[IMGCAP(1)]The New York State Society of CPAs will be holding its first ever Sustainability Investment Leadership Conference on May 6. This is a new area that could result in substantial involvement by CPAs.

One of the opening issues is to define what sustainability is and what our roles are. A colleague on the Education Subcommittee which I chair, James P. Hannon, a professor of accounting at Pace University in New York, offers these suggestions of what our subcommittee’s role is in developing a one- or two-hour continuing education program geared toward two separate audiences:

a. Practicing CPAs: For this audience the emphasis should be on helping practitioners understand the development and current state of sustainability and sustainability auditing and reporting. This would include expansion beyond that which has been a focus on the environment to a more inclusive corporate social responsibility which considers all stakeholders (e.g., employees, customers, suppliers, stockholders, communities and environmental/human rights advocates).

We should also discuss the business development opportunities that will be created for practitioners and the challenges of auditing the processes/systems which capture nonfinancial information; determining what’s relevant; what metrics will be useful to investors; and consistent application within an industry and its various sectors.

b. Colleges and Universities: This is where many future leaders and accounting professionals will be developed. Sustainability issues can be embedded in existing financial, managerial and auditing curricula as well as perhaps in other business disciplines. Sustainability should not be taught as an abstract concept as if “training” for a task or a job. Rather, it should be socially and intellectually transforming. Educators need to guide these future leaders to acquire critical thinking skills; skills to organize and interpret data; skills to even formulate questions; the ability to analyze issues confronting communities; and to consider various perspectives and the values whereby they can maintain sustainable lives.

This is a new area and I feel there is a great opportunity for CPAs to get involved and become knowledgeable early on. The above is just the beginning of the formulation of our involvement. For CPAs in the New York area I can assist you in joining the committee. If you want to find out more and see the range of issues and the strong support it has from our profession, I suggest you consider attending the May 6 conference. Here is a link for more information and to register: http://silcny.com/event/2016-silc-conference/. Note that I will be speaking on one of the panels at this program.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, published by www.CPATrendlines.com and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition,” published by the AICPA. Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or emendlowitz@withum.com.