us know that we are not up to date. They are passionate about what they want to see so they are very demanding, so that makes the programme challenging to manage.”
From 2024 Audencia will offer a double certification, which will allow younger graduates to become qualified in sustainability accounting.
Younger students can then follow their MBA-trained leaders into teams at their firms, through a chartered accountant degree in management control, a CMA type of programme with an additional Future-Fit Benchmark accreditation (Audencia will prepare students who will then have to decide on taking the exam on their own).
The pace of change
Gibassier says change is happening fast and the professional field will be remarkably different once the cohorts graduate over the next two to three years, but the change is already happening in companies. “I couldn’t imagine two years ago how fast this could be going,” she says. “There are CVOs in companies already, whether they use that name or not. There are people at businesses who have already integrated sustainability into their jobs, and they are role models going forward. If you try to count them, it is increasing and varied and so hard to quantify, but we are going to monitor the growth of the profession as much as we can.”
The growth in the field in France has been supported by the internal auditors and external auditors professional associations, and support has come from the UK too, as ICAEW and the Capitals Coalition supported the launch of the course.
Growing the profession
Gibassier says the first steps to grow a new area of accounting are hard, but that once they are taken, building the profession will follow.
“Doing the first step is horribly difficult: doing the accreditations, institutions, the market alignment,” she says. “But once they are aligned then it is done, and you can show it and are copied, then it shows that there was something missing.
“The next thing is that we are building a competency framework together, and what we want to do is use the competency framework to change the masters courses, for the chartered accountancy bodies to change the accreditations that they have, to implement the professional change.”
While bachelor-level specialised courses have doubled the number of attending students from last year, Gibassier sees being broader and attracting more candidates as a further measure of success, and attracting the best teaching talent.
“The quality of the professorship coming in and where the students go afterwards is also a measure. When you start a scheme it’s about the companies that they go back to, we want them to go back and change the teams.
“All these things will change the programme of sustainability – it’s what needs to happen now. We are building the need for a profession, and we need to build the education to be brought up to students. That’s the next challenge.”
Finance for the Future excellence
The Finance for the Future awards programme is a partnership between ICAEW, A4S and Deloitte. The awards recognise and showcase high-quality examples of financial leadership. They're also about inspiring others, boosting ambition and building community by sharing knowledge and creating momentum for real change.
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