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Sustainability Conference

April 26, 2016

Can CPAs save the world?  Jane Gleeson-White seems to think so and she tells us how in two books.  The first is Double Entry / How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance (pub. by W.W. Norton & Company).

I think the history of accounting is a fascinating drama and Jane Gleeson-White brings it to its thrilling heights.  The history of the evolution of debits and credits culminating with Fra Luca Pacioli’s 1494 Summa is more than interesting.  It shows how a book that included an accounting technique that evolved during the Middle Ages became one of the Renaissance’s most read books and the method written about is universally used today – double entry bookkeeping.  I believe that understanding the history of what we are doing creates insights that make it easier to perform at a higher level.  Even if you don’t care about the history, there are some interesting tidbits such as Pacioli’s friendship with and mentoring of Leonardo and the creation of the Last Supper fresco; the rapid spread of knowledge once books were able to be printed; and other facts of life during those fertile times.

The second part of this book is an exposition of how the current economic measurements are not valid and ignore metrics that should be paid attention to.  Ms. White traces the inaccuracies to the way double entry bookkeeping has evolved into measuring and balancing changes that really don’t matter [in her opinion] while ignoring changes that do.  An example is national growth measured by Gross National Product.  Ms. White contends that destruction of the ecology is measured as a positive growth in the GNP because it involves expenditures while the damage that results will definitely cause future costs that are not measured in GNP because it is not a current dollar in or out.  The author contends that we must find new ways to measure economic costs and the changes in the economy so we could then pay more attention to them and begin to try to reverse the inevitable negative results.  She presents a disturbing view of a destructed future that will arise like a stealth weapon.

This is an interesting history with concepts well worth reading.

Ms. White’s second book is a more thorough follow-up that I recommend if you want to find out more about her ideas which is pretty deep stuff.  The title is Six Capitals, or Can Accountants Save the Planet?  Rethinking Capitalism for the Twenty-First Century.  A link to the author’s site is:

On May 6 The NYS Society of CPAs will present its first annual Sustainability Investment Leadership Conference where I will be speaking along with Ms. White and others in the forefront of this new field.  Here is a link for information about the Conference:

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