In March 2018, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) established a relationship with Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business to advance the emerging field of sustainability accounting through education, research, and public events. SASB and Fordham hope to educate the next generation of business leaders and embed sustainability accounting into best practices at companies and other organizations. Fordham’s location in New York City will provide a permanent venue for SASB in the world’s largest capital market, and public events will promote greater transparency and facilitate access and engagement among their key stakeholders. To support the relationship, educators within Fordham have formed the SASB Fordham Collaboration Committee and the SASB Fordham Governance Board.
One may ask why a Jesuit university in New York City would partner with an independent, private-sector standards setting organization based in San Francisco. From an institutional perspective, both organizations are future focused and embrace ideas that are mutually beneficial to business and society. Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business strives to educate future global business leaders who will be inspired to change the world in a positive and sustainable way. The university also takes a cura personalis approach to educating students, recognizing all of their unique gifts and talents comprehensively. SASB applies a similar approach to business entities with its philosophy that corporations should not be assessed by one singular measure nor be valued by financial performance alone; instead, they should consider the totality of the entity. SASB envisions a world where a shared understanding of corporate sustainability performance allows companies and investors to make informed decisions that improve sustainability outcomes.
From an educational perspective, Fordham continually revises its curriculum to incorporate current business issues, particularly those pertaining to sustainability. Although there are obstacles to adding material to existing classes, introducing accounting students to sustainably reporting is beneficial. Offering young minds a lens beyond the narrowly focused financial statements helps students develop a more robust understanding of how companies create sustainable long-term value.
Students are introduced to the SASB Sustainability Framework and its five dimensions of environmental impacts, social capital, human capital, business model and invocation, and leadership and governance.
Therefore, the Gabelli School of Business offers an upper-level accounting sustainability reporting course every semester, which requires students to prepare critical reviews of publications identified in SASB’s monthly newsletters and its annual analysis of the effectiveness of sustainability disclosure in SEC filings. In this course, students evaluate both financial and nonfinancial risks that affect a corporation’s ability to create sustainable value. In addition, students assess short-term versus long-term risk management and comparisons for financial and social reporting practices in different industries such as transportation, food and beverage, and consumer goods. Students are also introduced to the SASB Sustainability Framework and its five dimensions of environmental impacts, social capital, human capital, business model and invocation, and leadership and governance. Of these, human capital often triggers the greatest response in classroom discussions.
Furthermore, the core financial accounting classes at Fordham introduce sophomores to sustainability accounting by incorporating material pertaining to the field, thereby advancing students’ awareness of the reporting complexities stemming from the nonqualitative nature of sustainability metrics, inconsistent reporting methodologies, and the lack of regulatory guidance in these areas. By delivering traditional topics online, in-class time is available for discussion of sustainability-related concepts such as materiality, information asymmetry, and the value of intangible assets.
The goals of the collaboration between Fordham and SASB are admittedly ambitious, particularly when linked with the changing roles of educators as creators and curators of knowledge; however, SASB can help Fordham (and other colleges) by providing unique resources and information regarding trends and practices. SASB has varying membership levels for educators to access valuable publications, webinars, and newsletters that can inform and aid faculty.
The SASB-Fordham relationship also supports Fordham’s holistic approach to education. Empowering accounting students as skilled advocates of social, environmental, and economic causes creates leaders with strong moral compasses willing to question the status quo. Moreover, instilling a sense of discernment sets the foundation for professional skepticism and the formation of future accountants positioned to change the world.
Today’s fraught political climate compels an emphasis on educational innovation, education for justice, and concern for environmental issues. Ultimately, SASB and Fordham aim to share resources and extend the benefits of their partnership to others so that, collectively, they can develop an awareness of the value of emerging conditions, advance new ways of knowing and learning, and realize the importance of understanding the many dimensions of sustainability reporting. Sparked by this collaboration, Fordham’s accounting students will engage in rigorous debates that will require the discerning use of evidence and logic. I hope that future accountants will find ways to leave the world a little better than they found it.