Environmental Accounting: Saving the Planet

Environmental accounting is one of the few areas where someone with an interest in ecological issues can combine this with the stability, opportunities and rewards offered by an accounting career! If you’ve got some green in you, read on to find out more. 

Passion Comes Naturally

Accounting and passion. Not normally two words you hear in the same sentence. But environmental accountants are genuine in their love of the field. And we mean field as in area or genre, not as in meadow. Although we’re sure they also love meadows. Who doesn’t for that matter? Anyway…

Because of the strength of the debate around environmental topics, people working in this area don’t generally have a green tinge; they’re pretty much green all over. 

They are likely to be vocal advocates for both personal and corporate environmental responsibility. 

And feel strongly about concepts such as tackling climate change, reducing carbon pollution, and developing sustainable practices in general.

For someone with an interest in these types of issues, environmental accounting is certainly an attractive career path that should be considered. It’s relatively new, but has burgeoned over recent years to the point where it offers significant opportunities across a range of sectors. 

You’ll find them working in government, industry and advisory firms, and because environmental issues are a worldwide concern, there are also opportunities in a range of international locations, looking at both global and local environmental issues.

Getting Down To The Facts

Unsurprisingly the roles revolve around accounting for, analysing and reporting on environmental impacts. This could be in the context of global, national, regional or organizational environmental performance.

  • Think about some of the global warming statistics you might have read or heard about. One of the roles of environmental accountants is to collect and analyse the data that underlies these statistics prior to their publication. Pretty important stuff!

  • At an organizational level, environmental accountants are involved with measuring their company’s carbon or greenhouse gas emissions so they can be reported to national authorities. 

  • Many companies these days also produce an annual sustainability report which includes detailed information on their impact on the environment, and what they’re doing to promote sustainable work practices.

  • Others may be involved with environmental auditing, which is determining a company’s level of compliance with environmental standards and regulations. These roles are particularly common in large polluters such as mining, transport and energy companies, which are closely scrutinized by the media and public in relation to their practices. 

In an era of fresh concepts such as triple bottom line reporting and corporate social responsibility, an accountant certainly has the opportunity to report on more than just the numbers!

Do You Need Special Skills and Qualifications?

It may sound surprising, but the basic skill set of an environmental accountant is quite similar to that of a “standard” accountant. 

That’s because at its essence, environmental accounting is about:

  • Attesting the accuracy of data (auditing)

  • Advising on taxation treatments and regulations (tax), and 

  • Assisting with compliance, processes and systems (advisory or consulting)

The main difference is a practitioner will need to have a strong background in and knowledge of the more technical aspects of sustainability and environmental issues. They should also know about the various quality standards that deliver best practice environmental management.

So how do you get to be an environmental accountant? 

Well, many of the large accounting firms have set up specific practices in the area, plus there are more and more smaller firms springing up as the field becomes more widespread. 

Keep in mind that it’s a pretty specialized area, and most environmental accountants will have attained their CPA designation, plus started their career in the tax or audit department of an accounting firm. 

If you’re interested, it’s suggested that you check out what’s on offer in your area, or contact your CPA office.

Is Environmental Accounting for you?

Traditionally, the objective of maximizing profit for the benefit of shareholders was at odds with other non-financial goals such as caring for the environment. 

But today, most businesses have realized that delivering returns in a non-sustainable way does more harm than good for their overall value. That’s good.

And with many countries legislating the reporting of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, and some even implementing carbon taxes, it seems that this trend is here to stay.

There’s virtually no other job in the world of accounting that people with an interest in such a non-traditional accounting area can work. 

And with the focus on sustainability becoming greater by the year, it’s likely that more people with a passion for sustainable living could find themselves in a career in environmental accounting.