The SDGs are five – a vision of a better world
Today, 25 September 2020, marks the fifth anniversary of the launch of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
We all know them as the “SDGs” or perhaps the “global goals”. Whether these terms are familiar to you, or not, in a short period of time they have become part of the fabric of society and business. They were developed as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. As we sit in the midst of a global pandemic, that feels a very tall order but we should never lose sight of the opportunities we have as a human family to reimagine and reshape the future.
The question is whether sustainability is so important that, like ethics, it now needs to become a core part of our profession. Our Members can be great ambassadors for the SDGs and the vision of a better world that they represent.
Sustainability, in its broadest sense, is about how we can make a positive impact on the world around us. As part of our commitment to the public interest, there is an expectation that ICAS should, as an organisation, operate for societal good. There is also an expectation that we will demonstrate the very values that we seek to advocate. At ICAS we are developing our own Sustainability Story, covering Climate Change, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, and Public Trust. These are all key priorities for society, the profession and business. The 2019 ICAS Annual Review set out some of the ways in which we have attempted to align our activities with the SDGs over the last 18 months, and we are adding to our sustainability story every day. The question is whether sustainability is so important that, like ethics, it now needs to become a core part of our profession. Our Members can be great ambassadors for the SDGs and the vision of a better world that they represent.
As well as celebrating the fifth anniversary of the SDGs, I realised last week that its now ten years since ICAS issued the Future of Assurance Report. Some of the recommendations were implemented quickly and are now well accepted (the report laid the foundations for changes to the UK Corporate Governance Code requirement for the annual report and accounts, taken as a whole, to be fair, balanced and understandable). Other recommendations have been maturing, and just as we have been revisiting the role and purpose of audit, there will also be a fresh look at the future of corporate reporting requirements, and the enhanced role that auditors can play. For example, the Future of Assurance Report set out proposals to widen the auditor’s responsibility in relation to the front half of the annual report, including requiring an opinion that the annual report (excluding the financial statements) is balanced and reasonable; and it promoted greater engagement between companies and investors in the quality of their reporting and the assurance provided on that reporting, to provide investors with clearer insight into the reporting and assurance processes. Back in 2010, those recommendations were viewed as revolutionary. Today they just seem evolutionary.
At their heart, the UN SDGs are about changing the behaviours of people and business. I think most of us will agree that people are the best agents for change, and I strongly believe that CAs are a force for good in the organisations in which they work. Many of our Members work in business, and corporates will now need to tell their own sustainability story as the public, investors and regulators call for increased transparency and accountability.
We’ve made good progress over the last five years, but it feels like we have been taking baby steps. Now that we have learned to walk, is it time to learn to run?
Corporate reporting is based on recognised and accepted standards, which are widely adopted. There are several non-financial reporting frameworks at present (TCFD, SASB, GRI, CDP, CDSB and IIRC), and some more than others have greater adoption levels globally and in the UK. Clearly if there is an appetite for consistency, then at some point there needs to be agreement on the reporting framework(s) that the major companies in the UK should adopt in relation to their non-financial information. The recently announced Statement of Intent from five of these bodies committing them to work together to achieve a more comprehensive reporting landscape is an encouraging first step forward. Preparers, investors, auditors, regulators and the professional bodies will hopefully have a voice in this debate. Given that the UK played a critical role in developing the SDGs, one would hope that the UK will ultimately select a non-financial reporting framework(s) which could be readily used to measure our progress towards the achievement of the SDGs.
We’ve made good progress over the last five years, but it feels like we have been taking baby steps. Now that we have learned to walk, is it time to learn to run? Or for the good of the human race to sprint!