Date posted: 20/01/2022

How CAs can take the lead on sustainability

Accountants are well placed to lead on climate action and sustainability initiatives within small to medium organisations.

In brief

  • CA ANZ has released its “Sustainability Playbook: How SMEs can create a more sustainable world”.
  • Accounting firms should be proactive in offering SME clients sustainability consulting services.
  • Sustainability is being integrated into courses for a new generation of accounting students.

If accountants don’t step up to take the lead in driving sustainable business, others will. As Professor Naomi Soderstrom, deputy head at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Accounting, says about tackling climate change: “We don’t want to leave this to the engineers. While their expertise is crucial – and we need to work with many different experts – accountants are the information brokers.”

Raise ambition: Accountants should encourage businesses to change their approach, to move from being “less bad” to embracing transformative approaches that help solve global challenges. In other words, accountants should help businesses raise their ambition.

Accountants capture and analyse a wide range of financial and non-financial data for organisations. This enables more robust and transparent reporting on progress towards long-term sustainability.

Unique skills: Accountants’ unique skills, insights and deep knowledge of business practices, as well as their role as trusted advisers, creates the opportunity for accountants – if not a responsibility – to engage with these issues. Leading by example, they can support other organisations to take action.

Create awareness: Simply starting a conversation with a small business owner or manager about risk management and its added value can lead to a broader discussion about sustainability – especially where SMEs may have an obvious impact.

How to add value

Accountants can assist SMEs through many stages of their path to sustainability. They can take the lead by advising, connecting, determining impact and embedding sustainability within organisations.


  • explaining the business case, how addressing environmental and social problems can create value, reduce costs and raise the company’s profile in its industry.
  • understanding the challenges of large businesses and explaining how they might apply to smaller organisations.
  • guiding them through the maze of emerging reporting frameworks, carbon accounting and waste reduction schemes, including relevant benchmarks and best-practice frameworks or ratings.
  • undertaking gap analyses to help businesses better understand their situation and formulate action plans to address gaps identified.


  • connecting economic trends and government initiatives on sustainability to a client’s strategy, business model and performance.
  • encouraging related community engagement, such as sustainability projects with local schools, charities or volunteer programs for employees.
  • facilitating networking and information sharing on sustainability issues between local businesses in chambers of commerce and industry organisations.

Determining impact:

  • helping address climate risk management and calculating carbon footprint driving efficiency by advising clients on reducing waste.
  • providing data and information on progress and future targets.

Reporting and assurance:

  • assisting with communicating transparently and authoritatively with all collaborators.
  • assisting with the preparation of disclosures for relevant reporting frameworks.
  • assisting with the preparation of sustainability reports or providing external assurance over sustainability information.
  • accessing government incentives and grants.

Embedding sustainability

For some SMEs, sustainability may already be a core value of their business and part of everything they do. Others may regard it as unimportant.

Motivation to embed sustainability within the business may be driven by opportunities to become part of, or continue to be part of, another company’s supply chain, including government.

Accountants shouldn’t wait for SME clients to come to them. The growth of sustainability-focused consulting businesses should encourage accounting firms themselves to go after the work. Doing so will involve networking with a range of organisations involved in sustainability initiatives that can enable your firm to assist clients, for example, with analysing their carbon footprint, supply chain, sourcing finance, and becoming more diverse and inclusive.

At the University of Melbourne, sustainability is integrated into courses for a new generation of accounting students, says department head Associate Professor Brad Potter CA. “Pretty much every class now has some element of sustainability in it. It’s core knowledge. It’s not a choice – it’s crucial.”

5 ways accountants drive sustainability

  1. Raise awareness about sustainability
  2. Analyse business models
  3. Advise on how to transform business models
  4. Report on non-financial indicators
  5. Provide assurance of non-financial indicators

This is an edited extract from CA ANZ’s Sustainability Playbook.

Read more

CA ANZ’s How SMEs Can Create a More Sustainable World

Download it

Read more

ACCA’s Mainstreaming Impact: Scaling a sustainable recovery

Download it