Do finance professionals hold back the corporate sustainability agenda?

By Sandra Rapacioli

My latest research and report: Redressing the balance: How management accountants drive sustainable corporate strategies was inspired by an article in national UK newspaper, The Guardian.

The article: ‘Leaders identify key sustainability challenges’ mentions how finance folks are often seen to be holding back the sustainability agenda in organisations. I wanted to dig a little deeper to find out how accurate this was, particularly among Chartered Global Management Accountants. I asked for your views on—and involvement in—corporate sustainability.

1,100 of you responded to the survey. Thank you! You offered some encouraging insights that thankfully don’t chime with The Guardian’s findings.  

You clearly understand the business case for sustainability, although there’s still some room for improvement. For instance:  making sure that your unique skills are recognised and utilised by your employer.

67% agreed that there are ‘significant financial and commercial benefits from integrating environmental and social factors into decisions’.

But whilst most of you (60%) think it’s your responsibility as management accountants to include relevant environmental and social factors in your reports, only 45% of you are currently doing this.

Why is this?

The resounding reason you gave was:  ‘No demand from decision makers’.

Some of you also mentioned that it’s not in your current remit. In short—there’s a lack of corporate mandate.

This is a shame because CGMAs are ideally placed to offer robust information and analysis on the impact on sustainability issues on business performance. These are insights that companies are crying out for as they tackle the challenges associated with climate change, natural resource depletion and population growth.

Two-thirds of you predict that your organisations will expect you to provide increasing amounts of environmental and social data in the next couple of years. But according to a study by the UK Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, only 13% of companies are confident that they have the skills to compete successfully in a sustainable economy.

Perhaps it’s time to step up and show how management accountants can drive sustainable business practices. You have the skills to connect environmental and social issues to commercial outcomes, and the oversight to link these to strategic objectives.

You can apply the rigour of accounting to improving the quality of sustainability data, and use your position at the heart of the organisation to integrate this information into business systems, processes, decisions and reporting.

It seems that the time is ripe to ‘sell’ your unique skills to employers and help them build resilience and adapt to arguably the biggest challenge that business, economies and society has ever faced.

I’d urge you to read the 2-page guide on page 12 of this CGMA report Redressing the Balance: How management accountants drive sustainable corporate strategies, which outlines the four key ways management accountants can help embed sustainable business practices.

Share it with colleagues, so that they, too, can get an appreciation of your skills and unique contribution to sustainability.