Sustaining the workforce: How sustainability can help the cause

Company leaders leaning into the opportunity presented by the evolving ESG landscape share their success stories during the 2023 Future of Finance Virtual Summit.
By Bryan Strickland

Not surprisingly, the finance leaders who participated in Wednesday's panel discussion during the 2023 Future of Finance Virtual Summit didn't begin their professional journeys with roles related to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) matters.

"Unless you're blessed with the eternal elixir of youth," moderator Jeremy Osborn, FCMA, CGMA, said, "chances are you trained as something else other than a sustainability professional."

That's also the case for Osborn, the first global head of ESG at AICPA & CIMA, together as the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

Times, however, are changing, and it may be high time that companies trying to solve the pipeline puzzle consider the evolving world of ESG as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

That's already the lived experience of three finance leaders who shared stories Wednesday with other finance leaders.

"It's creating a lot of great opportunities for a lot of people," said SAP Canada CFO Roger Daoud, CPA, CGMA. "It's an exciting path for young CPAs because they can really have an impact on ESG. Even though it's a topic that has been discussed for many years, it's still at its infancy in terms of the operational side of the industry."

While ESG may be in its infancy, relatively speaking, there's already plenty of proof that the younger generation is interested — an interest that plays a significant role when the time comes to pick a career path and eventually target a role in the workforce.

"I used to do recruiting, and I felt like every time I would go interview somebody, they would pull out our sustainability report," said Pam Oberski, North America finance director at Dow. "I didn't yet have an appreciation five years ago for how much the talent that we're trying to attract is looking at sustainability and ESG reports when they're deciding on companies for employment."

Oberski initially got engaged in the ESG aspects of her current role due to her prior SEC reporting experience, but she stuck around because she finds the space fascinating.

Many newcomers to the workforce feel the same way. In addition, it's an area that companies could ask their established finance professionals to explore.

"In terms of attracting new talent, I do think [sustainability] is a fascinating space," Oberski said, "and I feel like anyone with a finance background can add a lot of value to this process. You don't have to do just core accounting; you can evolve into different spaces where your background can really lend itself to further enabling the platforms for the reporting and the decision-making around some of your company's ESG initiatives."

Oberski's company has gone above and beyond disclosure requirements, having reported on sustainability matters for 19 years now, but the days of volunteering ESG data are giving way to more robust requirements, driven in part by calls from investors for more information. In a recent EY survey, institutional investor leaders ranked climate risk and natural resource constraints as a bigger threat to the strategic success of their portfolio companies than unfavorable economic conditions.

Between increasing reporting requirements and louder calls from investors, the landscape is changing, and it's affecting current employees and their companies' strategy for obtaining new employees.

Christy Wright, senior vice president of corporate finance at Southwire, said that when she looks at the future of finance, she sees the job description for operational controllers in the manufacturing space evolving to include ESG-related responsibilities.

"You'll start to see more job descriptions with that," Wright said. "And on my team, I definitely see more people each year putting on their personal goals a desire to receive certain sustainability designations or continuing education."

When it comes to expanding the Southwire team to meet expanding sustainability responsibilities, or to address other talent needs, Wright said that ESG initiatives are helping spur her company forward.

"We've published a sustainability report for 17 years. We've always viewed it as strategic to the overall culture of the organization," she said. "We embrace it as a part of who we are, a part of our DNA.

"It's one of the things that helps us attract talent."


— To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Bryan Strickland at

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