W&M School of Business to Offer One-Time Sustainability Accounting Seminar Online Amidst COVID-19 Response

As William & Mary students return to classes in their new and virtual environment following Spring Break, they will have the opportunity to register for a one-credit seminar that will only be offered in spring of 2020 called Sustainability Accounting (BUAD 492-06 and BUAD 6951-09).

The seminar, which is open to undergraduate and graduate students from both business and non-business majors, will focus on the recent demand by investors and shareholders for companies to disclose more information about their actions to promote sustainability. Using case studies and online discussions, students will learn about the environmental, social, and governance metrics companies use, and the domestic and global initiatives that regulate or support sustainability accounting and reporting standards.

Developed by Raymond A. Mason School of Business Professor and Accounting Department Chair Dr. Denise Jones, the seminar will not focus on the economics of sustainability; rather it will prompt students to critically examine the data reported by companies on their sustainability initiatives.

“This will not be a typical accounting class,” Jones said. “It’s going to be more about what I think the heart of accounting is, which is to provide information that allows the capital markets to function.”

Students will engage in discussions related to questions posed, such as:

  • What kind of information are companies providing about their sustainable actions?
  • What is the demand for information by investors and shareholders?
  • What incentives do companies have to voluntarily report information on sustainability?

“Sustainability is something that investors really care about and they’re demanding information because they want to invest in companies that take sustainable actions,” Jones said. “If you care about the issue, then this is a great class to take because you’ll become more aware of the types of information and the quality of that information that companies are reporting.”

For many years, data was collected by non-profit groups like the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) which runs a global disclosure system for companies and cities to manage and report on the environmental impact of their actions. While their mission is to make environmental reporting a standard business practice, it was entirely voluntary, subjective, and unregulated.

Today, as pressure mounts for companies to reduce their carbon footprint and actively engage in corporate social responsibility initiatives, trends indicate that sustainability will be a major consideration for businesses if they want to remain successful. And as international and domestic regulatory bodies standardize metrics for companies to report against, there will be a significant increase in the amount of data being reported.

“Companies vary in what sustainability initiatives are important to them so the information they disclose depends on what industry the company is in, what their business model is, and how they think people will respond to the information. By evaluating these things, an investor can figure out if companies are being misleading or not – it’s fascinating.”

Jones sought to develop the seminar to help prepare students for their careers after graduation by providing them with the analytical skills she feels will become more relevant in the future as the focus on sustainability increases.

“This sort of class is a hallmark of William & Mary programs because we’re always thinking about what the next greatest thing is,” Jones said. “Sustainability accounting is based on the underlying principles of accounting, which is to provide information that makes two parties involved in a business transaction feel comfortable that they have the information necessary to make a good decision.”

Course Details

Sustainability Accounting (BUAD 492-06 and BUAD 6951-09)

  • Students must have completed Principles of Accounting (BUAD 203) or equivalent as a prerequisite.