The Ethical Finance 2020 summit
We need accountants in the fight against climate change. CAs can get involved by joining the free Ethical Finance summit taking place from 5 to 8 October 2020.
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. This quote, often attributed to Peter Drucker, gets to the heart of why accountancy is key to the sustainability revolution gripping finance and business.
If we want to understand the impact that business activities have on climate change, biodiversity, society and more, we have to be able to measure that impact, and report on it in financial statements and annual reports.
At the Global Ethical Finance Initiative (GEFI), we are seeking to bring in the perspectives of accountants, as well as others from across the financial services ecosystem, for Ethical Finance 2020.
Taking place from 5 to 8 October 2020, the summit features an impressive list of speakers, including NatWest’s Alison Rose, Aberdeen Standard’s Keith Skeoch, Professor Michael Mainelli and Kate Forbes, Cabinet Secretary for Finance in the Scottish Government.
While accountants might not fit the public image of what a climate activist looks like, it is increasingly recognised that their participation is essential to creating real action on climate change. The WEF at Davos earlier this year saw a major step taken, with a push from the Big 4, along with other partners, to standardise ESG (environment, social and governance) reporting, creating consistency internationally and moving away from the current status quo where firms are faced with a plethora of reporting standards.
Several sessions at Ethical Finance 2020 will focus directly on the issue of sustainability in accounting, including GEFI founder Omar Shaikh (CA) interviewing Professor Michael Mainelli. Anne Adrain of ICAS and Louise Pryor of The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries will be showcasing the Green Finance Education Charter, a commitment from professional bodies including ICAS to include environmental skills in their curricula. Taking a wider perspective, Jeff Hales of SASB will be explaining collaborative efforts to standardise sustainability reporting worldwide.
These sessions will discuss a range of issues, including whether we need to rethink our idea of the going concern. In the face of devastating climate change, as well as related issues such as biodiversity loss, is the traditional horizon of 12 months appropriate? Environmental damage, including climate change and deforestations, is already impacting supply chains, and stands to cause even more harm if left unchecked.
Then there are technical questions, such as how exactly to measure carbon footprints and other ESG impacts for alternative asset classes. Measurement and disclosures for listed equities are still imperfect but have improved markedly. The level of transparency is far lower in the world of private equity, debt and other asset classes, creating huge data challenges for ESG accounting.
Taken together, this raises the question of whether we are adequately reporting the negative environmental impact of business operations sufficiently. If we are depleting the natural resources of the planet or mistreating people, then the true costs of that are unlikely to be reported in accounts, which reflect the income generated but not the corresponding loss to natural resources. There are efforts to remedy this inconsistency at the national level, through initiatives such as ‘Gross National Happiness’, or the Scottish Government’s drive to measure natural capital.
These discussions are underpinned by the assumption that things can actually be measured: that we can “put a number on it”. But what if the fundamental data is qualitative, rather than quantitative? One area where ESG risks can easily be compared is the carbon emissions held responsible for climate change. The impact of finance on social issues and other environmental issues such as biodiversity and extinction is much harder to quantify.
The last few months have demonstrated the deep inequalities that exist within our society, with the Black Lives Matter movement being the most prominent example. In this climate, ignoring social issues simply because they are difficult to quantify is unacceptable. This point is underpinned by the recent Boohoo scandal around COVID. Despite being linked to unsafe working conditions, and labour rights abuses, the company had scored highly on ESG, ranking in the top 15 per cent of their MSCI peer group index.
What does all this mean for ICAS Members? Their involvement is key and they can make a huge impact, but to overcome some of the issues mentioned, accountants may need to broaden their skillsets beyond traditional financial accounting, into environmental and social accounting, highlighting the need for education and training.
Reflecting our ambition to curate open, accessible debates, Ethical Finance 2020 will be free to attend.
To find out more, including our full range of speakers and agenda, visit ethicalfinance2020.com now, or visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ethical-finance-2020-tickets-82579199609 to reserve your free place.