“There was a time when we could say that there was either a complete lack of knowledge, or at least room for doubt, about the consequences for our planet of our actions.
That time has gone.
We now know all too clearly what we are actually doing and that we need to do something about it urgently. Better accounting must be part of that process.”
Prince Charles, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales
The Prince’s Accounting for Sustainability Project (A4S) commissioned research into which types of information may be most effective in driving the integration of environmental and social factors into Board level decision-making. The A4S research indicated that:
1. There is a growing recognition of the changing business landscape and a potential need for changes to decision-making processes and strategic objectives to reflect new risks and opportunities.
2. The business case for the inclusion of environmental and social factors at Board level is not yet clear, particularly for many CFOs, due to uncertainty around the relevance of these issues to their organization.
3. Environmental and social information is often assumed to have been formally considered by the CSR / Sustainability team (with sometimes limited impact on the wider business) before decisions reach Board level. Information is typically presented as traditional sustainability data e.g. tonnes of carbon — with little alignment to strategic objectives or financial information.
4. Scepticism over the quality and robustness of many types of environmental and social data is preventing more widespread use.
5. A belief among respondents that expressing many environmental and social factors in financial terms can be counter-productive as data can be viewed as unreliable, spurious or unethical.
6. A perception that action can be left to successors who will understand these issues more fully.
The A4S research highlights that there are a number of barriers to overcome before the majority of organizations truly integrate environmental and social factors into decision making, including:
Demonstrate the business case
There is a need to articulate more clearly the commercial rationale for incorporating social and environmental factors into decision making to help ensure that organizations are aware of the risks to mitigate and the opportunities to grasp over the short, medium and long term.
Speak the right language
Narratives that are aligned with the needs and ‘language’ of business need to be developed. These need to be focussed at a sector and organizational level and grounded in commercial understanding.
Develop more robust information
Organizations should work with existing collaborations to develop commonly agreed methodologies to value environmental and social inputs and impacts in financial terms. These should clearly demonstrate the link to an organization’s strategic objectives and financial performance, either directly or via reputational impact. They should work with others to develop a wider set of tools that enable future risk, opportunity and uncertainty to be incorporated into decision making processes.
Bridge the knowledge gap
The need for skills expansion at Board level and within the finance and accounting community should be recognized and addressed.
Create an enabling environment
Organizations need to be given clear signals to drive more sustainable behaviour, including the need to align national and global frameworks with business incentives and performance measurement systems.
Access the full report below.
Prince Charles Photo Credit: The Guardian