Assistant Professor Lehman College
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Sustainability Opportunities for CPAs

Nov 28th 2017
people in a meeting putting green and white puzzle pieces together

Sustainability is an issue that is receiving an ever increasing amount of air time and attention in both the mainstream media and accounting publications, but the direct link between the two may sometimes be difficult to articulate.

CPAs, as well as accountants working in industry or in a nonprofit role, face a host of challenges and changes that already are consume a significant amount of energy. Blockchain, artificial intelligence, and the looming automation of many lower level activities are creating quite a bit of anxiety within the profession, as current practitioners and future entrants (students) attempt to stay abreast of these changes.

Compounding these concerns is the reality that, as a whole, the CPA and accounting profession as a whole have large number of leading practitioners and current leaders who will be retiring in the coming years – succession is a concern for organizations large and small.  In order to successfully update the profession to the emerging leaders, and up-and-coming practitioners, the profession will have to evolve and address the changing needs of the marketplace.

As automation and artificial intelligence take hold over ever increasing swaths of traditional accounting responsibilities, accountants must find new revenue and client engagement opportunities.

Reflecting on my recent opportunity to present at the Sustainable Brands, New Metrics conference, with my co-panelists Joy Pettirossi-Poland and Desire Carroll, the connection between accounting, finance, and sustainability, already clear, crystallized. Although I have studied, researched, and advocated for sustainability initiatives in the past, the engagement, energy, and number of engaged individuals in these areas was both encouraging and empowering.

In addition to presenting at this conference I had the opportunity to attend the finance related boot camp, or a deep dive into the financial and accounting of sustainability, and I have included some of the takeaways specifically applicable to accounting professionals here:

1. Sustainability is Key to Succession Planning

Effective succession planning is a hot topic at virtually every accounting conference, and in order to successfully transition the firm from current owners to future owners, the firm must have a revenue plan going forward. Engaging in sustainability related assurance projects, reports, and consulting arrangements represents both a way to increase current revenues and attract new clients going forward.

2. Millennials are Embracing Sustainability

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