Why finance teams must step up their response to sustainability challenges and disruptive technologies
By Geoff Lane, Sustainability and Climate Change Partner, PwC and Helen Slinger, Executive Director, The Prince’s Accounting for Sustainability Project (A4S)
Disruptive technologies and other global megatrends such as climate change and depleting natural resources are combining, providing new opportunities and challenges for business and society and fundamentally changing how people work and live. PwC’s report released in 2018 entitled ‘Will robots really steal our jobs?’ found that 30% of UK jobs could be at risk of automation by the mid-2030s. Similarly climate change, the increasing pressure on the earth’s finite resources, and technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine-learning will all have impacts on the future workforce.
If businesses can harness the power of disruptive technologies such as AI, Virtual Reality (VR) and blockchain to address the system-level challenges we face, huge efficiencies and benefits could be unlocked. However, if they can’t, businesses could face economic challenges, social jeopardy and legal liability. This rapidly changing environment creates opportunities and risks not seen before, so building business models that are sustainable and resilient is critical. This is a challenge for all organisations, meaning collaboration across businesses, sectors and nations, is vital in getting this right.
Within business, finance teams are playing an increasingly important role in driving sustainability. As the custodians of value and through working with investors and lenders, finance professionals are critical in supporting the transition towards more sustainable, resilient business models. However they can’t do this alone.
PwC and A4S recently brought together industry leaders from finance, technology and sustainability to discuss this important issue and agree actions that could be taken.
During the discussions, three things became very clear:
- Businesses must take more action to future-proof themselves and build resilience.
- Finance, sustainability and technology must work together to be able to get this right.
- The role of the finance professional is changing. This has huge implications for the competencies, skills and behaviours they must acquire, for the professional and on-the-job learning and education they need and for the tools and technologies required so they are best equipped support more sustainable business models.
Following the workshop and discussions, attendees left with clear actions and objectives to address within their respective businesses. These include:
- Initiating conversations on developing a sustainable, resilient business model with other leaders across the organisation.
- Increasing efforts to build sustainability into their business strategies, financial decision making and talent development.
- Establishing greater clarity around their purpose as an organisation and on their contribution towards pressing societal outcomes such as the Sustainable Development Goals.
- Building greater understanding of emerging technologies that could support them in their role. For example, many found PwC’s VR simulation of a city of the future a powerful way to visual the challenges of the future and were encouraged to explore blockchain technology further.
We will continue to support business leaders in this area and look forward to continuing the discussion and inspiring further action globally.