As Seattle-headquartered Moss Adams celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2013, the Top 15 accounting firm is also looking pointedly forward, with the publication of its inaugural 2012 Corporate Social Responsibility Report.

The CSR report includes data on the firm's diversity goals, its environmental footprint, and its community outreach and charitable involvement, among other things. In addressing the shifting priorities of its staff and clients, the firm joins a small but growing number of companies that are starting to report personnel, community and environmental statistics under recommended Global Reporting Initiative G3.1 guidelines -- often as a complement to their more familiar financial statement reporting.

"It's not about making more money for the firm, stakeholders and communities, but what people want today," explained chairman and chief executive officer Chris Schmidt. "The whole business environment and world is changing. We don't want to stagnate, but be ahead of what's happening. If we don't change, we'll have problems -- how we view this is, we want to be around for another 100 years. It's really important to us."

Of course, when it comes to Moss Adams surviving a full century, it is a little about the money - $344 million in 2012 to be exact, placing the firm at No. 13 on Accounting Today's Top 100 Firms. That alone, however, didn't make the centennial Moss Adams' "biggest year ever, from a growth perspective," according to Schmidt.

Earlier this year, Schmidt was appointed to his four-year term as chief executive, succeeding Rick Anderson, who served in the role for nine years. A late 2012 merger with Silicon Valley-based Top 100 Firm Mohler, Nixon & Williams also went into effect at the start of the year, with the two firms integrating their Northern California offices in the spring. Mohler Nixon's 25 partners and more than 160 employees joined Moss Adams, bringing the combined firms' partners to a total of 260 and staff to more than 2,000.

"The thing we're most proud of is people-related things in Moss Adams, holding self-accountability to team members," Schmidt shared. "And standards established from a CSR perspective."

Of those standards, Schmidt said that the one of which he's most proud is Moss Adams' Forum_W, an effort established in 2008 to better attract, retain, develop and advance women, both at the firm and within the profession, through sharing best practices. In 2012, women composed 53 percent of all personnel and 24 percent of the firm's partners.

 

INSPIRATIONAL REPORTING

Christian Geismann, senior manager and national practice leader of the Moss Adams Sustainability Services Group, and one of the leaders of the reporting effort, found the CRS publication's totality inspiring.

"The greatest thing for me is there is a lot of data around people," Geismann explained. "We had internally communicated this through individual articles and speeches, but this was our first opportunity to include all that data and information all together in one place. It's cool to see so much information in one report -- you can really get a sense of how the firm is operating, the sort of policies they're committed to. It wasn't until I actually had that finished product, one of the final drafts, that it hit me: This is a cool document here."

The process to get to that final report also heavily involved the firm's people, and began for Geismann after he took a secondment to London through Moss Adams' founding membership with global accounting firm alliance Praxity.

Geismann worked at the London affiliate firm for two years, building his knowledge in International Financial Reporting Standards along with a passion for sustainability reporting, which he transitioned into involvement with the firm's CSR working group when he returned to the U.S. in 2012.

Established that August, the group began with identifying the most crucial areas for the firm and the clients it serves in 33 industries, and then narrowing them to those that they could quantify and start tracking. From there, they embarked on a dry run by pulling data from 2011.

Then, the executive committee of nine elected partners, plus then-chair Anderson, Schmidt and Moss Adams president and chief operating officer Dick Fohn - with the "global perspective" and leadership of Bob Bunting, former CEO and chairman of the Sustainability Services Group - spent at least five months reviewing, discussing and approving the report's various benchmarks.

"We had to have partners buy in to what we were going to do, to hold accountable to these goals and metrics," Schmidt explained. "It was a really healthy process, like trying to have 30 percent women partners by a certain date -- we looked at the underlying data to see the right metric, as more than a stretch goal but one we would work hard to try to achieve... . It was a really productive process at the board level."

 

WHAT'S IN THE REPORT

While striking a balance between current statistics and goals, the report emphasizes the future, Schmidt and Geismann stressed. "[The 2011 data compilation] also had a bit of comparability to the report in 2012, but we took it one step further and determined that what we achieved with the data, when we looked back, we tried to look forward with what sorts of goals we have, and that they be achievable," Geismann elaborated.

Joining the report's Forum_W metrics are statistics and goals for the Moss Adams Foundation. The foundation encourages community outreach and charitable giving, which the report largely frames from a recruitment and retention angle, providing numbers on the firm's promotions from within, hiring from local communities, and employee diversity. The report also breaks down employee compensation and retirement benefits, with accompanying future goals of "paying at least two times the highest prevailing minimum wage" and 401(k)s that are "at or above industry average," respectively. The firm also aims to offer 12 hours of paid time off per year for personal volunteering by 2016.

The third section of the report focuses on environmental sustainability, beginning with purchased office materials and a goal to reduce those by 3 percent per employee by 2014. Also measured are recycled material, water use and energy consumption, with objectives that both Schmidt and Geismann acknowledge vary in attainability and ease of measurement.

The primary driver in the firm's energy consumption goals will be relocating to more efficient LEED-certified buildings by 2018. Moss Adams' broader energy conservation efforts, however, will take more time to determine. "The energy consumption goals are direct and indirect - they're hard to calculate right now, but we're getting better at those things as standards are established," Schmidt explained. "When you get into paper consumption and different things like that, they are pretty measurable and easy. A true carbon footprint is more complex. We're trying to map it out so it's our next issue to report when we're in a better position to know how to, [for example], capture the carbon footprint for airplane flights."

In the meantime, Moss Adams gives the smaller objectives equal weight, attaching to the report a list of five specific actions or behavioral changes every employee can make this year. Those include donating time to a charitable event, donating money to a charitable cause, producing less paper, using a re-usable mug in the office, remembering to turn off the lights, and an open-ended action the individual is encouraged to share with the firm. "We are seeing what people are excited about and interested in, and easy wins to make a difference can have a big impact," Geismann shared.

This kind of employee involvement, which is necessary to the CSR reporting process, according to Schmidt, is also essential to the happiness of Moss Adams' current and future workforce. "When we recruit students and new team members, they are asking multiple questions about the document from an environmental, community and corporate citizenship perspective, so tying that back into [the CSR report] is very important," Schmidt explained. "Students are much more aware."

"At the University of Washington, I answered questions for an hour just about the CSR report," Geismann agreed. "They were all very excited; I had to calm them down just a little bit. There were a couple of stumpers where I had to say, 'I just don't know.' They know this pretty well, they all know the GRI and are passionate about a lot of these larger metrics. It's really cool to see."

As Moss Adams embraces this impassioned future, it also honors its past, specifically in one big centennial celebration for the firm and retired partners this September.

"These are exciting times for the firm," Schmidt said.

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