carbon neutrality

Ask the Expert: Advising your clients on the path to carbon neutrality

As I reflect on my time in this industry, the first thing I must acknowledge is that education has served as a key ingredient to my success and the success of those I support. You see, I didn’t go to school to get my accounting degree. I learned accounting through a series of training and certification programs, business mentorships, and on-the-job training. All my experiences in the world of accounting, from my earliest days helping people access job opportunities to my work today mentoring artists, have shown me that the most valuable thing we can do as accountants is teach our clients to fish. This means empowering them to overcome their own business challenges by mastering their finances while simultaneously joining them to create a tide that will raise all ships.

Today, however, I find myself at a crossroads. The wrong tides have risen in recent years, and we now find ourselves in a true environmental emergency: the climate crisis. As such, I see my work—our work, as a profession and as a people—shifting. We must become accountable to more than just the numbers floating on our financial statements. We need to focus on something way more important: our Earth, and all its inhabitants.

When it comes to addressing climate change, it’s important to understand that action needs to be taken today and every day going forward. Each and every one of us is responsible for the Earth’s well-being, and it will take all of us striving together to reduce our carbon footprint and slow down the worrisome changes in our climate.

I understand that this topic can be daunting, especially when we put this problem in the context of a global crisis requiring global effort. But the fact is, it all begins with simple steps that we can take as individuals. By affecting our own personal transformation—by examining the beliefs we hold and the behaviors we engage in that negatively impact the environment—we encourage the people around us to change their practices, too. It’s this collective, interdependent action that has the potential to make a real difference.

Lead by example. It all begins with what you choose to do on a day-to-day basis.

How does the journey toward carbon neutrality really begin? Well, it starts with education. To understand the problems we’re facing, you’ll need to understand how your unique talents as an accounting professional fit into the bigger picture. There are many places you can start as you begin to inform yourself about all this, but you might want to consider the educational resources of the Pachamama Alliance, a nonprofit with a mission “to educate and inspire individuals everywhere to bring forth a thriving, just and sustainable world.”

As you dive into educating yourself, it’s important to find like-inspired individuals who will support you on your journey. You’ll want to find people that will hold you accountable for changing your own beliefs and behaviors, lifting the mirror to your blind spots and guiding you down a path toward positive social and global impact.

On an individual level, it is important to be intentional in your daily practices. Remember that each day is an opportunity to do something that helps reduce your carbon footprint. Prioritizing video calls over driving or flying to meetings, turning off the air conditioner at the office, or unplugging electronics when you’re on vacation can make a huge difference.

But don’t limit yourself to a small handful of work-related adjustments and call it good enough. Instead, continue working toward maximizing the number of things you do in your own home that align with creating a sustainable future.

For example, do you buy products that are reusable? Are you taking short showers and only doing full loads of laundry as needed? Are you composting your food waste? What about exploring solar panels for your home or planting a garden to source your own fruits and vegetables? Perhaps, if you have the space, you could even try raising your own goats, chickens or bunnies to disrupt the extractive food supply industries. The list of opportunities to adjust your lifestyle is practically endless. Make it your family's mission to be all in, 100% of the time, for the environment.

Beyond the changes you make in your personal and professional spaces, consider volunteering and/or making donations to charities that plant trees, conserve rainforests and advocate for environmental protections. As much as we’re able to reduce our own carbon emissions, we also need to support efforts that actually offset emissions.

Be the leader the Earth needs to thrive. Take action with the people around you.

Once you've done the best you can to shift your lifestyle, it’s time to consider the influence you have on your team and your clients. If you have a staff or you’re the climate advocate in your office, empower your colleagues to be part of the solution. Chances are, if you’ve begun taking concerted steps toward carbon neutrality in your own life, others have already taken note. People appreciate examples they can follow. Rally your supporters and collaborate with them on initiatives in and outside the office.

One way to do this is by facilitating a book club with your coworkers on books like Lynn Twist’s "The Soul of Money" or Charles Eisenstein’s "Sacred Economics." You could also invite your teammates to conduct industry research on what other firms are doing to effect positive social transformation. Once you have this information in hand, make it a priority to share those insights with your whole company (a monthly, internal newsletter would be a good avenue for this). Again, remember that education is at the heart of this transformation. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel. All we need to do is open our minds and build upon the work that has already been done.

Understand that not everyone will progress at the same pace on this journey. When talking with colleagues who are struggling to change their attitudes and beliefs, aim to be kind, compassionate and consistent in your approach. Many of the unsustainable practices we’re engaged in today have gone on for multiple generations. For some, breaking those habits can be difficult—even painful. With this in mind, if you’re in a leadership position, offer coaching, hire experts and figure out what resources are needed to ensure that your whole team can be an example for your clients and your community at large.

You, as an accountant, play an essential role in addressing climate change!

When it comes to working with your clients, again, it’s about leading by example. Model the behavior of what we at the Accounting Alchemy Network call a “regenerative accountant,” one that prioritizes the environment as a key stakeholder and expresses a passion for more than profit when finances are being discussed.

Remember that part of your job as a strategic advisor is putting forth the tough questions and holding CEOs accountable. So ask: “Are they reducing electricity consumption? Are they decreasing spending on things that are extractive of the Earth’s resources? Is their sourcing of goods and services ethical and aligned with the values of carbon reduction?” If the answer to any of these questions is no, bring your concerns forward when talking about the performance of their business and encourage them to consider another way.

I understand that some clients may not welcome these conversations at first. When you encounter resistance, remember that persistence is key and we need to start somewhere. Ultimately, it’s important to set the tone that “good business” is good for business. Direct your client’s attention to possible data points beyond what’s being tracked in their accounting system. Help your clients see the bigger picture and connect the dots by introducing them to ideas like measuring their carbon footprint and ESG reporting.

Do not underestimate your innate superpowers as an accounting professional. Your history of serving as a trusted advisor means you have the ears of your clients, and your ability to evaluate financial operations and provide auditing and technical oversight against a set of standards means you are uniquely skilled to provide advisory services in the realm of sustainable business practices.

Accountants hold the key to helping businesses achieve carbon neutrality.

Bottom line: The journey begins with you! As I referenced earlier, education is everything. You must be well-informed so you can show up in the world in a way that inspires others. Embrace personal transformation. Let your light shine bright for the sake of Mother Earth.

If you want to take action right away, do some of the things I mentioned in this article. Then, get all your friends, family, colleagues and clients to do the same. Though the hard data isn’t always easily measurable, these things make a difference. We know we need everyone “on the job”—today, tomorrow and every day going forward. The Earth is hiring, and the pay is boundless! But if we don’t act now, the costs will be catastrophic.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you're inspired, please share it on social media or pass it along to someone in your network. Even the simple act of sharing an article like this can cause a ripple effect that gives the Earth just one more point for the win. Go out and do good, my fellow accountants!

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