You can’t help but encounter people who dismiss the merits of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives. Whether it’s a LinkedIn post or a board meeting debate, the backlash is getting noticed by CEOs. It’s prevalent enough for some companies to relabel their ESG efforts with terms like “responsible business,” according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal (Chip Cutter and Emily Glazer, “The Latest Dirty Word in Corporate America: ESG,” January 9, 2024).


But no matter what organizations call it, the need to report on how their operations impact our world isn’t going away. According to PwC’s Global Investor Survey 2023, 70% of respondents said companies should embed ESG issues directly into their corporate strategy—and two-thirds say companies should invest in ESG issues, even if it reduces short-term profitability.


The ESG landscape will always have a chorus of investors, customers, and other stakeholders who demand that companies incorporate sustainability into their strategies and activities—from hiring to product development to supply chain partners. According to PwC’s 27th Annual Global CEO Survey, as they establish priorities, many CEOs see climate change as an industry disruptor containing both risks and opportunities. Nearly one-third of respondents expected climate change to affect value creation, delivery, and capture in the coming years. These findings may partially explain why 41% of respondents indicated their companies have set lower hurdle rates for climate-friendly investments vs. those for other investments. As Daryl Brewster, head of Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose, notes, “You can be anti-ESG,” but “it’s hard to be anti-responsibility.”


So how can management accountants and financial professionals elevate reporting efforts in a way that continues to validate a company’s ESG journey in a cohesive story? Securing sustainability information requires gathering external data from the likes of suppliers, customers, and governmental agencies. But it also requires using critical expertise to evaluate all that data to answer looming questions. Is the data reliable? Is it accurately represented?


External reporting should be seen as a by-product of internal reporting systems that provide the basis for management decision making and accountability. Focus should be on the value of the information to organizational leaders or management supervisors. This requires a deep understanding of a company’s impacts and dependencies for value creation as well as environmental and social factors.


Accounting and finance professionals are uniquely qualified to lead or serve as critical collaborators to many sustainable business and integrated enterprise activities. These professionals and their accounting systems can collect, manipulate, and evaluate sustainability-related data then convert it into insights that can drive decision making.


For those looking to reinforce their organization’s sustainability efforts, the IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) Management Accounting Competency Framework can be a North Star.

Framework for Success

The IMA Management Accounting Competency Framework does more than support the delivery of external corporate reporting. It addresses all the areas to satisfy the requisite skills for organizational performance, asset preservation, and stakeholder value creation. That includes governance and control (to make sure that information is useful, reliable, and trustworthy), strategy, business acumen, and technology—with leadership at the top and ethics at its core.


The framework also drives how professionals can support their organization’s efforts through sustainable business information and management. It helps them leverage their existing body of knowledge and apply it to deliver on new insights and decisions that can promote trust, build value, and facilitate action.


Before exploring the intersection of IMA’s Competency Framework and ESG reporting, let’s review Figure 1, which will help you comprehend the key components of the framework.


Figure 1: The IMA Management Accounting Competency Framework and ESG Reporting  

Framework bulleted list graphic.


Developing proficiency in each domain of the framework contributes to successful ESG management and reporting. Let’s take a closer look at each domain.


Strategy, Planning & Performance


Although the focus often is on ESG reporting, ESG goes beyond mere compliance and disclosure—it’s a strategic initiative that aligns with an organization’s long-term goals. The framework’s emphasis on strategic thinking and business acumen is highly relevant in this context. Those who understand the broader business implications of sustainability can ensure a more meaningful integration of ESG considerations into an organization.


·      Strategic planning and performance management. Management accountants should embody visionary leadership. They must be capable of aligning ESG goals with the overall strategic vision, ensuring sustainable practices are integrated seamlessly into the business strategy. This requires a comprehensive approach from the organization where management accountants are a vital link. The right mix of traditional financial and ESG metrics will help assess an organization’s overall performance and value creation capabilities. Management accountants can design KPIs related to ESG factors, allowing for a comprehensive evaluation of the company’s overall impact. By integrating ESG into decision-making processes and analyses, a company can stay competitive and resilient in the face of evolving market dynamics. Management accountants can uncover new business opportunities, enhance stakeholder relationships, and contribute to the company’s overall value proposition.


·      Efficient cost management. Management accountants should be adept at identifying, measuring, and managing the costs and benefits of sustainability projects, ensuring they align with the organization’s financial objectives. Efficient resource allocation is essential for sustainable business practices. Competence in capital budgeting ensures that management accountants can evaluate the financial viability of initiatives in which ESG plays an integral role, further aligning them with the organization’s long-term financial and nonfinancial goals.


