The climate seems to change faster than attitudes. If the Catholic Church, an institution not characterised in many ways for moving with the times, is able to acknowledge this issue certainly others, like the US Senate which refused to admit climate change is due to human activity, can do it.
The Vatican has endured a culture of secrecy and showed a poor record of financial transparency, which is trying to amend. The more knowledgeable readers would recall the 2012 VatiLeaks. And the more veterans would even recall the unsolved murder of Banco Ambrosiano’s chairman, Roberto Calvi, the so-called God’s banker who in 1982 was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London.
Pope Francis, however, is setting a rather different tone at the top of the Holy See. His latest encyclical letter, Laudato si, raises a red flag to not only the 1.2 billion of Catholics that exist in the world but to anyone who wants to listen to the leader of a sovereign state.
The Pope denounces a "system of commercial relations and ownership which is structurally perverse", plunders the earth’s resources with a short-sighted throwaway approach, and exacerbates inequality by punishing the poor, who are the most affected by climate change.
The encyclical leaves climate change sceptics between a rock and a hard place. If they are also good Christians, here you have the deputy of God on earth, agreeing with what the overwhelming majority of scientists have been saying since the late eighties: global warming is man-made, particularly due to the intensive use of fossil fuels.
Pope Francis made it clear: the environment, as much as the human life, is a gift that God has entrusted us and therefore we should protect it.
Following the Gospel of Matthew, I’m tempted to interpret that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a polluter to enter the kingdom of God.
The accountancy profession, however, is perhaps one of the groups that have shown more interest in sustainability issues outside the scientific world. Different frameworks and initiatives to make businesses more sustainable have mushroomed in the last years. The list is long and has become a true alphabet soup: CDSB, IIRC, SASB, GRI, CDP…
Among those is Integrated Reporting (<IR>), which aims at connecting financial and non-financial information to show how a company really creates value not just in the short run.
The US Institute of Management Accountants held a panel session of <IR> experts at its annual conference in Los Angeles, which I had the opportunity to moderate.
In reference to this plethora of sustainability initiatives Bob Laux, senior director of financial accounting and reporting at Microsoft, said that framework after framework this is becoming a mess.
He encouraged the organisations behind all these initiatives to strategically work together. And regretted that the ego of some high-level characters who want to "have a legacy" on those sustainability initiatives might have a negative impact on them. "Our profession is bigger than anyone getting credit for it," he said. And our planet is bigger than us: I hope you enjoy this month’s sustainability special.
Carlos Martin Tornero