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 globally agreeing finance teams have a role to play in building a more socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable future.

Amongst the 120 experts polled across Africa, 82 per cent said that it was time for their organisation to change to do less damage to the environment, with 58 per cent saying finance teams should support the work of others, compared with 40 per cent who said accountants should be leading the change.

Globally, respondents strongly agreed that part of their role, alongside supporting the reliability of impact management, was through making sure social and environmental activities were financially viable.

Thomas Isibor, head of ACCA Nigeria says: ‘These findings come when around the world in 2020 we have 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.

‘But respondents from across ACCA markets in Africa, including Nigeria, are looking ahead at what matters, expressing an interest in developing further skills to tackle these issues – 76 per cent say they are looking to develop knowledge in social impact measurement and 68 per cent interested in sustainability data analytics.’

African respondents were also asked about the areas they thought professional accountants should be involved in to help their organisation build a greener and more inclusive world – 72 per cent said it was important to improve risk management of social and environmental issues.

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.

Thomas Isibor 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.’

Mainstreaming Impact: scaling a sustainable recovery can be downloaded here: https://www.accaglobal.com/gb/en/professional-insights/pro-accountants-the-future/mainstreaming_impact.html

CPD: ACCA will be launching a programme of specific sustainability-related CPD for its members in November.

What is impact? As defined by the Impact Management Project, managing impact is the practice of measuring, assessing and improving the effects of activities on sustainability issues. It is relevant for enterprises and investors who want to manage environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks, as well as those who also want to contribute positively to global goals(see page 6 of report).