·      Risk management and governance. Good governance is at the core of sustainable business management. So, individuals well-versed in governance principles can play a pivotal role in ensuring that ESG practices are embedded into the organizational ethos, addressing risks and enhancing overall governance structures. Prioritizing ESG risks should be part of an enterprise’s risk management and daily operations. Management accountants skilled in risk assessment and management can leverage these capabilities to identify and measure ESG-related risks.


·      Using strategy, planning, and performance skills to incorporate ESG. ESG issues can pose risks to a company’s reputation, daily operations, and financial performance. Integrated thinking helps management accountants identify, assess, and manage these risks effectively and encourages a holistic decision-making approach. By applying integrated thinking to identify the intersection of financial, environmental, social, and governance factors, management accountants can make more informed and comprehensive decisions that align with the organization’s long-term goals.


Reporting & Control


Global reporting frameworks are rapidly evolving, so companies need to establish robust internal controls for accurate and reliable ESG reporting. Management accountants must ensure that ESG data collection processes are controlled and secure to maintain the information’s integrity. ESG data should contribute to regular internal and external reporting cycles. Understanding the impacts of ESG on financial performance is crucial to incorporating this data into financial statements and properly communicating this performance to stakeholders.


Such integrated thinking ensures that teams infuse ESG factors into day-to-day business decisions and operations. Integrated thinking also helps management accountants stay ahead of compliance requirements and avoid potential regulatory issues. Plus, it gives them a more comprehensive view of the company’s overall performance, risks, and opportunities, building transparency with stakeholders and enhancing the company’s credibility.


Business Acumen & Operations


ESG management requires companies to adapt to the changing environment and subsequent risks. The IMA framework promotes continuous improvement by staying abreast of evolving sustainability standards and adapting its reporting practices to align with emerging trends and stakeholder expectations. Organizations can facilitate professional development programs to enhance employees’ competencies in areas relevant to ESG reporting while also focusing on the complexity of these projects. Training initiatives can focus on technical skills, planning and resource allocation, ethical considerations, and strategic thinking.


Technology & Analytics


The framework emphasizes a need to strengthen technical skills in areas such as data analysis and reporting. These skills are invaluable for ESG: Building them helps individuals effectively gather, analyze, and present data related to environmental impact, social responsibility, and governance practices. Knowing how to apply tech tools can help, too. This includes using data analytics tools to collect and analyze ESG data, which increases reporting accuracy and transparency.




The ability to communicate complex sustainability information to diverse stakeholders is mission critical. Management accountants need to translate technical data into meaningful narratives that resonate with various stakeholders to foster transparency and trust. Integrated thinking allows management accountants to understand the diverse needs and expectations of stakeholders, including investors, customers, employees, and communities. This approach also helps keep internal stakeholders on board with required changes. The IMA framework encourages collaboration across different functions within an organization, and management accountants can harness this power to integrate ESG considerations into various departments, ensuring a holistic approach to sustainability and reporting.


Professional Ethics & Values


Ethical considerations are paramount in both the IMA framework and ESG reporting. Management accountants can’t take shortcuts if they want to deliver honest and principled reporting. Considering ESG factors in daily business operations is essential for organizations for reporting purposes or legal and regulatory requirements. It’s also key from a corporate responsibility perspective as management accountants have the competence and access to information to help companies improve their impact. Using this information as part of ethical decision making helps ensure accurate, reliable, and useful ESG information that can elevate a company’s credibility on its reporting process and activities.


The ESG Imperative


At a time when some are questioning the need for ESG, it’s a call to action for management accounting professionals to double down on their reporting capabilities. And the IMA Management Accounting Competency Framework is the foundation for taking this role and responsibility to another level. This approach reinforces ESG compliance while strengthening a sustainable and resilient business model, helping companies to thrive.


IMA Additional Resources


Certificate Programs

IMA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Practices Certificate™

IMA Sustainability Business Practices Certificate™ 


Strategic Finance articles

Anum Zahra; Brad Monterio; and Paul E. Juras, COSO and Trust in Sustainability Reporting, May 2023

Daniel Butcher, People, Planet and Profit at King Arthur Baking Company, March 2023

Ariela Caglio and Paolo Quattrone, Sustainability Reporting and the Digital Stakeholder, November 2023

Shari Littan, Reporting Uncertainties and ESG Matters, February 2024


Research Report

Shari Littan et al., Management Accountants Role in Sustainable Business Strategy A Guide to Reducing a Carbon Footprint, IMA, 2022. 


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