Can accountants save the planet?

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AAT’s Head of Responsible Business and Policy spoke about net zero at Queen Mary University.

Last week Adam Williamson, Head of Responsible Business and Policy for AAT, appeared alongside experts from PWC, CIPFA, ICAEW and Net Zero Now to talk to an audience of students and academics at QMU about ’The future of net zero – how accountants will save the world’.

In 2012 Peter Bakker, then president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, told a Rio conference that ‘accountants will save the world’. He said that because accountants have the skills essential to the net zero agenda: measurement, reporting and assurance.

Presentations were wide-ranging. Adam covered the strong sustainability elements of the AAT 2030 strategy and the new Q22 qualifications, while other speakers explained new EU and global reporting standards appearing soon, the importance of accounting skills in delivering net zero, and the practicalities of starting your net zero measurement journey.

Other discussion topics centred around the problems of the carbon credits regime and offsetting and the associated greenwashing concerns, as well as the importance of public-private partnerships and the need for demonstrable progress by businesses to access public funding and contracts.

What’s on the syllabus?

Adam discussed the changes we have made to our qualifications and CPD pathways for new members to reflect the importance of sustainability within the roles of all finance professionals.

AAT is continually improving. We’ve had positive feedback from those involved in delivering our Q22 qualifications:

  • Sustainability comes out strongly in assessment results, suggesting understanding and engagement.
  • Students are increasingly able to see how sustainability will relate to what they’ll be doing in employment.

So why have we built sustainability into the syllabus and other resources?

  • Proliferation of regulations means we have to. For example, from 2024 almost 50,000 companies will be subject to mandatory sustainability reporting under the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD).
  • It’s beneficial for students and members. It makes commercial sense to understand sustainability: more skills = more services = wider client base = less risk = more fees.
  • The alternative is to become irrelevant. If you don’t do it, someone else will. There are always those entrepreneurial enough to jump on a trend and fashion a ‘new profession’ – doing what better-qualified people should be doing, and often doing it poorly. Accountants need to upskill to protect the public.
  • It’s also the right thing to do. We need an obligation to put the safety of people and the planet first.

How AAT is committing

Earlier this year, AAT launched our corporate strategy up to 2030, which contains three key strands, all of which have a link to the sustainability agenda. We also put our money where our mouth is by moving our office to a building with a much greater emphasis on sustainability, which made being a carbon-neutral business (which we achieved in 2021) easier.

Additionally, we’re on the Net Zero Now platform, which should help us get a greater grip on accurately recording our emissions and help us develop meaningful targets.

AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

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