Sustainability Sweet Spot

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Ever tried to fit a square peg into a round hole?  How about a round peg into a square hole?  I have, and the results are amazing.

You see, I always believed myself to be a round peg.  And after researching the term a little bit deeper, it’s all so clear.

The origins of the idiom are attributed to the 19th-century British philosopher and cleric Sydney Smith who uses the word “misfit” to define the peg.  Of course, that makes sense – mis-fit.

Another part of the example I found quite interesting – “trying to combine two things that do not belong or fit together”.  That one triggered an interesting memory.

The Big Question

It was fourth year of university, and as I was standing in front of the students in my advanced auditing class giving a heartfelt presentation about environmental auditing (complete with quotes by Erin Brockovich), my fellow student raises her hand to ask a question.

Wonderful, the students are engaged, we are going to start talking about this pertinent topic.  She goes on to ask (I’m paraphrasing – it’s been over 10 years) “we are accountants, why should we care about the environment?”   Ten years ago I didn’t have my breathing techniques down pat; I got flustered easily and perhaps did not do the question justice.

While we may not be able to go back in time, it’s never too late to learn something.

There are two ways of looking at the question:

  1. Maybe she was asking from a strictly professional point of view. What business does the environment have in financial statements?
  2. On the other hand, maybe she was asking from a macro level. Why should we care about mitigating environmental risk?

Let’s take a closer look and see.

What business does the environment have in financial statements?

This question led me to dissect environmental liability.

Years ago I had the opportunity to develop a database for an accounting firm that connected the dots between EIC 159 “Conditional Asset Retirement Obligations” and the different Environmental Protection Acts.  This was to be used as a quick guide for accountants to use while doing their due diligence with regards to contingent liabilities.  This knowledge gave me the confidence to recommend a note disclosure for an asset retirement obligation while auditing a hydro company – something that may not have been recognized or considered as material had it not been brought to their attention.   It was clearly a future liability, but industry has ignored many of those over the decades resulting in some pretty heavy damage that nobody is being held accountable for.

This has also led me to jump across the single bottom line and begin to see three dimensional.  Triple bottom line.  What a sweet spot.

Next question…

Why should we care about mitigating environmental risk?

I truly believe that it is our fiduciary duty as humans on this planet to care for the beautiful gifts offered by Mother Nature.  When I took that auditing course back in 2004, it was a chain of synchronicity that woke me up.  Thank goodness I woke up.  Have you heard the news?  We are facing some serious situations.  When I took Jeffrey Sachs online course in The Age of Sustainable Development a couple of years ago, so much reality was presented and it was depressing.  How can this be?  How can we as humans be destroying the earth and harming our neighbours globally for profit?

Having been affected by depression during adolescence, I know that it can manifest into many different forms.  For a good decade, I allowed it to manifest into dis-ease and sadness.  The following decade I teetered between anger and short lived happiness.  Third decade’s a charm; I’m beginning to manifest this knowledge and energy to bring forth positive change.

Making the Change

Of course, change comes from within; therefore it begins by working on myself.  When it comes to the environment I do my best to reduce my footprint.  It is very important to me and I’m passionate about conservation and restoration.  This means waste diversion, resource management, tree planting, composting, watching what I eat & drink, how much I drive, what I buy….etc.

So how do I use this passion to propel my profession?  By focusing on the sweet spot in all endeavours.  Whether it is a small business, social enterprise, non-profit organization, charity or corporation, there is always room for sustainability.

As for fitting the round peg in the square hole – combining two things that seemingly do not fit – go for it. I believe that’s what we call innovation.

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Leah Feor

Leah Feor is the owner of Simply Sustainable, a small business that has evolved from a fair trade mobile shop to a strategic consulting firm serving entrepreneurs with a social or environmental vision. Balancing her clients’ Triple Bottom Line – people, planet, profit – is Leah’s utmost goal, and is supported by her background in accounting and environmental management.

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