ACCA: Accountants ‘deeply concerned’ about social and environmental impacts

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)’s global survey of 829 accountants and finance professionals reveals their deep concerns about social and environmental issues, with 90% of respondents saying they want organisations to increase efforts to become more environmentally sustainable and make a more positive impact on society after the pandemic.

Mainstreaming Impact: scaling a sustainable recovery also reveals the desire of accountants to spearhead this change, with 95% agreeing finance teams have a role to play in building a more socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable future.

These findings come when 2020 has seen record-breaking temperature devastating fires and flooding, and the severe impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic which has worsened existing socio-economic inequalities and reinforced the fragilities of the natural world.

In ACCA’s survey, respondents admit their own organisations need to change to do more to address social inequalities (75%), and to do less damage to the environment (85%).

But just over half (45%) said they considered they had the skills and training to address social and environmental impact management in their organisation. Many stressed the barriers they face including potential costs, lack of senior management buy-in and too narrow a focus on financial returns.

Helen Brand OBE, chief executive of ACCA, said: “Guided by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which can act as a common language roadmap to follow out of the current crisis, businesses of all sizes can use this moment to step forward and commit to making an intentional, positive impact on society and the environment through their activities. And for professional accountants, they can make these commitments a reality.

“They have a huge role here, because it’s through professional education that accountants can support the transition to a net-zero carbon world. We’re committed to ensuring that sustainability and green finance is an integral part of our world-class qualification and members’ CPD, supporting our members with a range of new online learning offerings on these important areas.”

Jimmy Greer, ACCA’s head of sustainability, added: “Now is the time to mainstream social and environmental impact management, so that our economies and societies become more resilient to future shocks and can embed health, equity, community and sustainability into business models. Professional accountants and finance teams are central actors, with the skills, knowledge and ambition to do more.”

Given perceived leadership barriers, respondents saw their role as being one of partnering with others in a supporting role, helping them achieve objectives by providing the right kind of help for their organisations.

The report also found: 

  • 25% did not know whether their finance team was involved in addressing social or environmental impacts or new than finance was not involved
  • Among 18 – 34-year-olds, 24% ranked human rights as the most important issue to tackle, with 35 – 55-year-olds citing diversity and inclusion as being the most important.
  • Over three-fifths of respondents agreed that professional accountants should be involved in understanding social and environmental impacts and dependencies, prioritising creating positive social impact alongside financial returns and in improving risk management of social and environmental issues.
  • Climate change was deemed most important in Europe by 26% of respondents, the highest response for this issue globally.

Jimmy Greer concluded: “ACCA’s call to action for all organisations is for them to commit to building better impact management into their processes to create value – they need to make board level governance commitment to additional and intentional social and environmental positive impact creation. And they also must allocate resources within finance teams and across organisations to build decision-making capabilities related to environmental and social impact.”

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