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NextGen Magazine


Guest Blog: Can Accountants Save The Planet?

Michael Kraten, CPA, Ph.D.
Published Date:
Oct 1, 2015

SuperheroesI know: It’s a strange title for a blog post, isn’t it? But I didn’t simply conjure it out of thin air—it’s a nod to Jane Gleeson-White’s latest book Six Capitals: The Revolution Capitalism Has to Have—or Can Accountants Save the Planet?

If you’re wondering, the book isn’t a comedy or fantasy. Quite the contrary, it’s a very serious text about how the accounting profession is evolving to measure the intangible wealth and capital driving today’s economy. And how, likewise, the profession is adapting to assess the financial, social and environmental threats that loom over our future. In other words, it’s about sustainability accounting.

Without accountants to measure and assess these factors, mankind will be unable to devise effective strategies to deploy its capital and defeat these threats. What’s more, because so many perils (such as international economic crises, climate change catastrophes and viral pandemics) are global in nature, the phrase “save the planet” is truly not a stretch at all. 

Personally, I’ve only been waiting for this heroic professional moment to arrive for, oh, a mere 31 years. When I graduated from Baruch College (CUNY) with my BBA in Public Accounting in 1984, I harbored serious doubts about whether the profession could provide me with a satisfactory level of personal, social, or spiritual fulfillment. 

Today, though, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) in the United States and the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) in Great Britain are establishing and monitoring new professional standards meant to ensure that financial reporting activities continue to serve the public interest. And a plethora of organizations, from the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board in San Francisco, to the International Integrated Reporting Council in London, is moving forward forcefully to redefine the accounting model.

Some how, some way, I’ve managed to immerse myself in this movement to employ accounting principles to ensure a sustainable world. My
Save The Blue Frog project development work and Sustainable Value Committee activity at the Rhode Island Society of Certified Public Accountants, for instance, are both focused on this altruistic goal. And my recent article in The CPA Journal about reimagining financial statements  addresses the real impact of Apple's brand reputation on its market value. 

Of course, I still can’t say that I’ll ever derive a great sense of spiritual fulfillment from completing a tax return or compiling a financial report. Though important tasks, they’ll never help me save the planet, even though they’ll deliver benefits to clients who need my professional services. 

But when I contribute my financial expertise to sustainability development activities, I am glad to be an accountant. And although I harbor no illusions that the producers of the Avengers movie franchise will add a CPA to their team of super heroes in the near future, I take great pride from the fact that those film characters are fiction. 

The work that I do, on the other hand, is real. And I do believe that it makes a difference.

Michael Kraten, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the accountancy program at the Providence College School of Business in Providence, R.I.