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There is a lot of talk of digital within finance’, says Sarah Whale, FCCA, founder of financial sustainability consulting firm, Profit Impact. “Digital transformation has its place on the agenda but not to the exclusion of wider problems”

Those problems, Sarah says, are climate change and societal challenges and the impact that business is creating by not understanding, measuring and managing this risk.

All about impact

Sarah moved into sustainability after a varied career spanning commerce, industry, contracting and finance. She took a six-year ‘sideways step’ to set up a football coaching company after having kids.

“I’m definitely a generalist,” she says. “I’ve done lots of different things, and there’s not been a destination. I just followed the route that suited my family and needs at the time – while progressing because I like to progress.”

She set up Profit Impact in summer 2020 to help businesses achieve social, environmental and financial success in equal measure.

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The idea came from her frustration that businesses were not taking financial ethics and sustainability seriously enough.

“After a period of reflection, I just realised I wanted to be doing something that was doing the right thing, not something that was going to create a problem for somebody else, or something else, somewhere, which is what can happen in many companies. They focus on their own growth, but they’re not focused on the impact they’re having outside of that. And that’s the biggest problem that we have as a society and for the planet.”

Sarah knew she didn’t want to go back into the mainstream finance function, making decisions or supporting decisions that would have a negative impact.

Initially, she was told she wouldn’t find a job like that in finance. So, she decided to set up Profit Impact.

Now, she runs a B Corp pending business that aims to help drive focus towards impact and sustainability by partnering with companies and through its eLearning resources.

Changing the agenda

While Sarah believes the discussion around digital within the finance community needs to move on towards impact, she does recognise that tech has value.

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“I do see there is a place for tech,” she says. “But I would say the vast majority of people are unaware of the carbon footprint of their technology, and it doesn’t become a feature in their decision making.

“Websites, as an example: if everybody had an efficient website, there would be a significant amount of carbon removed. But that’s not even on the agenda.”

At a basic level, Sarah wants finance teams to understand that their decisions around digital can make a difference to their sustainability as a business, whether that be creating efficient websites, using refurbished technology, or using software to track sustainability.

But, she doesn’t believe in the argument that using AI and digital tools can help free up enough time to focus on sustainability effectively.

“I’m a little bit of a sceptic. I think there’s only so much time, from my 30 years’ experience, digital will free up. And sustainability takes proper thinking time.

‘Saving yourself half an hour a day won’t mean more time to look at sustainability, she says. “It’s much bigger than that and needs proper focus.”

Integrated sustainability

Sarah ultimately wants finance teams to integrate financial, social and environmental factors into reporting, budgets and plans. “That’s as simple as it is,” says Sarah. “It just becomes integrated.”

It’s important not to put it off just because it’s not perfect yet, Sarah says. It’s about being more conscious and taking steps towards being more sustainable.

“You just have to start,” says Sarah. “You don’t have to put yourself under the pressure of a net-zero policy and solve the gender pay gap and have a community project identified in one go.”

You have to have finance first, she says, because if you haven’t got a financially sustainable business, then you have no business. “But just focusing on the finance is not looking at the long term, and that’s the problem.”