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Sustainability Conference Takes Practical Bent to Responsible Business

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
May 12, 2017


Now in its second year, the Foundation for Accounting Education’s (FAE) upcoming Sustainability Investment Leadership Conference is focused on turning theory into reality when it comes to sustainable business practices. Scheduled for May 17 at the New York City Bar Association, the conference will feature a number of talks on how CPAs can apply processes like integrated reporting, supply chain management and other topics in corporate sustainability to their own practices.

In an interview with The Trusted Professional last year, Mervyn E. King, chair of the International Integrated Reporting Council, said that the word “sustainability” is now being used “in the context of sustainable capitalism, that is the creation of value but in a sustainable manner, meaning enhancing the positive impacts of how [a] company makes its money on society and the environment, and eradicating or ameliorating the negative impacts.”

The business world has been increasingly focused on sustainability, and it’s important for CPAs to get ahead of the issue and understand their place in implementing these practices, said Renee Mikalopas-Cassidy, chair of the NYSSCPA’s Sustainability Committee. While the issues relating to them might seem a little far afield from the CPA’s traditional domains, Cassidy said accounting professionals are already familiar with the mindset needed to approach them. 

“A lot of the time, people talk about things that [are related to] sustainability, but we don’t call it that—it’s ‘going concern.’ How is my business going to survive in five years? What does my 10-year [forecast] look like? So, that’s a natural discussion of some of the sustainability principles, but we speak of them as different things, so people are already practicing it, even if they don’t know it,” she said.

The conference’s main theme is about taking a holistic understanding of a company’s inherent strategic inputs in the interests of guiding businesses into growth, with a steady eye on risk management, said Sarah Tomolonius, a member of the New York Hedge Fund Roundtable, which has partnered with the FAE on the conference. She added that her own goal is to have people walk away with at least a few new practical tools they can take home to add value to their firms and their clients’ firms.

“We want to make sure that the content is interesting and practical and actionable,” she said. 

In this respect, the conference will feature a practical perspective about integrated reporting—a corporate reporting framework emphasizing overall value creation vs. just financial or manufacturing capital—as well as case studies in supply chain management; building and leading sustainable businesses; developing a sustainability practice; investing in sustainable companies; and legal, accounting and business strategy considerations for corporate community engagement.  It will also feature a dialogue between AICPA President and CEO Barry C. Melancon and American Bar Association President Linda A. Klein, as well as a keynote address on corporate governance by King.

Just as corporate sustainability involves many parts of the company working together, the sustainability conference is meant to appeal not just to CPAs but to all of what Mikalopas-Cassidy referred to as the “core professional groups.”

“[Attendees can] develop connections to other participants, like the environmental lawyers or corporate governance people, and it’s an opportunity to [expand] your network,” she said.

This is why the event awards not just CPE (continuing professional education) credit but CLE (continuing legal education) credit, as well. Sustainability is a big umbrella encompassing many different concepts, Mikalopas-Cassidy pointed out.

“The fun part about sustainability is you don’t have to, nor can you, have your hands into all aspects of sustainability. So what is, in my opinion, the fun part is you can pick and choose areas of interest and expertise and where you think you can contribute the most,” she said.

Tomolonius said that, ultimately, as varied as all the different aspects of sustainability are, they all come down to building a business that will grow and stand the test of time. While some might see a focus on sustainable business practices as an inhibitor to growth, Tomolonius thinks it’s just the opposite.

“Drivers of growth and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. Good companies will last for a long time and will have good governance and treat employees well and understand supply chains and take into account risks to the extent they have them, and just generally be good stewards for their stakeholders,” she said, noting that stakeholders include not just shareholders or staff, but the wider community as a whole.






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