There is the danger of a new profession arising with a similar
skill set to accountants if the existing accounting profession does
not embrace a responsibility regarding sustainability practices
within business, according to a European sustainability expert.

Paul Druckman is the Federation of European Accountants
(Fédération des Experts comptables Européens – FEE) sustainability
policy group chair. He also chairs the executive board of the
Prince of Wales Accounting for Sustainability Forum and is a past
president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and

Druckman said a new policy statement from FEE, Contribution of
the Accountancy Profession
, tries to show a lot of businesses
are reporting on sustainability and embedding it into their
processes, but without necessarily involving the finance

“And the finance professional, frankly, has not been great at
putting themselves forward either, in this role, and this has to
stop,” Druckman said.

“The tools that are needed for understanding the non-financial
information and the strategies that go with the governance, the
processes and the controls are very much the skills set of the
finance professional.”

Druckman warned that if the accounting profession does not step
up to take the role, a complementary skill set will be created
“which just doesn’t make any sense”.

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“I think the accountants have not recognised that they do have a
significant role to play yet,” he said.

Hard times

Druckman predicted any new profession is likely to struggle
because it will not have the underlying skill set. It would be in
danger of being corporate social responsibility experts rather than
business professionals.

“That is disturbing as far as I am concerned,” he said.

There are commercial advantages pushing the sustainability
drive, Druckman added.

“We are in difficult economic times, but I think a significant
number of businesses are now interested in the whole area. That
might be altruistic, although it is unlikely. It is more likely to
be based on supply chain pressure or compliance-type pressure. Or
it may be it is commercially advantageous, either cost cutting or
revenue generating.

“I think a significant number of businesses are starting to see
that. They are not all very sure how to do it, but I think it is on
the radar, if not in the action plan.”

Druckman said coming events, such as the United Nations climate
change conference in Copenhagen in December, as well as
administration changes in key jurisdictions such as the US and EU
could lead to more regulation, although he is not sure this is the
right answer.

“If we are not careful it will just be box ticking and not
embedded,” he warned.

“If you take [the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act] as the classic example,
I am not sure that has added anything to business. What we are
looking at here is adding to business.

“We want this not to be something that is a tick box and a knee
jerk, but is actually something that is seen to be useful and is
moving business on.”

Druckman said it is up to businesses to move now and improve
performance otherwise it will be enforced on them.

FEE strategy

Contribution of the Accountancy Profession was one of
four policy papers released by FEE’s sustainability team this
month. The others were: Cost Internationalisation;
Non-Financial Information; and Multiple-Stakeholders: The Essence
of Multidisciplinary Teams

FEE’s sustainability efforts are managed by two separate

The 18-person sustainability policy group, which includes three
technical advisers, is responsible for setting policy and strategy
for the sustainability efforts of FEE and its members.

The 20-person sustainability working party is chaired by Nancy
Kamp-Roelands, who is also a CPA working for Ernst & Young in
the Netherlands. The working party is where consultation responses
are done and papers are written. It is comprised of technical
experts – key sustainability people from different European

The two work very closely together and there is some overlap
between members.

One of the main strategies of the groups is to embed
sustainability into the other groups within FEE. They have held
presentations and discussions with groups including the audit,
financial reporting and public sector working parties.

Other projects for 2009 are being finalised. These will be
mainly roundtables and call to action approaches rather than major
pieces of work.

Carolyn Canham