Environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors are becoming increasingly central to accounting. These factors represent a substantive shift in how we define business success and responsibility. With the emergence of new technologies, the accounting industry is positioned to be a leader in this important evolution.
The core thesis here is straightforward: Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be the catalyst for more sustainable accounting and responsible business operations. By leveraging AI to evaluate and track ESG metrics, accountants can drive change from within their organisations. Let’s dig into how.
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The intersection of AI, ESG and accounting
The role of accountants in driving ethical AI is fortified by a recent report from the ACCA and Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ). According to this report, the accounting profession is inherently aligned with ESG factors, governed by five key principles: Integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, confidentiality and professional behaviour. Furthermore, considering that 65% of financial professionals surveyed believe their leaders place as much importance on ethics as they do on profits, this alignment is not incidental but crucial.
The report strongly argues for the integration of AI ethics and ESG considerations into a cohesive organisational strategy. Accountants, bound by these principles, are obligated to lead in this intersection of AI, ethics and sustainability. For instance, ACCA specifically calls for accountants to actively combat greenwashing. They should leverage AI tools to critically evaluate and verify an organisation’s claims regarding sustainability and net-zero commitments. That way, accountants can validate an organisation’s ESG metrics and drive change from within, ensuring the ethical and effective adoption of AI technologies in accounting practices.
How AI can provide accurate, real-time ESG metrics
In traditional accounting, ESG factors have often been challenging to quantify in real time. They rely heavily on human analysis, complex calculations and periodic audits. The introduction of AI into this landscape changes the game significantly. AI technologies offer advanced data analytics capabilities that can continually assess multiple ESG metrics across various operational facets of a business.
When AI algorithms are trained to focus on sustainability factors — such as carbon footprint, waste management and social responsibility — the speed and accuracy of data analysis increase dramatically. Accountants can then use these AI-generated insights to make better-informed decisions, effectively fast-tracking sustainable practices within their organisations. Importantly, this also allows for immediate corrective action when a business is veering off its sustainability goals, thus ensuring accountability in real time. Moreover, the dynamism of AI-enabled tools allows for customisation based on industry-specific needs.
The role of accountants
AI has the power to dissect multiple data points, yielding timely and precise metrics that accountants can leverage for effective decision-making. But to fully harness AI’s capabilities in sustainable accounting, professionals must take a proactive role. Here’s how, with inspiration from ACCA:
- Establish leadership in AI adoption: The drive for incorporating AI must begin at the top. By championing AI in accounting practices, senior leaders signal the importance of sustainable operations and guide the organisation toward responsible behaviour. Addressing any concerns and developing an internal policy helps encourage all levels of the business to engage with new technology.
- Strategise oversight and delivery: The accounting department must work in tandem with IT and compliance units to oversee the procurement, deployment and monitoring of AI technologies, ensuring that they align with organisational goals and ethics.
- Prioritise data management: The quality of AI’s output is only as good as the data input. Effective data management ensures that the algorithms have access to accurate and relevant information, thereby yielding more reliable results.
- Understand the vendor landscape: Knowing the capabilities and limitations of AI technology providers allows accountants to choose the tools that best meet their ESG tracking needs.
- Develop relevant skills: To keep pace with AI and the evolving landscape, accountants must continually update their skills, focusing not only on financial acumen but also on understanding new technologies and their ethical implications.
- Adhere to AI ethics and regulations: Accountants must ensure that AI tools are deployed in accordance with ethical guidelines and current regulations.
- Apply professional judgement: AI offers data, but human judgement turns it into wisdom. This is where accountants can shine, applying their expertise to interpret AI-generated metrics, ensuring alignment with both ethical and financial objectives.
- Create sustainable value: Accountants are tasked with monitoring financial performance and creating sustainable value for stakeholders. AI assists in balancing profitability with sustainability, making this dual role more achievable.
- Combat greenwashing: As mentioned earlier, one of the key roles of accountants is to verify sustainability claims made by organisations. AI tools can rapidly detect discrepancies, but accountants must be vigilant in challenging false or misleading statements.
- Engage stakeholders: Regularly communicating with both internal and external stakeholders ensures transparency and fosters trust. Accountants can leverage AI-generated insights to make ESG metrics accessible and understandable, creating a culture of informed decision-making.
Integrating Dext into your sustainable accounting strategy
While understanding AI’s role in shaping sustainable accounting is crucial, the tools you choose to implement that understanding are just as significant. This brings us to Dext. We’re all about smart data and automation — providing accountants with the immediate, accurate data they need to make informed decisions.
If you’d like to find out more about AI, join us for our webinar series – Unlocking the Potential of AI in Accounting. Click below to book your spot.