Putting Climate Change on the Books
At TransLink, finance is responsible for sustainability. Sustainability efforts such as climate change adaptation are embedded throughout the organization.
When Donna Chao, CPA, CA, trained as an accountant, she didn’t realize that her future role as Corporate Controller at TransLink would involve learning about and speaking on behalf of the finance team on climate change adaptation.
TransLink began considering climate change impacts in 2010, at the same time that it published its first Sustainability Report. “Now, sustainability, including assessing climate change risks, is part and parcel of everything we do each and every day,” says Cathy McLay, CPA, CMA, Chief Financial Officer and Executive VP of Finance and Corporate Services.
TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s transportation authority, has over $5.4 billion in assets
, covers an area of approximately 3000 square kilometers
and provides about 1.2 million trips daily
. Its service covers many forms of transportation, including buses, commuter rail and ferry.But impacts from climate change are a threat to TransLink’s operations and service delivery.
Rising sea levels could flood infrastructure, reduce bridge clearance, and impair operation of the SeaBus (ferry) terminal.
Sea levels aren’t the only threat. As events in Calgary
have shown, extreme weather conditions, such as heavy rainfall, are related to climate change and can also result in flooding. Such precipitation could temporarily flood TransLink’s bus loops, tunnels, transit stations and trolley electricity conversion (or “rectifier”) stations.
“You can’t prevent flooding, so you’ve got to figure out: how are you going to adapt
?” explains Chao.
TransLink accountants are involved in adaptation through risk management, capital planning and resource allocation, reporting and strategy development in the following ways:
Accountants help to identify risks through the risk register and ensure an appropriate strategy to address them is in place.
Accountants provide the financial analysis necessary to ensure that infrastructure projects are assessed systematically across a broad base of organizational priorities. “The numbers help explain the story,” says McLay. “We want to build a sustainable city but we also have to balance this with our revenue projections. What are we capable of handling? How much debt can we take on? What are our reserves? Because there is no sense building something that cannot be maintained over time.”
Accountants are trained to take a consistent and disciplined approach on reporting. They have assisted with the development of the integrated annual report and sustainability key performance indicators.
“[Accountants] are skilled at focusing on results and knowing how to cull information,” says Chao. This skill is important for strategic decision-making, so that senior executives are not inundated with ambiguous information.
Accountants are vital to helping organizations account and prepare for climate change. Yet many are new to the topic of climate change. Staff at TransLink offer advice:
Accountants need to know how organizations can adapt effectively, what metrics are useful, and what benefits adaptation provides.
Accountants are strong analysts — but analysis only takes them so far. “When dealing with multidisciplinary groups, accountants have to build consensus,” Chao says. Generally speaking, accountants would benefit from greater training in skills such as change management, communication and teamwork, to enable better collaboration with non-accountants. TransLink is a pioneer in recognizing how finance can push sustainability forward. Companies in any industry can learn from these efforts.
Explore the full list of NBS climate change resources
and learn from the following organizations also implementing climate change adaptation: