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Finance for a sustainable future A new dynamic opportunity

Sustainability, climate and equity: many organisations are considering what these concepts for a better future mean for their businesses now. The steps leaders take in the near term can have an impact for years to come, but it’s hard to know where to start. But good things can happen when an organisation tackles all three at once: for our planet and people, and for an organisation’s future sustainability and prosperity.

To become a truly sustainable organisation, it will take changes in perspective, behaviour and systems across the enterprise—and that’s just the beginning. Every unit of an organisation has a role to play, from human resources to the factory floor.

So where can Finance help? Everywhere.

These days, many organisations are figuring out what sustainability actually means—because it’s not only about the environment. A truly sustainable organisation may consider what is good for people and planet at the core of its business decisions—and by doing so, it can inspire and cultivate a prosperous and sustainable future, for itself, its people, and its community.

Sustainability can be complex, but organisations can tackle it now, and not just because it’s the right thing to do. Some of the largest companies in the world are making pledges and commitments to get to net zero in the near term. Organisations across industries are working to build truly equitable hiring and retention practices into their talent plans. And as companies are bringing workers back to offices, many are looking at ways to leverage sustainability practices in their real estate strategies. What does all that mean for Finance? A lot.

This is an extraordinary opportunity for finance leaders and organisations. With its deep knowledge of how the business truly works, a dynamically empowered finance capability can be both a catalyst and an enabler for an organisation’s sustainability efforts—navigating complex decisions around investment and spend, disclosures, strategic and operational planning, customer and supplier interactions, and more. Finance can become the convener of data and insights, regulatory considerations, and operational impacts to inform the enterprise’s strategic direction—and help execute those decisions with an agile finance capability that is prepared to evolve to meet the needs of the business.

There are challenges with any major transformation but also significant opportunities for Finance to lead the way in the most impactful decisions any organisation will likely make over the coming years. Leading through this disruption can mean changing an organisation—and the world—for good.

Yes, but how?

Finance can help an organisation transform its processes and postures to bring sustainability considerations into its daily business life and for the future. Many systems need changing—so let’s change the systems and bring our people, processes, and technologies along.

Survive - First, Finance can assist the organisation in bringing it into alignment with existing compliance and regulatory measures and provide transparency in financial and sustainability data through reliable and efficient processes and controls. A transformation mindset, with a strong, flexible foundation of technology, processes, data, and talent, means Finance can be dynamic no matter how complex the regulatory measures may be.

  • Strategy - An understanding, fluency, and prioritisation of the regulatory landscape and business sustainability strategy to act as the organisation’s sustainability steward.
  • Process & Technology - Ability to meet internal and external reporting needs— including external disclosures— whether through automated or manual processes.
  • Talent & Delivery Model - Alignment of leaders and activities around strategy, and communicating progress towards sustainability goals and metrics.
  • Governance, Risk & Compliance - Compliance with reporting and disclosures across regulatory and external frameworks, including key controls over related new processes and data.
  • Data & Analytics - Understanding, assessing, and using data and analytics to support internal and external reporting and disclosures.

Drive - Finance can help drive a sustainable operating model shift and operational efficiency with Lights Out FinanceTM and a capacity to sense, weigh, and mitigate risks—and prepare the organisation for what’s next. With deep insights on the value drivers to the business, Finance understands the risks and opportunity for its decisions—especially ones based on sustainability, with such deep implications. It can also partner with the business to manage the performance of sustainability initiatives and investments, demonstrating impact and results that can build confidence internally and externally that the organisation is investing in the appropriate outcomes, and unlock access to investors and capital to continue to fund the sustainability journey.

  • Strategy - A sustainability ambition and strategy for Finance that are linked and deliver on the organisation’s purpose and business strategy.A structured business case to reflect costs and benefits of investment that includes sustainability factors (CO2 emissions, equitable hiring practices, etc.).An understanding of the business value drivers and how sustainability goals contribute.
  • Process & Technology - Ability to design and implement decisions along finance processes to enable sustainability outcomes. Ability to embed sustainability in performance management culture, linked to accountabilities, decisions, and business cycles, such as target setting, annual planning, forecasting, and performance reviews.
  • Talent & Delivery Model - A reimagined Finance Operating Model with formalised organisation and roles and responsibilities to support the organisation’s sustainability vision. A human-centered sustainability strategy for finance that reflects the business’s goals. Increased understanding of sustainability across Finance to identify new risks and new opportunities.
  • Governance, Risk & Compliance - Internal audit and risk management processes that incorporate sustainability considerations. An organisation that proactively identifies key sustainability risk areas, where stakeholders have concern, or where risk appetite is low.
  • Data & Analytics - Aligned KPIs, hierarchies, and definitions with accountabilities and defined reporting views at each level of the organisation to tell an organisation’s sustainability story. Data initiatives that bridge gaps in availability and quality.

Thrive - New markets, new products, new consumers, new value—all of it can be on the table when an organisation successfully incorporates sustainability practices. Finance can evolve new avenues of business partnering to drive the sustainability strategy, enabled by an empowered workforce, advanced data governance, and an overall dynamic finance capability. Being able to balance revenue growth and sustainability impacts can be a common trait of leading organisations in a sustainable future.

  • Strategy - Translation of ambitions into targets and performance metrics, including KPIs and OKRs that correspond to value drivers. Ability to evaluate M&A strategies to capture sustainability opportunities.Ability to access financing to fund sustainability-related action.
  • Process & Technology - Integration of financial and sustainability planning, forecasting, and controlling processes using leading practices and automated technologies. Identification of process decision points and use of dynamic policies and procedures.Updates to process outsourcing agreements and expectations.
  • Talent & Delivery Model - A model for finance workforce to support sustainability efforts, with alignment to talent attraction and retention strategies. Enhanced finance talent pipeline that targets critical skill sets and sustainability skills or experience. High finance employee engagement with sustainability goals, especially around improvements to processes or ways of working.
  • Governance, Risk & Compliance - Use of risk-sensing models to assess third-party risks, engage with supplier base, map supply chain, and find opportunities in a product’s life cycle. Ability to look across sustainability issues to identify whether they are linked to any thematic risks and/ or trends.
  • Data & Analytics - Aligned sustainability data processes and pipeline with business views, that is treated as a strategic asset. Deep insight into profitability versus sustainability along the organisation’s value chain. Ability to provide insights to support engagements with customers and suppliers. Proactive/ predictive analysis to support business decisions at every level.

It's time to get moving.

As a CFO or Finance executive you may be looking to build your vision and strategy to incorporate sustainability practices and to help understand the opportunity they hold for your organisation—and the risks to the organisation if it doesn’t take advantage of them. There is opportunity in an organisation’s data, technology, reporting, operating models, and people. Over the coming months, we’ll examine how Finance can partner across all facets of an organisation to help drive improved reporting and sustainability decision-making, considerations for talent and operating models, modeling and decision support for climate risk, and more. Survive, drive, and thrive: a dynamic and future-forward finance function can find the opportunity in each of these stages and help empower its organisation to stay relevant, keep stakeholders and customers engaged, and do good for the planet and their community. The destination—a better world and a sustainable organisation—is well worth the journey ahead.

"If we can agree that the world as we know it currently is at risk, we should all care—and every day, another global organisation makes a commitment to think and act differently. Finance has a role to play in the moves an organisation makes towards a sustainable future, including holding it accountable for enterprise performance, data analysis, cost-savings, market guidance, strategic planning, talent considerations and more."

Get in touch

Chris Ruggeri

Principal | Deloitte Risk & Financial Advisory

Susan C. Hogan

Global Finance and Performance Leader | Consulting