The role of the accountant in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals

The role of the accountant in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their 169 associated targets have been developed to address the full range of social and economic-development issues facing the world. 

These include poverty, hunger, health, education, climate change, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, environment and social justice. 

The scale of these issues reflects the urgency of what is at stake. With the world’s population set to exceed 8.5 billion by 2030, growing demands on resources will in turn heighten risks of insecurity, poverty and disadvantage. 

A key role for business

According to the new report from the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, business has a fundamental role to play in delivering against the SDGs’ requirements. Contributions will include working with stakeholders, creating jobs, enabling access to healthcare, innovating new technologies and leading the development and responsible use of resources like energy and water. 

More specifically, the report suggests, the skillsets, organisational role and ethical commitment of management accountants across the world place members of the profession at the forefront of SDG planning and implementation. 

The areas accounting professionals can influence range widely, from developing new programmes of activity, to evidencing major successes, highlighting risk and proposing alternative courses of action.

Where management accountants can have the greatest impact

The SDGs are set to help businesses face up to several key challenges in the years ahead – managing reputational risk, responding to ‘megatrends’ like globalisation and digitisation, countering the impact of policy change and meeting investor demand for greater reporting transparency.

These are all broad areas where management accountants, at every level, have a key role to play, from proposing the business case for pursuing appropriate SDGs to Board-level alignment of sustainability initiatives with corporate activities.

The more focused day-to-day roles played by management accountants will also be diverse and valuable. Primary tasks are likely to include: 

  • encouraging businesses to meet SDG requirements through improved innovation capabilities
  • emphasising the importance of ethical behaviour throughout the value chain
  • focusing more tightly than ever on best practice in governance and stewardship
  • driving the formation of strategic partnerships
  • helping businesses to base their corporate reports on the six ‘capitals’ of integrated reporting: human, social and relationship, intellectual, natural, manufacturing and financial.

This report details how businesses and management accountants can benefit directly from the opportunities that the SDGs have to offer and how finance professionals can help achieve an organisation’s social and socio-economic objectives. 

It is important, the report recommends, that accountants and their employers should focus primarily on those SDGs that are most relevant to their industry, sector and business type.

Overall, it suggests, management accountants should approach the SDG journey in a spirit of determination to help drive opportunity, prosperity and trust and ultimately to create a sustainable future for all.