A Sustainability Call to Action - One Year On

Feb 04, 2021


In 2020, Chartered Accountants Ireland began the process of embedding sustainability throughout our activities. We launched an online Sustainability Hub, published a guide for accountants, and held events throughout the (virtual!) country. Read about our journey in 2020, and our plans for 2021.

2020 was remarkable for many reasons, and you could be forgiven for missing the anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement. This landmark international accord was adopted by nearly every nation in 2015, and set out a global framework to prevent the earth’s temperature rising over 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The anniversary was to be marked at the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (‘COP 26’) Glasgow in November 2020. This conference will take place in November 2021 instead.

In 2020, Chartered Accountants Ireland began the process of embedding sustainability throughout our activities. In January 2020 we published our Climate Change Call to Action. This call to action was signed by 13 chief executives representing 14 accounting bodies worldwide. It called upon the accountancy profession to act now to help the organisations they work with to respond to climate change with the urgency and scale required. The accountancy bodies, who are all members of A4S’s Accounting Bodies Network, represent over 2.5 million accountants and students globally. (The A4S is The Prince of Wales’s Accounting for Sustainability Project). The call to action included actions and commitments from the bodies themselves in support of their members, and highlighted that climate change represents an economic, social and business risk – a risk that accountants from across the world must take action on.

Just last month, Institute Chief Executive Barry Dempsey contributed again to a report by the Accounting Bodies Network, launched on 14 January. The Building a Better Future report details the response to the COVID-19 pandemic by 16 accounting bodies, explores how the profession plans to contribute to a sustainable recovery and examines lessons learnt from their response to the pandemic. It also demonstrates how the accountancy bodies in the report want to take this opportunity to build a more sustainable and resilient economy, creating a sustainable legacy out of a crisis. Institute's Professional Accountancy Leader, Dee Moran, and Susan Rossney, Sustainability Expert and Public Policy Officer, collaborated with members of the Institute's team and the team in A4S to contribute to the report.

What we did in 2020

Chartered Accountants Ireland supported members in dealing with the economic, social and business risk posed by climate change, even while dealing with the immediate economic crisis, in a range of other ways in 2020, including:

  • Launching Strategy24, reflecting our ambition to build a more sustainable profession and institute in all aspects of our work. Our vision for the future is underpinned by five core ideals that support our central ethos of "for tomorrow, for good". 
  • Building and launching a Sustainability Hub. This online centre has information, guidance and supports to help members understand sustainability and meet the challenges it presents.
  • Publishing a new guide, Sustainability for Accountants, detailing the risks and opportunities presented by sustainability, and the steps that need to be taken to address the challenges.
  • In 2020, our Professional Accountancy team, with input from our Ethics and Governance Head, Niall Fitzgerald, as well as Institute Committees and our Expert Working Group on Sustainability responded to two sustainability-related international consultations of relevance to our members.  
    • The first was public consultation on the review of the EU’s Non-Financial Reporting Directive. This Directive lays down the rules on disclosure of non-financial and diversity information by large public-interest companies, which have been required to non-financial statements in their annual reports from 2018 onwards.
    • The second was the IFRS's consultation on the establishment of global sustainability reporting standards. 
  • Running three nationally-focused knowledge and networking sustainability events, connecting experts with each other, and providing accountant-relevant information on the topic for both the public and private sector:
    • a webinar as part of Climate Finance Week to discuss how accountants can lead the way in introducing sustainable practices (Nov 6);
    • 'Public Sector: Engaging with Sustainability' (Nov 26); and
    • ‘ESG Disclosure: What Investors Look For' (Dec 9). 
  • Through our District Societies we ran events on the topic of sustainability. In 2020 the topic was addressed by:
    • London (Feb 2020)
    • Cork (June 2020)
    • North-West (September 2020)
    • Ulster (September 2020) Societies.
  • Our Young Professionals Society's January 2020 event on sustainability was attended by over 100 people. It showcased sustainable products and used only ethically sourced catering and recyclable products at the event.
  • Sustainability was included as a topic area in our CPD programme, as part of the CPD Blitz business workstream in November and December 2020.
  • Within the Institute itself, there is an established team-driven CSR programme, which details our ESG initiatives, including information about our use of paper, plastic, water and electricity, our diversity and inclusion commitment and our focus on staff wellbeing. In 2020 we introduced branded keep cups and water bottles for the team, and planned a Green Week in March 2020 (postponed to when the offices reopen). Plans for events, mostly online, are now being generated for 2021.

Our Future Plans

In 2021 we will be building on our sustainability activities, beginning our path to carbon neutrality, and increasing our public policy activities and members events. Every few weeks in eNews, we will publish ‘explainers’ into areas that we have identified as being important focal points for members in 2021, including decarbonisation, the circular economy and biodiversity and what they mean for accountants. Head of Ethics and Governance and member of the Expert Workin Group, Niall Fitzgerald, is addressing the topic of sustainability and governance in webinars and in the Institute's Annual Governance Conference in April. There will be a Sustainability Week from 14 June, with a Chartered Accountants Ireland Sustainability Conference and other online events.

Follow our activities in the Sustainability Centre on our website to find information on our Expert Working Group on Sustainability, our events, resources, and sustainability related news.

For further information contact our Public Policy Officer and Sustainability Expert Susan Rossney.