Time for a new beginning: Sustainability has arrived in controlling

For more than a decade, the ICV has worked intensively on a topic that is now also given top priority at the level of economic policy: sustainability. As early as 2010/2011, the ICV Think Tank declared the "necessity and relevance of green controlling" as its main topic. The Think Tank in controlling is a top-class team of scientists and representatives of controlling practice. The visionaries have made it their task to provide regular information about trends and new developments and thus provide impetus for the further development of controlling. The close cooperation of all committees in the ICV and the partnership with companies and universities ensure that controllers, those interested in controlling and, above all, members of the ICV are always up to date when it comes to trends and visions. This is also the case in the area of sustainability.

Controllers are now required to support the transformation

The ICV Think Tank started more than a decade ago in the field of sustainability with publications such as the Dream Car Report "Green Controlling" and the ICV Green Controlling Study. Following, the ICV Expert Work Group "Green Controlling for Responsible Business" published the "Guideline Green Controlling" in 2014, application-oriented solutions - a publication of the ICV publication series that is still in demand today. The latest publication from the expert work group is called "EU Taxonomy for Sustainable Finance - The Role of Green Controlling in the Implementation of the European Green Deal". As a supporter of the transformation, the controller therefore has the task of designing an integrated corporate management system that includes social and ecological corporate goals in addition to traditional economic ones. Ultimately, in the future, corporate activities will only be considered ecologically sustainable if they meet the standards of the taxonomy as a classification system and, based on this, companies can clearly evaluate their actions and their effects and report transparently.

Voluntariness is increasingly being followed by regulatory requirements

The focus on sustainability is driven by social, corporate and political developments. This is accompanied by more or less mandatory sets of rules. In the Value Balancing Alliance, for example, companies such as BASF, Bosch and Deutsche Bank voluntarily joined forces in 2019 with the aim of defining a standardized method within the framework of business accounting in order to evaluate social and ecological value contributions. At the same time, the regulatory requirements have also increased on the part of politicians and legislators. While the 17 sustainability goals of the UN, formulated in 2020 as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the European Green Deal of the European Commission, presented in 2019, formulated goals and fields of action in a more general way, the EU Taxonomy for Sustainable Finance from 2021 is an approach for the operational implementation. The taxonomy is also mentioned as a mandatory basis for reporting in companies with more than 250 employees as part of the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD).

Implementation of the EU taxonomy is becoming part of everyday life for controllers

"Controllers will increasingly deal with the taxonomy," concludes Dr. Marco Möhrer, controller at Robert Bosch GmbH and head of the ICV Expert Work Group Green Controlling. In their White Paper on Taxonomy, together with other authors, he clarifies central questions in order to give controllers a handout for understanding, practical application and the added value of these specifications. The definition of relevant terms and the presentation of specific KPIs are just as much a part of this as the answer to the question of what contribution controlling can make to the integration of the taxonomy into holistic corporate management. Using the example of Deutsche Post DHL (DPDHL), the reader learns more about opportunities, challenges and stumbling blocks, but also about task packages and process phases of implementing the taxonomy in practice.

Generating benefits in the value chain

Since controllers are close to corporate management and management, they are well prepared to integrate sustainability into their area of responsibility, believes Claudia Maron, ICV Board Member and Head of Digital and Sustainable Economy at DATEV eG: "A planning or reporting process does not differ in that, in addition to the financials, non-financials are also included". Rather, controlling can generate benefits in the value chain by linking non-financial information with the financial world, pouring it into data models and evaluating it with AI or business analytics. "For this, controllers are required as change agents and partners of the management," Maron summarizes the expanded, upgraded area of responsibility of controllers.

Mastering the challenge: merging different systems and integrating planning

Nevertheless, she concedes that the major challenge is to merge the different ecological and social information systems with the established financial information and to cover short-, medium- and long-term planning. It is also important to examine the company's strategic goals, for example for CO2 emissions, in the long term. In the medium term, for Maron, sustainable management means moving away from focusing solely on shareholder value in favor of strengthening stakeholder value: Investors, financiers and rating agencies are increasingly orienting themselves towards the ecological and social footprint of a brand or a company. The pressure on the capital market is also growing. Financial products with a focus on environmental, social and governance are enjoying increasing demand from companies that can build and expand their sustainability initiatives with ESG financing. Financial advisors across the EU are obliged to inform customers about sustainability criteria for investments and, since August, to ask them about their sustainability preferences: Awareness of "sustainable" financing is increasing, as is the demand for green bonds, social bonds and sustainability bonds. According to its own statements, Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau („Credit Institute for Reconstruction”) alone placed 37 green bond issues on the market last year.

The sustainable and digital CFO agenda are future-oriented for controlling

For Claudia Maron one thing is clear: sustainable values must become part of the corporate culture. This can only succeed with a commitment from the management and anchoring it in the corporate strategy. The ICV recommends medium-sized companies to anchor the economic pillar of the triple bottom line in controlling. In addition, the departments responsible for social and ecological matters in the company should be integrated into corporate management. "The sustainable and digital CFO and controlling agenda - both topics are future-oriented. As change agents, controllers are required to actively help shape change processes,” emphasizes ICV Board Member Maron.