17 Goals - One global vision
In 2015, all the UN member states adopted the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in the form of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a shared strategy for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.
The vision that underpins the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is that no-one should be left behind: the goals should benefit all, eradicate poverty, and reduce inequalities.
In their 2016 report, the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) identified eight Goals where the accountancy profession has the most significant part to play in this new global agenda for sustainable development in terms of:
- How the global accountancy profession can contribute to the success of the SDGs; and
- What the SDGs mean for professional accountants, particularly those involved in helping their organisations understand their role in the overall global sustainable development agenda.
The accounting profession is an essential driver of strong and sustainable organisations, financial markets, and economies. As a result, we have a crucial role in achieving the SDGs and meeting the agreed targets.
The IFAC report highlighted that the accounting profession should be working towards at least eight of the SDGs.
These eight goals, and the reason why each is considered to be relevant to the accounting profession, are detailed below:
Eight goals relevant to the accounting profession
Education is widely recognised as a key factor in the eradication of poverty and economic development. ICAS is an educator and training provider and delivers relevant professional training to accountants throughout their careers helping them make a positive contribution to business and society. We recognise the need to include coverage of sustainable development issues in our education and training programmes.
As in any walk of life, the accounting profession can fulfil its greatest potential when it is at its most inclusive. As a profession, we need to attract, retain and advance, talent, especially women. In many countries, the number of women entering the accountancy profession is lower than the number of men and the number of women achieving leadership roles in the profession is lower than their male counterparts. ICAS members apply their skills to accounting for non-financial issues such as gender equality.
Decent Work and Economic Growth:
Part of the responsibility of accountants working in business, or accountants advising their business clients, is to help inform responsible business decisions and to create resilient, sustainable organisations. This is directly associated with improved living standards and national health, well-being, and prosperity.
Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure:
Accountants give others the confidence to make important decisions based on the due diligence, business advice, anti-corruption and money laundering services they provide. These decisions often involve large-scale infrastructure investments in both the private and public sector which may have wider societal impacts. Furthermore, developments in technology are increasingly impacting upon our daily lives and the accounting profession needs to support businesses to be innovative and to stay ahead of technological advances to ensure they aren't left behind. More frequently, accountants/auditors are now being asked to provide assurance over non-financial information in order to enhance confidence and trust in more qualitative aspects of an organisation's activities.
Responsible Consumption and Production:
Accountants provide information that supports decision making and this needs to go beyond the traditional profitability measures to consider how their products, services, and processes contribute directly or indirectly to the SDGs. This goal also places new demands on corporate reporting for increased transparency around how corporate activities contribute to responsible consumption and production. Traditional annual reports are still important but are not sufficient in enabling the board to discharge all of their governance duties, nor do they provide information relevant to all stakeholders. Integrated thinking and reporting provide the means and additional incentives for CFOs, and their finance teams, to focus on the information and the decisions that matter.
Accountants should encourage and support consistent, useful climate-related disclosure and reporting such as the Financial Stability Board (FSB)’s Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures and the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB). In addition, accountants should remain informed of how they can support their organisations’ efforts to lower carbon emissions and adapt to climate change. A4S (Accounting for Sustainability) has produced a 'Top Tips for Finance Teams' booklet including practical approaches tried and tested by early adopters of the TCFD recommendations. Also included are some resource suggestions and links to organisations that have started to disclose in line with the recommendations.
Peace and Justice and Strong Institutions:
Goal 16 is sometimes referred to as “the people’s goal” because fraud and corruption hinder business and divert resources away from those who need it thereby deterring future foreign investment. The profession’s capacity to address these constraints to sustainable growth such as poor governance, fraud and corruption and poor accounting and auditing practices, is important for economic and sustainable development. High-quality, reliable financial and non-financial information is key to the creation of sound capital markets and resilient companies and the role and trust in accountancy is key to combat fraud and corruption.
Partnerships for the Goals:
The SDGs will not be achieved without the establishment of strong partnerships or collaborative, effective partnerships to pursue shared objectives. Partnerships can be established across the value chain, within specific sectors or with governments and civil society organisations. The accounting profession operates within a series of networks, from accounting firms to lobbying groups to thought leaders. This type of collaboration has been proven to be effective in the achievement of common goals and objectives. In order to ensure that we are as effective and influential as possible, members of the ICAS Sustainability Panel actively participate in a number of global sustainability bodies.
A further goal that is relevant to the profession
The ICAS Sustainability Panel has also added Goal 10, Reduced Inequalities, to our list of the SDGs most relevant to ICAS. This recognises the work and impact of the ICAS Foundation which aims to reduce inequality by helping young people from disadvantaged communities obtain an accountancy qualification. In addition, through the advocacy role performed by ICAS, particularly in relation to fiscal, wage and social protection policies, we work towards achieving greater equality by lobbying for fiscal and social policies that work towards this objective.
In summary, the profession can contribute directly and indirectly to achieving the SDGs through a broad range of activities, all of which create value for organisations and the societies in which they operate. Many of these activities are already underway, but there is more we can do to scale up our efforts and align them directly to the SDGs.
The ICAS Sustainability Panel will be focusing their activities around the SDGs for the next 18-24 months and this represents the first of a series of articles to raise awareness and inform on the importance and relevance of the SDGs to the accounting profession.
We would be keen to receive your thoughts and feedback on this and any future articles on this topic. You can do this by emailing the accounting and auditing team.