Bean counters: the sustainability heroes?

Why the pedantry of accountants could become the secret sauce for businesses.

by Paul Simpson

Picture the scene. Your chief executive has publicly pledged that your organisation’s carbon emissions will reach net zero by 2050. As the warm glow from the announcement fades, a few obvious questions trouble senior management. How will that target be achieved? And how can we convince external parties – particularly regulators, investors and journalists – that we really have achieved it?

This may well be the moment when accountancy comes into its own, Claire Bennison, UK head of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, believes. The stereotypically dismissive view of practitioners as “bean counters” has endured for centuries. In his picaresque novel Simplicius Simplicissimus published in 1688, Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen described a pedantic accountant as an “erbsenzähler” (literally “bean counter”).

While the challenge posed by climate change requires organisations to count emissions, not beans, when it comes to developing, measuring, reporting and auditing carbon footprints efforts, pedantry is exactly what is required. This is why, Bennison says: “Accountants have an integral role to play if we are to solve the climate crisis and can become champions of sustainability.”

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