Accountants ‘deeply concerned’ about building back better and social and environmental impact

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Respondents across South Asia confirm their role to both lead and support the change needed ahead

Pune, 22 Oct 2020 : A global survey of 829 accountants and finance professionals reveals their deep concerns about social and environmental issues, with 90 per cent 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 from ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), also reveals the desire of accountants to spearhead this change, with 95 per cent agreeing finance teams have a role to play in building a more socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable future.

Eighty-four per cent of the 60 expert panelists from across the South Asia region, including India, said it was important that the economic recovery from Covid-19 sees organisations become more environmentally sustainable and make more of a positive impact on society.

Md. Sajid Khan, Head of International Development, ACCA India, says: ‘These findings come when around the world in 2020 we have seen record-breaking temperatures, 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.

‘It is also good to see respondents looking ahead at their own skills and knowledge, with many expressing an interest in developing further skills to tackle these issues – 58 per cent say they are looking to develop knowledge in social impact measurement and 69 per cent are interested in sustainability data analytics.’

Nearly three quarters (72 per cent) of South Asia respondents also said having an understanding and accounting for environmental dependencies and social impact was important for organisations to build a greener and more inclusive world.

Helen Brand OBE, chief executive of ACCA says in the report’s introduction: ‘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 adds: ‘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.’

Global findings

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. Other results show:

–       Approximately 25% of respondents to the survey either a) did not know whether their finance team was involved in addressing social or environmental impacts, or, b) knew that finance was not involved;

–       Among 18 – 34 year olds, 24 per cent 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 per cent of respondents, the highest response for this issue globally.

Md. Sajid Khan concludes: ‘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.’