Ismael is a small practitioner from France who delivers sustainability services to small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) clients. Ismael is a former professional volleyball player and founder of a non-profit that helps young people in need access education. A decade later, he qualified as a professional accountant.
My path to environmental and social accounting
I consider myself an ‘atypical accountant’. After my career in professional volleyball, I started studying sociology but wanted something more tangible, so I changed my major to accounting and completed my degree and internship. I have truly enjoyed the experience, especially my interactions with clients.
But something was missing. During my travels, I came across many instances of social injustice and ecological disasters. I witnessed first-hand the impacts of global warming in Africa, where the temperature often rose to above 50°C. And these problems will come to Europe too. Many people believe that climate change does not concern them, but it is a false perception.
After realising the impacts of climate change, I started to reflect on what I could do to help. That’s when I discovered environmental and social accounting and impact assessment. This can be helping SME clients understand what their social and environmental impacts are, using frameworks like the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) as a reference. Regular accounting or tax advice were not for me; I wanted my work and passion to come together: bring meaningful change to our societies’ problems through accounting.
Convincing SMEs to change
Most SME clients are not proactively seeking sustainability services – many small business owners deal with more immediate business survival challenges. Green, and social, washing remain a problem and citizens often have low trust in companies’ sustainability commitments.
The key is raising awareness and explain to SMEs why they need to change, what the benefits for the company are and the positive impacts on society. This also encourages them to go beyond superficial sustainability commitments and deliver tangible improvements.
The second challenge lies within the accountancy profession itself: accountants are late in the sustainability game. This is a shame because the profession has its clients’ trust and can persuade them. We can help change the way they think about their impact on climate change.
Many accountants have told me that sustainability is not a topic for them. They still only speak in terms of new business opportunities, but they are missing the point. We are facing a climate catastrophe. Accountants should play their role to help mitigate it. We need to first acquire new skills, raise awareness among our clients, and then the business opportunities will come. Attitudes are fast changing and the younger generations of accountants also expect more from their career than just money. Ultimately, we can’t feed on money if our ecosystems are destroyed.
This interview is part of our Insights from SME accountants series, where small practitioners share their experience supporting SMEs with their sustainable transition. Connect with Ismael Moussa on Linkedin.