The accountancy profession is poised to play a more prominent
role on sustainability issues, according to Big Four firm
leaders.

KPMG Sustainability Services global head Wim Bartels told
The Accountant there are three main sustainability areas
where the profession can increase its service offering and that
growth for sustainability services was well above KPMG’s overall
growth.

l“I think that with the results of the readers’
survey [see The Accountant 6054], the accountancy
profession needs to act. We have had some other issues in the
financial audit world, so we had to focus there, but we need to
build on what we already provide [on sustainability] so that for
the coming years we will be ready.”

Bartels believes services on sustainability reporting and
climate change internal controls are the areas where the profession
can take a leadership role. He noted: “We are the ones who know how
to audit information. We know how to approach both data and tax
issues. That is one area where we need to work on and have a role
to play.”

Deloitte Global leader of internal audit services Eric
Hespenheide, who recently co-presented a Global Reporting
Initiative seminar on SMEs and supply chain reporting, said he
agrees both internal and external assurance on sustainability
reporting is a growing area for his firm and the profession.

“We have unfortunately found that while [organisations] can say
a lot of good things and mean it, there are times when the
information isn’t quite as accurate as they might otherwise like it
to be or represent it,” Hespenheide said. “So, internal assurance
is an important element and we can provide those services as part
of our traditional internal audit services. I think we are also
beginning to see the emergence of greater demand for external
assurance on the broad CSR reporting.”

Both sustainability experts point to carbon emissions trading
and the accounting of carbon credits as another potential area of
interest. “We are starting to see the merger and the integration of
some of these things in the traditional reporting mechanisms that
companies have around their financials,” Hespenheide said. “In the
case of carbon, it may well result in some debits and credits,
assets and liabilities on companies’ balance sheets.”

Bartels said he has observed a demand for the assurance of
emissions trading schemes and other carbon-related disclosures. “In
my view there will be a demand in the short term to assure that
information,” he said. “Companies are now starting to disclose,
tell us what they do, but the next question will be: ‘Is this
reliable information or not?’ It is coming up already – you see
some elements of information being challenged.”

The KPMG sustainability expert believes that financial auditors
also can play a key role on setting up internal controls of
non-financial information by drawing on their financial experience.
As well as more services, the geographical spread of sustainability
initiatives, such as sustainability reporting, is also gathering
momentum. Bartels said KPMG firms in Brazil, the Netherlands and
the UK are receiving great demand for sustainability services. He
estimated KPMG’s sustainability services have grown between 20 and
30 percent during the past three years.

Arvind Hickman