Traditionally, sustainability issues have fallen outside the jurisdiction of the Chief Financial Officer. CFOs ran the numbers, letting others handle soft issues such as social responsibility and corporate citizenship.
But those barriers are falling.
Investors, business customers and other stakeholders have shown a growing desire to connect a company’s financial performance to its social and environmental impact. To make that connection, they have begun evaluating the company’s performance in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) arena, sometimes referred to as the organization’s "triple bottom line."
As a result, the CFOs role has expanded with sustainability and financial issues intertwining.
A logical first step in driving sustainability efforts is to look for initiatives which can drive an environmental benefit while at the same time improving a company’s cost structure and operational efficiency. For example, both environmental benefits and costs savings can be achieved by consolidating multiple data centers and eliminating real estate footprints. Eliminating paper processing with Accounts Payable automation is another great example of a "win-win" proposition as it also leads to both immediate costs savings and long term environmental benefits.
There is also a growing product aspect to sustainability. The ability by CFOs to provide insight on emerging environmental regulation and ESG performance is becoming important to many investor, government, and legal clients. Professionals and consumers increasingly want to know how firms stack up on managing their sustainability risk, and CFOs can provide that analysis.
CFOs are also witnessing sustainability as a growing driver of talent and employee engagement. Studies continue to show that today’s best and brightest want to work for ethical companies that prioritize positive community impact alongside capital growth. As organizations become more competitive on sustainability, the odds of attracting and retaining key talent are increasing, which in turn increases competitiveness and ability to innovate.
As of late, the CFOs role has seen many major transitions. Sustainability being one of them.The changes stem partly from a realization by institutional investors that climate change and sustainability issues often bear directly on companies’ risk profiles, their reputations and their financial performance.
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