Why business needs to be accountable for the future

Sun set
By Jennifer Constable, CA Magazine

7 March 2019

A4S encourages the finance community to take a more sustainable approach to decision-making and reporting.

ICAS has been an active member of the Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) Accounting Bodies Network (ABN) since the network’s inception.

In 2018, the network celebrated its first decade of encouraging responsible businesses and working with the financial community to promote building an awareness of sustainability into their decision-making.

HRH The Prince of Wales established the Prince’s Accounting for Sustainability Project in 2004 “to help ensure that we are not battling to meet 21st century challenges with, at best, 20th century decision-making and reporting systems.”

A4S works with the financial community, chartered accountants and asset holders, encouraging them to look at and embed sustainability into their decision-making while taking into account the impact they have on industry, the environment and wider society.

Jessica Fries, Executive Chairman, A4S, says: “Businesses in the norm are about making profit, but it’s not just about that – it’s about a business’s place within society and within a community. It’s about looking at the whole: the social, the environmental and the economic social responsibility.”

Businesses in the norm are about making profit, but it’s not just about that – it’s about a business’s place within society and within a community.

Members of the ABN have signed up to five core principles: to influence and inform, lead by example, drive thought leadership, collaborate through the International Network, and incorporate accounting for sustainability within training and professional education.

The network comprises 16 member organisations, whose combined membership represents 2.4 million accountants in 180 countries, all of whom are committed to challenging the conventional fundamentals of accounting.

Championing integrated reporting

To date, the ABN has succeeded in championing key transformational developments, including integrated reporting and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, enabling members to adopt more comprehensive and integrated thinking.

It has advanced standards in providing technical input on a wide variety of sustainability accounting matters and has initiated multi-stakeholder dialogue on embedding sustainability into professional qualifications.

Jessica says: “We have been very much at the start of examining integrated reporting, looking at all the different capitals and seeing if the finance teams can report that. Companies can then be measured against the reporting to see what they’re doing with the different types of capitals.”

If you’re not reporting on something, you can’t benchmark it.

The ABN has also published sustainability research and materials and has held conferences, webinars, podcasts, interviews and case studies. Its work has developed thought leadership on integrated thinking and systems, and has established specialist multi-stakeholder sustainability groups to provide advice and guidance.

Anne Adrain, Head of Sustainability and Assurance, ICAS, says: “One of the current ABN projects is a survey to understand the extent to which sustainability is integrated within the training of the accounting and finance profession, and whether there are any gaps in the training provided to ensure that the accountants of the future are fully equipped with the skills they need to address this increasingly important issue. The results of this survey will inform the future work of the ABN.”

Promoting corporate reporting

Corporate reporting is another one of the main areas A4S is promoting. Its hopes are that this will lead to businesses being more aware and accountable for the natural capital they consume in their day-to-day operations.

A4S has an active programme of developing CFO Leadership Networks globally with a new CFO Leadership Network to be launched in the US in the spring and a Circle of Practice in Brazil later in the year. It also plans to expand further into India, Hong Kong and Japan, while also continuing to develop practical tools and guides for finance teams.

Jessica says: “If you’re not reporting on something, you can’t benchmark it. You won’t know what you’re doing or how you can improve. If you do corporate reporting, a decision can then be made to change corporate practice.”


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