The Great Debate: Accountants and the environment

Accountants have a whole host of professional obligations, but nowhere in the code of conduct for any accountancy body is the obligation to put the environment first – whatever that actually means. It seems that few here on AccountingWeb.co.uk are willing to stand up against the awesome political correctness of the green movement, and so it falls to me to play the devil’s advocate.

What I won’t argue against is the scientific case for global warming. Some might lean that way, but as far as I’m concerned the facts are fairly damning – one day the facts may be proven wrong, but we have to go with what we can see and understand. And from where we stand, it would be fairly foolish to deny that human activity is affecting the planetary climate. So what should accountants, in particular, be doing about it?

Doubtless some will say that as thought leaders and trusted advisors and all that jazz accountants should be at the forefront of the new green dawn, extolling the virtues of middle-class liberal environmentalism. Nonsense. In the words of Milton Friedman, the only social responsibility of business is to improve its profits. As trusted business advisors, accountants are only obliged to help their clients run better businesses. As far as it makes commercial sense, environmental issues should be advocated and pursued, but only as far they have a positive effect on the bottom line of the business.

Other than that, environmentalism is a personal moral choice (unless it becomes law). Some environmentalists believe that global warming is a result of human greed. If those people want to consider that there is an impending ecological Armageddon which is our karmic punishment for over-indulgence, fine. It’s not an unusual way for humans to react to natural disasters. Centuries ago, plenty of people thought the Great Fire of London was divine retribution for English war crimes in the Netherlands. But it’s not only irrational to assume that consumerism is intrinsically immoral, it’s patronising and economically damaging.

Much of what the business world touts as environmentalism isn’t anything of the sort, anyway. In truth, a lot of green business initiatives aren’t concerned at all about the environment, or corporate social responsibility, or demonstrating "thought leadership" or so on: they are PR, and hypocrisy to boot, and such posturing denigrates the integrity of the profession.

As we slide into recession, the basic, traditional value of the accountant has never been more sorely needed – some would even say missed. Some would go as far as to say it was a failure of the accountancy profession that allowed the credit crunch to happen. And at precisely this time, when the essential integrity of the profession is being called into question, blithe accountants (some of them very senior public figures) are deluding themselves that their mission has become more important than humble commerce. But if you can’t file a trustworthy set of company accounts, please don’t try and convince people you can save the world. Analysts already think your normal audits are useless. Put your own house in order before you appoint yourselves ecological saviours.

Rob Lewis, practice editor, AccountingWEB.co.uk

This blog

AccountingWEB is more than just a U.S. team of journalists and financial and technology experts - we have an international side, too. Members of our British team who publish AccountingWEB.co.uk share their ideas, insights, and perspectives from across the pond.

More from this blog

Bloggers crew

Steve Knowles has spent 25 years in business and practice in the UK, but he also worked in the states and the years haven't dulled his way of seeing an alternative view to everyone else, and every day is a new adventure.

48582

Joel M. Ungar, CPA is a lifelong resident of the Detroit area and a graduate of The University of Michigan. He is a principal with Silberstein Ungar, PLLC, a Top 15 auditor of SEC public reporting companies.

81819

Allan Boress, CPA, with over 25 years as a practitioner and consultant to the accounting profession. Mr. Boress is the author of 12 published books in 6 different languages, including a best-seller, The "I-Hate-Selling" Book.

53745

Larry Perry, CPA, CPA Firm Support Services, LLC, is the author of accounting and auditing manuals, author and presenter of live staff training seminars, and author of webcast and self-study CPE programs. He blogs about small audits, reviews, and compilations.

97097
Sandra Wiley, COO and Shareholder, is ranked by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her prominent role as an industry expert on HR and training as well as influence as a management and planning consultant. She is also a founding member of The CPA Consultant's Alliance. Sandra is a certified Kolbe™ trainer who advises firms on building balanced teams, managing employee conflict and hiring staff.
24546

Maria Calabrese, CIR, Human Resources manager for Fazio, Mannuzza, Roche, Tankel, LaPilusa, LLC in Cranford, New Jersey, Maria's topics revolve around the world of: Mentoring, Performance management, and The "Y Generation," a.k.a. "The whY generation".

61111

William Brighenti is a CPA, Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, and Certified [Business] Valuation Analyst, operating an accounting, tax, and QuickBooks consulting firm in Hartford, Connecticut, Accountants CPA Hartford.

86881

Ken Garen, CPA, is the co-founder and President of Universal Business Computing Company (www.ubcc.com), a software development firm of high-volume, high-productivity accounting and payroll technology.

28475

Eva Rosenberg, MBA, EA, is the publisher of TaxMama.com, and author of the weekly syndicated Ask TaxMama column. She provides answers to tax questions from taxpayers and tax professionals worldwide.

69875

Amy Vetter, CPA, CITP is the CPA Programs Leader for Intacct Corporation responsible for leading the CPA/BPO Partners nationally.

38169
Brian Strahle is the owner of LEVERAGE SALT, LLC where he provides state and local tax technical services to accounting firms, law firms and tax research organizations across the United States. He also writes a weekly column in Tax Analysts State tax Notes entitled, "The SALT Effect." For more info, visit his website: www.leveragestateandlocaltax.com
109882
Scott H. Cytron, ABC, is president of Cytron and Company, known for helping companies and organizations improve their bottom line through a hybrid of strategic public relations, communications, marketing programs and top-notch client service. An accredited consultant, Scott works with companies, organizations and individuals in professional services (accounting, finance, medical, legal, engineering), high-tech and B2B/B2C product/service sales.
29944

Rita Keller is a nationally known CPA firm management consultant, speaker, author, mentor and blogger. She has over 30 years hands-on experience in CPA firm management, marketing, technology and administrative operations.

58087
Stacy Kildal is the mom of two fantastic kids, an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, Certified Enterprise Solutions ProAdvisor, Sleeter Group Certified Consultant, a nationally recognized member of the Intuit Trainer and Writer Network, and co-host of RadioFree QuickBooks.
31971
Michael Alter's blog specializes in providing practical advice to those who seek greater profitability and practice management tactics that enhance deeper client relationships.
36573

Sally Glick, CMO, Principal, Marketer of the Year in 2003 and AAM Hall of Famer in 2007, leads a lively discussion of the constantly expanding roles of marketing and the professional marketers that drive this initiative in accounting firms of all sizes.

108665

The IMA Young Professionals Blog features the insights of IMA’s Young Professionals Committee. Committee members share advice and experiences on careers, continuing education, work/life balance, and other issues affecting young accounting and finance professionals.

37845

FEI Financial Reporting Blog provides highlights from SEC, PCAOB, FASB, IASB, and other regulatory news, including reporting under Sarbanes-Oxley Sect 404. It is written by Edith Orenstein, Director of Technical Policy Analysis at FEI.

119827

Sue Anderson has 30 years of experience in continuing education for accountants. Currently she is the program director for online CPE provider CPE Link.

67219

Jim Fahey is COO of Apple Growth Partners, a regional CPA firm in Ohio. His focus is on the effective and efficient use of technology within the firm by all team members.

43627
Caleb Newquist is the Editor-in-Chief of Sift Media US, overseeing content for both AccountingWEB and Going Concern.
71324

Leita Hart-Fanta, CPA, CGFM, and CGAP is the author of "The Yellow Book Interpreted" and owner of Yellowbook-CPE.com a website devoted to training for governmental auditors.

98231

AccountingWEB is more than just a U.S. team of journalists and financial and technology experts - we have an international side, too! Members of our British team who publish AccountingWEB.co.uk share their ideas, insights, and perspectives from across the pond.

58831