Doing business in a sustainable or environmentally oriented manner is an issue and topic that is increasingly dominating the marketplace.

Whether it is focused specifically on the implementation of sustainability ideas, the business angle of sustainable business models, or the development of entirely new business models, the overall trend is clear. Doing business in a way that is beneficial to the bottom line, the environment and external stakeholder groups is an important topic among accounting professionals.

Accounting publications, industry conferences and social media platforms continue to echo the sentiment that sustainability is moving from a mere topic of conversation to a fundamental driver of business dialogue.

Reporting and disclosure frameworks such as integrated reporting, the increasing number of organizations issuing sustainability reports, and the proliferation of flexible purpose corporations provide examples of how sustainability is influencing the business environment. Benefit corporations, specifically, provide an example of how management teams can, and should, integrate nonfinancial metrics into operational agreements, bylaws and company goals. With integrated reporting becoming more popular on a global scale, and high-profile organizations like Kickstarter adopting the benefit corporation framework, there are clearly opportunities for CPAs to add value to this process.

Even with this increased dialogue and conversation, however, it can be difficult for CPAs to find a platform or venue to explore sustainability at a high level. Depending on the industry, organization and management preferences, it can be difficult to establish and maintain a meaningful dialogue in this arena. With this challenge comes an opportunity for accountants willing to think outside of the box, and engage in this important conversation.

Many Languages, One World

Since 2013, the United Nations Academic Impact, in cooperation with ELS Educational Services, has sponsored the Many Languages One World program. The core of this program seeks to bring together participants, selected via a rigorous competitive process, to share ideas and cultures, and do so in the six official languages of the United Nations. This year, I was fortunate enough, after volunteering my services, to be selected a facilitator helping some of the contestants prepare to present at the United Nations. In 2017, MLOW focused on the United Nations Sustainable Developing Goals and tasked participants to develop action objectives and action plans that were then presented in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations.

As sustainability is a critical issue, both in terms of reporting and how management teams lead their teams forward, this alignment struck me as an opportunity to gain from this global conversation. Working with, and learning from, this international group of MLOW participants, fostered a sharing of ideas, strategies and tactics to help better integrate a sustainability mindset into business behavior and public policy. Presenting these ideas, both at the U.N. in person and streamed live around the world, provides participants, facilitators and partnering organizations a platform to develop and refine sustainability related strategies. Collaborating with the UNAI provides an opportunity for CPAs seeking to expand their professional horizons to work with leading global institutions on a global basis. The highlight of the week was my accompaniment of the MLOW winners to the United Nations to present their research and findings, highlights of which are available via U.N. portals and social media platforms.

A Global Dialogue

The recently announced joint venture between the AICPA and CIMA provides accounting professionals with a newly empowered global organization to engage with, and develop new ideas. Sustainability—operating organizations and institutions in an environmentally friendly manner—and establishing global standards increasingly are a part of both the business and broader market conversation. CPAs and other accounting professionals are increasingly tasked with developing reporting metrics, dashboards and templates reporting on not only financial results, but operational issues as well. This dialogue, the associated opportunities and challenges, and the ramifications for society, consumers, organizations and management professionals provide a platform for CPAs seeking to contribute to this global dialogue.

MLOW is not, of course, the only program focusing on international collaboration and sustainability issues, but it does represent a unique opportunity. Working with the UNAI and ELS Educational Services provides a platform for accountants to work hand-in-hand with committed professionals seeking to solve complex global issues. Data drives the decision-making process, and accounting professionals are well-versed in the compilation, analysis and reporting of information for internal and external users.

Thinking outside the box, engaging with global events such as MLOW, and leveraging these newly formed connections can open up doors that practitioners may not be aware even existed. Taking charge, applying creativity to complex problems, and being willing to operate outside comfort zones are the paths to growth, and I can confirm the benefits of participating in this year’s event.

United Nations building in New York
United Nations building in New York
Sean Stein Smith

Sean Stein Smith

Sean Stein Smith, DBA, CPA, CMA, CGMA, is an assistant professor at Lehman College, part of the City University of New York, and a columnist for Inc.com.