What makes a sustainable SMP and what are its benefits?

The key takeaways from this session

This summary is based on the discussion conducted as part of the ACCA Practice Room initiative.  The session was hosted by Sarah Whale of Profit Impact. 

It can be hard for businesses to know where to start with sustainability. It’s a big topic, and it’s not often clear what it even means. So ACCA members joined a Practice Room to discuss what sustainability meant to them, and how to kick off the journey towards a sustainable practice. 

What does ‘sustainability’ mean?

It’s impossible to start on a journey towards something, if you don’t know where you’re going, so participants took time to discuss what they thought the word sustainability meant. “Sustainability is fulfilling your needs today without compromising things for the next generation,” said one. Another said that the area was still evolving, so it was hard to pin a single definition on the word. “For some people sustainability is to do with feeding and educating your family, for others it’s about not having a throwaway culture - it can mean very different things depending on your circumstances.” But when it came to discussing what a sustainable practice might look like, one definition stood out: “it means having a betwhat-mter business, and working across the whole of the business to drive up standards in ethics - including environmental ethics -, governance, training, and advocacy. 

How can you start making your practice more sustainable?

On this, participants had plenty of practical advice. “Accountants like doing courses,” said one, “and there are plenty out there where you can get to grips with sustainability in business.” Others pointed to the BIA assessment - a tool companies can use to measure their impact. "You can use the BIA assessment to become a B-corp,” said one, “but also it’s a great place to learn and to understand just how granular sustainability in a business can look.” “Just start with one bit of the business, and use the tool to take a deeper dive,” said another.

What to avoid

Participants had plenty of advice on what not to do, too. “The most important thing is not to pay lip service to sustainability,” said one, explaining that particularly the younger generation had cottoned on to those businesses only pretending to do the right thing. And members had advice for those who felt overwhelmed by it all. “Sustainability can feel a bit cultish, especially with the early-adopters, so don’t get put off. All you have to do is take the first step.” And some argued that when you get started on the journey, it was important not to cut other people out. “Some practices say that they’ll only work with sustainable businesses. But advocacy is part of sustainability. Work with all kinds of people and bring them along with you.” Others added that there were lots of ways into a conversation on sustainability with clients. “One of the best ways you can bring them along is to tell them how much money they’ll save.”

Why do it?

Aside from the obvious - it’s the right thing to do, there are plenty of reasons to get on the sustainability journey. But two comments from participants stood out. “We will have a hard time recruiting talent if we can’t show we’re sustainable,” said one, arguing that the younger generation will avoid companies they feel don’t have a practical purpose in this space. But the second comment highlighted the need for sustainability to be achieved alongside others, with everyone playing their part. “Accountants have unique skills, and a strong insight into the ways businesses work. We’re the perfect people to do this, and so we have a responsibility to help others.”