SDGs, Sustainability, Sustainability Reporting, Sustainable Development Goals

SDG 15 Life on Land

United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15
SWR supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

SDG 15 Life on Land is a continuation of my series on the SDGs.

“The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) define global sustainable development priorities and aspirations for 2030 and seek to mobilize global efforts around a common set of goals and targets. The SDGs call for worldwide action among governments, business and civil society to end poverty and create a life of dignity and opportunity for all, within the boundaries of the planet.”

SDG 15 Life on Land includes the following:

  • By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements
  • By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally
  • By 2030, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world
  • By 2030, ensure the conservation of mountain ecosystems, including their biodiversity, in order to enhance their capacity to provide benefits that are essential for sustainable development
  • Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species
  • Promote fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and promote appropriate access to such resources, as internationally agreed
  • Take urgent action to end poaching and trafficking of protected species of flora and fauna and address both demand and supply of illegal wildlife products
  • By 2020, introduce measures to prevent the introduction and significantly reduce the impact of invasive alien species on land and water ecosystems and control or eradicate the priority species
  • By 2020, integrate ecosystem and biodiversity values into national and local planning, development processes, poverty reduction strategies and accounts
  • Mobilize and significantly increase financial resources from all sources to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity and ecosystems
  • Mobilize significant resources from all sources and at all levels to finance sustainable forest management and provide adequate incentives to developing countries to advance such management, including for conservation and reforestation
  • Enhance global support for efforts to combat poaching and trafficking of protected species, including by increasing the capacity of local communities to pursue sustainable livelihood opportunities

The importance of SDG 15 Life on Land for businesses can be seen in a  World Business Council for Sustainable Development video. Companies that rely specifically on products from land have a large stake in protecting land. Unilever, Ericsson, and SAB Miller are three companies that reference SDG 15 as being important to their businesses.

Unilever supports SDG 15 Life on Land because many of it products depend on forests and agriculture. Unilever‘s video explains the importance of land preservation to its business.


Ericsson has a direct connection to the land with its robots that detect parasites.

In an effort to protect life on land, SABMiller is working with its sugarcane farming operations in Honduras to modify traditional procedures for washing the crop, to decrease pesticide use by 27%, and to reduce the burning of post harvest vegetation.


SWR supports SDG 15 Life on Land. All SWR blog posts are created using solar power and are hosted by renewable energy sources!

SDGs, Sustainability, Sustainability Reporting, Sustainable Development Goals

SDG 14 Life Below Water

United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14
SWR supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

SDG 14 Life Below Water is a continuation of my series on the SDGs.

“The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) define global sustainable development priorities and aspirations for 2030 and seek to mobilize global efforts around a common set of goals and targets. The SDGs call for worldwide action among governments, business and civil society to end poverty and create a life of dignity and opportunity for all, within the boundaries of the planet.”

SDG 14 Life Below Water includes the following:

  • By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, particularly from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution
  • By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration, to achieve healthy and productive oceans
  • Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels
  • By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting, and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics
  • By 2020, conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on best available scientific information
  • By 2020, prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU fishing, and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiation
  • By 2030, increase the economic benefits to SIDS and LDCs from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism
  • Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacities and transfer marine technology taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries, in particular SIDS and LDCs
  • Provide access of small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets
  • Ensure the full implementation of international law, as reflected in UNCLOS for states parties to it, including, where applicable, existing regional and international regimes for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by their parties


This short video explains SDG 14 Life Below Water.


What are companies doing to address SDG 14 Life Below Water?

Dell along with Bureo, General Motors, Herman Miller, Humanscale, Interface, Trek, and Van de Sant have committed in partnership with The Lonely Whale Foundation to work on recycling plastic waste found in the oceans.

How did Nextwave happen?



SWR supports SDG 14 Life Below Water. Oceans naturally absorb carbon dioxide emissions, but increased emissions are changing the chemistry of seawater and damaging life below water. Reducing carbon emissions protects the oceans. All SWR blog posts are created using solar power and are hosted by renewable energy sources!


Chicago - River Walk and State Street bridge
Cities, Cities and sustainability reporting, ISO 37120, Sustainability Reporting

ISO 37120 – Cities’ Sustainability Reporting Option

Chicago - River Walk and State Street bridge
Photo by Michael J. White

There are numerous ways that cities can monitor their sustainability progress. One example is ISO 37120-2014 Sustainable development of communities — Indicators for city services and quality of life. As the first ISO standard for city indicators, it covers the three pillars of sustainability – economic, environmental, and social. The standard provides 100 indicators that include 17 areas, which are economy, education, energy, environment, finance, fire and emergency, governance, health, recreation, safety, shelter, solid waste, telecommunications, transportation, urban planning, wastewater, and water and sanitation. Cities of any size or location can choose which indicators to report.

What is in it for cities?

By using this set of standardized metrics, cities will see numerous benefits. Benchmarking performance and setting targets are a fundamental place to start. If you want to lower greenhouse gas emissions, you need to know what your emissions are. In addition, better management of city resources can be achieved with sustainability metrics. For example, keeping track of wastewater management initiatives can enable cities to manage more efficiently and effectively both financial and environmental resources. Urban planning can be facilitated by use of these indicators. These metrics can provide information about transportation, recreation, safety, and health to inform a city’s decisions about housing policies. In addition, comparisons with other reporting cities are possible on the World Council on City Data (WCCD) website.

