Ten years ago, if you were to ask American CPAs about corporate sustainability practices, your questions would most likely be met with blank stares, if not downright skepticism. That’s changed. Today’s CPAs know you don’t have to be an environmental zealot in order to evangelize for sustainable business practices. In fact, in a few years, you’ll most likely be able to assess a company’s social responsibility performance right from its balance sheet.
The majority of Fortune Global 500 companies already provide investors with an annual report [some companies call it a corporate social responsibility (CSR) report, other companies refer to it as a sustainability report] that measures a business’s environmental, social, and corporate governance performance. The challenge has been, and remains, comparability∷ to ensure that the way companies measure and assess their impact on the environment, their employees, their customers, and their communities is consistent across all companies. That is what the international business community is working on now. The NYSSCPA is working on it too, through its newly established Sustainability Committee, which holds its first meeting January 28.
More than 90 members have already joined the committee, which tells me that members either understand the importance of sustainability accounting and want to learn more about it or have experience in this area and want to share their expertise with their fellow members. It also confirms that creating these types of resources is what makes NYSSCPA membership valuable. Over the past five years, the Society has worked hard to reallocate its resources in order to be more responsive to the needs of New York CPAs. The creation of the Sustainability Committee and our members’ interest in it is proof that those efforts are bearing fruit. In fact, when Sustainability Committee Chair Renee Mikalopas-Cassidy asked new committee members how they defined sustainability, one replied: “Sustainability is the future of the NYSSCPA.” I couldn’t agree more.
Nearly 90% of a company’s value can be found in its intangible assets, according to Ocean Tomo, an intellectual property (IP) consulting firm. Operational processes, branding, employee culture, customer experience, IP, and strategic partnerships are what creates value for a successful business in 2016. Yet, as Mikalopas-Cassidy has pointed out, most companies assign the production of the CSR report to the human resources or public relations departments—not the accounting department, which houses the experts best equipped to measure, manage, and report on a company’s assets and business strategies.
As usual, it’s CPAs to the rescue. And that’s what the member of our nascent committee meant by saying that sustainability is the future of the NYSSCPA. We are a large CPA society; we have the know-how of 28,000 members and the country’s financial center here in our state. We are about to embark on the process of creating an entirely new system of accounting that meets the needs of today’s business world. The high level of engagement we are seeing around this new committee shows us what members value about this organization, and we intend to provide more of it.
If you’re interested in becoming a Sustainability Committee member, contact NYSSCPA Committees Manager Nellie Gomez at [email protected] And if you can, you should join me on May 5–6, when our Foundation for Accounting Education holds its first conference on sustainability in New York City, featuring some the world’s most respected thought leaders on the subject. It might be your first step in helping us build the NYSSCPA of the future.