This question was asked at the Green Monday Conference yesterday evening. It was asked in a humorous way, but it has a serious side as well.
The CFO Perspective
Three leading CFOs presented their views on how their companies are addressing sustainability and the role of the CFO in confronting the issue. It was very clear that a key aspect of success of any sustainability program is the ability to measure and assess progress in pounds and pence.
Alan Stewart, CFO Marks & Spencers, reviewed their Plan A (there is no Plan B) programme, which is a long term commitment to sustainability in everything they do. A critical aspect of Plan A is a commitment to ongoing and public measurement of progress. Interestingly, M&S expected to the Plan A programme to be a net cost; however, over 5 years of the plan, M&S has generated over £165 million in net savings.
Lucinda Bell, CFO British Land, discussed the importance of measurement and benchmarking in driving sustainability improvements. She made a strong point that she believes that driving consistent measurement/benchmarks is essential to any sustainability initiative and the key to making a difference long term. She also discussed concrete examples of how the focus on sustainability at British Land has resulted in bottom line benefits.
Tim Haywood, CFO and Head of Sustainability at Interserve, talked about leadership and the role that he as CFO and leader of their sustainability is undertaking to yield measurable and meaningful sustainability improvements. He is an accountant by training, but is clearly on a mission to create bottom line benefits by demonstrating leadership in sustainability.
May they can, but…
There was a clear theme throughout the event that a critical enabler in any sustainability programme is to have access to fact based data that can be measured over time and benchmarked against others. Accountants may not save the world, but they can certainly make a huge difference in terms of helping companies address sustainability.