An added benefit is the ability to obtain WCCD Certification. Certification levels depend on the number of indicators reported.

If you are involved with a city, this is worth looking into.

As a member of the Bloomington Commission on Sustainability, I will be working on applying this standard to the City of Bloomington, Indiana in the next several months. Stay tuned as I report about the process.

Earthrise. Photo by NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
Accountants, Accounting Education, AICPA, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), GRI Certified Training, Integrated Reporting, ISOS Group, Sustainability, Sustainability education, Sustainability Reporting

Will Accountants Save the World?

As an accountant, I was thrilled to read that Peter Bakker, President of World Business Council for Sustainable Development , said, “Accountants would save the world.” This should make any accountant smile. The realist in me knows that it will take a big “village” to save the world, but accountants can play an important role.

At an experts panel discussion in Amsterdam, Marjolein Baghuis stated, “… the conclusion was that accountants can certainly play a role in making companies more sustainable, but the profession is not quite ready to deliver on this promise without further education.” I agree!

Accountants have a long history of providing information to decision makers. They have been in the business of providing information since the 15th century. Really! If you want to read a great book, I recommend The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations by Jacob Soll.  Accountants are big players in the fortunes of companies and nations. With their experience in providing information for decision-making, accountants can provide important sustainability information to companies, governments, and the public.

Sustainability reporting is unfortunately not currently recognized as an important topic in accounting education in the United States. In a curriculum crowded with courses in tax, auditing, financial accounting, and management accounting, training in sustainability reporting is viewed as nice but not necessary.

Why is this?

There are several reasons.

  1. It is not covered on the major certification exams such as the Certified Public Accountants (CPA) exam and the Certified Management Accountant exam.
  2. There is no demand for sustainability reporting skills in accounting public practice because there is no legal requirement to do it in the United States.
  3. Inside companies, accountants are not usually tasked with sustainability accounting and reporting.
  4. Accountants in small to medium sized public practices do not traditionally offer sustainability services.
  5. Most small to medium sized accounting firms do not know how to make the business case for sustainability reporting for their own firm or for their clients.

Over the years there have been attempts to include sustainability reporting as part of accountants’ education but with little progress. Other traditional accounting topics take precedence. Without the demand, change will be slow.

Once in practice, however, accountants who desire to learn about sustainability reporting can look to several professional organizations. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants promotes the benefits of sustainability services and provides information to its members. The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) offers information and resources. IFAC is actively engaged with  the Prince of Wales’ Accounting for Sustainability Project, the International Integrated Reporting Council, the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Accountants can attend GRI certified sustainability reporting training courses offered by GRI Training Partners such as the ISOS Group.

How will demand for sustainability reporting be created? Here are some possibilities.

Mandatory reporting – Nothings creates a demand for services like a legal requirement. Examples abound – auditing, tax, Sarbanes-Oxley Act compliance.

Demand by financial institutions – As part of the evaluation of companies, lending institutions could require a sustainability report. This report would enable banks to do an expanded risk assessment. This would include a company’s environmental and social risks, which are directly tied to their economic risks.

Demand by local governments – Local governments might consider requiring sustainability reports from companies within the city limits. This would be beneficial to cities in assessing a company’s economic, environmental, and social risks. By complying, organizations would be demonstrating their good citizenship and assessing their own risks.

What do you think?






Assurance Readiness Review, Sustainability Reporting

VW and Assurance

Better Assurance = Fewer Injuries Photo: Michael J White
Better Assurance = Fewer Injuries
Photo: Michael J White

VW cheated and harmed us all. Some of us are more harmed than others. If you own stock, you have seen your net worth decline. If you own one of the affected cars, your troubles are just beginning. If you work for VW, your job may be jeopardy. If you live on the planet, your air is  more polluted.

VW’s story is one of fraud, but why is it so troubling? All frauds are troubling, but VW’s lies seem particularly egregious. VW cast itself as a sustainable company. In their 2014 sustainability report, the company declared the following:

“For the Volkswagen Group, sustainability means that we conduct our business activities on a responsible and long-term basis and do not seek short-term success at the expense of others.”

In the report, they also listed the environmental performance of their specific car models. Many people believed them. In 2014, CDP put VW in its Climate Performance Leadership Index  and in 2015, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) listed VW as the most sustainable automaker. (It has since been delisted by the DJSI.)

Could the fraud have been prevented or detected earlier? Perhaps. I contend that assurance of sustainability reports could make a difference. In audits of financial statements, the auditor’s opinion states whether reasonable assurance has been obtained that the financial statements as a whole are free from material misstatement, whether due to fraud or error. Following professional auditing standards, auditors obtain this reasonable assurance from substantial testing of data systems and underlying information.

Audits do not provide absolute assurance; nothing can. Frauds will occur and have always occurred. Detecting fraud is difficult when multiple people collude to hide it. We can make it harder for them to do.

Was VW’s sustainability report assured? Yes, but it was a “review” or  “limited” assurance. What does limited assurance mean? The procedures were limited to inquiring of key personnel, understanding the company structure, documenting systems, visiting sites, performing data comparisons, and examining internal and external documents. Limited assurance is just that, limited.

If we are going to depend on the information in sustainability reports, we need more than limited assurance. We need “reasonable assurance.” This can be done using procedures similar to that of an audit of financial statements. Will this cost money? Sure, but the fallout from fraud is much more costly for all of us: company, employees, customers, suppliers, and the environment.