For the past few years, The CPA Journal has drawn attention to the new but growing field of sustainability reporting and assurance by devoting a special issue to the topic. This year, the editors and NYSSCPA, in collaboration with the Hedge Fund Roundtable, went even further in organizing the first annual Sustainability Investment Leadership Conference. On May 6, 2016, an historic gathering of global trailblazers in the field of sustainability met with interested professionals to discuss how the accounting profession can take the lead in this integral function.
Mervyn King, a pioneer in the field of sustainability reporting, asserted that we cannot continue carrying on business as usual given the challenges facing the 21st century world. As such, it is critical for boards to embed sustainability issues into the strategy of a business. He believes we need to stop looking at the world through a purely financial lens and instead adopt an integrated thinking that considers all six capitals—financial, manufactured, human, intellectual, natural, and social—and has as its object the creation of long-term shared value for both business and society.
Harvard Professor Robert Eccles characterized integrated reporting as a social movement. He believes the private sector has an essential role to play in the encouragement of sustainable development and is working on bringing market forces to bear on the subject. He addressed the myth of shareholder primacy and proposed that existing definitions of fiduciary duty do not only permit the consideration of sustainability, they might require it. His proposed statement of significant audiences and materiality is aimed at getting boards to, with minimal expense, explain to investors and stakeholders how they judge what information is material from a sustainability point of view.
Author Jane Gleeson-White’s landmark book on sustainability asked, “Can accountants save the planet?” Many of the conference’s participants would likely answer “maybe”—but only if they take the lead in moving sustainability to the forefront of the American business agenda.