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Chartered Accountants ANZ's thought leadership paper, The 21st Century Profession, highlights that accountants have a responsibility to act in the public interest.
Many now argue this includes helping organisations measure business success beyond profit, addressing corporate social responsibility and sustainability issues, and making a difference within businesses, economies and societies.
Miranda Siu CA is a sustainability, technology and project management professional who believes that accountants have the power to drive better decision-making within organisations.
"Accountants have an incredible opportunity to be a force for good. We play an essential role in every organisation - from the Big 4 and large corporates to SMEs and start-ups - so when we apply a sustainability lens to the work that we are already doing, we are able to influence and impact change on a global scale," says Miranda.
Similarly, Robbie Cullen CA, Financial Controller at Starbucks NZ, believes that CAs have the unique skill-set required to make financially-informed decisions that can lead to sustainable change for the future.
"For businesses to become more sustainable, they have to transform their business model, which is where our skills as an accountant come in. Once opportunities to become more sustainable have been identified, we are able to offer unique and valuable insight into how a business can budget, plan and prepare to implement this change - documenting the value for our customers, but most importantly, the impact on our planet," says Robbie.
The question is, how can finance and accounting professionals apply their skills - in any big or small way - to help create a more sustainable future, and where should they start? Robbie and Miranda weigh in.
Creating a more sustainable future starts with you
Miranda says thinking of sustainability as the responsibility of every individual within an organisation - not just one particular executive team or business function - is a great place to start.
"Sustainability isn't an organisational concept that sits with the marketing team. It's something that individual accountants can actually have a direct impact on, as they are able to apply their expertise to ensuring organisations are contributing to a more sustainable future - rather than contributing to poor decision-making of our natural and human resources," says Miranda.
"There are many pathways to sustainable change from an operational perspective. Often accountants are approached for cost efficiency analysis and strategies, which can be a great opportunity to introduce sustainable strategies. An example is energy efficiencies which is a cost efficiency and carbon reduction opportunity."
Robbie says that having a strong understanding of an organisation's sustainability mission will provide clarity on how to lead change at both an individual and organisational level.
"Starbucks globally launched a renewed focus on sustainability this year – all with an eye toward eventually giving more than we take from the planet. Our aspiration is to become resource positive — storing more carbon than we emit, eliminating waste, and providing cleaner freshwater than we use," says Robbie.
"In my role at Starbucks NZ, I put my hand up to be the sustainability lead, as it is a personal passion of mine that I think is well suited to my position within the business, as I am excited to be a driver of change."
"We can create some change on our own, but we can create more change when we work together as a team. I believe that by providing professionals with the tools and resources they need to implement sustainable change that we can create a better future."
Developing the skills to drive sustainable change
While climate change presents obvious and well-known environmental risks, it is also a business risk that has both financial and non-financial impacts.
Miranda suggests that accountants are well-placed to help mitigate the business risks of climate change as they are able to use their financial acumen and strategic thinking to help organisations make their operations more sustainable.
"As CAs, we know how to think critically and see the big picture. This means that we are also able to provide information and advisory to our clients, internal and external stakeholders to help them make more informed business decisions," says Miranda.
"We are highly ethical and known for it, as we are bound by our code of ethics. Organisations turn to us during difficult times as we are able to provide recommendations on how to deal with ethical challenges with confidence, such as the impact of climate change on people and the environment."
Robbie encourages CAs to reflect on how they can use their skills to help their organisations put sustainability at the forefront of their business strategy.
"As accountants, we assess a business' systems, processes, supply chain, drivers of value and risks to discover how it can transform and become more sustainable," says Robbie.
"At Starbucks NZ, we have a long road ahead but we are proud of the changes we have made so far. I use my CA skills to help the organisation understand how decisions not only impact our profit, cash position, tax outcomes, but also our customers. I also influence key decision makers, and help them make the most advantageous decisions operating in an environment of scarce resources."
Building a sustainable future, together
Are you already participating in sustainability initiatives within your organisation or community, or considering getting involved?
Miranda and Robbie agree that regardless of how you approach it, the way we create sustainable change is by working together, and they encourage all finance and accounting professionals to embrace opportunities to help spread awareness.
"We can create some change on our own, but we can create more change when we work together as a team. I believe that by providing professionals with the tools and resources they need to implement sustainable change that we can create a better future. I encourage every accountant to take every opportunity they are given to be part of this change, and share their message," says Miranda.
"I believe that accountants have an important role to play in supporting sustainable decision-making, so I hope to continue to challenge and support the organisations I work in to keep progressing towards a business model that achieves better outcomes for people and the planet," says Robbie.
Gen CA Podcast Series
Wondering how accountants can make a difference every day - to others and the communities they live and work in? Join Peter Rupp FCA, President of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, as he speaks to young difference makers on the Gen CA podcast now.Listen now
Environmental accounting utilises traditional accounting and finance principles to help calculate the impact business decisions will have on the environment.