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March 24, 2009

ACCA steps up sustainability focus

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) is in the midst of producing of five papers to brief members on how core accounting disciplines relate to sustainability.

Papers have been published on reporting and economic instruments. One on assurance is in its final draft, while two in the pipeline cover governance and accounting.

ACCA head of social and environmental issues Rachel Jackson said the emergence of sustainability issues within core business practice is a significant development for accountants and the briefing papers will help outline the implications.

KPMG and AccountAbility are collaborating in the project.

“We felt the balance of each of those contributors added value to the project,” Jackson said. “One is a more traditional accounting, financial services-type firm within the sphere of the accounting profession. And then we have AccountAbility, a [non-government organisation] think tank, creator of assurance standards and so on.

“The two are extremes but both have similar views in some areas.”

Jackson said there are a significant number of Big Four employees working in the sustainability field.

“I am sure that if we were to collate all the numbers of staff you would get to an encouraging and surprisingly high number,” she said.

“There is a raft of legislation out there, which is only set to grow. You have all sorts of emissions trading schemes coming onto the market in different countries and all of those will need accountants to help implement, measure, report, verify and so on. It is new business and big business.”

One example of new legislation is the UK’s Climate Change Bill that was passed in November 2008.

The UK government is also launching a carbon reduction commitment next year that will affect about 5,000 organisations that do not fall under the EU emissions trading scheme.

“That is a whole new sphere of measuring, analysing the footprint, reducing, trading, buying, accounting for,” Jackson said.

“All of these organisations kept thinking perhaps none of this has applied to them so far, or it is not relevant to them. Suddenly you have hospitals, you have schools, you have local authorities, you have government bodies and organisations that have slipped through the net suddenly have to now start doing this by law.

“Australia and New Zealand also have schemes in the pipeline, Japan has hinted at it. And goodness knows what sort of encouraging stuff is going to come out of America under the new administration. It is certainly all very positive so far.”

As part of its sustainability activities, the ACCA is also publishing a paper summarising the sustainability elements of its qualification.

The main purpose of this is to show existing members what the syllabus would be like if they studied the qualification today.

Other projects include a Carbon Jigsaw that looks at six key elements of carbon and climate change.

“This is primarily aimed at members who are bombarded with all this climate change information and they just need it all succinct – a comprehensive overview with lots of references if they want to know further,” Jackson said.

The ACCA is also building a climate change micro site and will be preparing a second set of briefing papers, on carbon, towards the end of this year, then a Water Jigsaw.

“We feel there is a lot of work being done out there on water accounting and water foot-printing, which we again think is impacting on businesses over time and therefore will impact on accountants over time,” Jackson said.

“So we want to research the area and come out with something on water to inform our members and students.”

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