CohnReznick LLP has created an awards program to recognize U.S.-based businesses that are “changing the game” with their commitment to environmental, social and governance strategies and practices, backed by a prominent panel of judges.
The Gamechangers in ESG Awards program is open to any U.S.-based company that is pursuing an ESG initiative, whether it’s still at an early stage or has well established ESG initiatives already in place. The awards are expected to be offered annually. Applications for the inaugural awards have to be completed by June 30, 2022 and the awards will be announced in the fall.
The prestigious panel of 14 judges includes Susan Coffey, CEO of public accounting at the AICPA and CIMA; Toby Belsom, director of U.N. Principles for Responsible Investment; Nate Mook, CEO of World Central Kitchen; April Brown, vice president of social responsibility at Major League Baseball; Sandra Taylor, CEO of Sustainable Business International; Suzanne Tedrow, director of sustainability for global store development at Starbucks; Mark Hooley, chief operating officer at CohnReznick; and John Alfonso, 2021 board chair of the American Cancer Society, who is also a partner at CohnReznick who leads the not-for-profit and education industry practice.
Award winners will receive a professionally developed video or written case study showcasing their ESG story; national recognition and promotion through the CohnReznick website, social media, nationwide press outreach and marketing programs; the rights to use the ESG Gamechangers award logo; and recognition at a virtual award ceremony.
The firm considers ESG to be an important priority. “We started looking at ESG at our firm and we polled all of our employees as to what’s important, where their values are, and how they match with our company values,” said CohnReznick CEO David Kessler. “We really wanted to evaluate ourselves as to how we are doing in environmental, social and governance as a firm. We look at how we contribute to our communities and society with the work that we do. We do a ton of work with affordable housing, community development and underserved communities. We’ve invested in making communities and people’s lives better through health initiatives, tutoring, supporting organizations.”
The firm was also one of the first to create a niche practice in renewable energy, he noted. “We’re recognized internationally for the work that we do with renewable energy, wind and solar,” said Kessler. “We were doing that before all of the governmental standards were in place that really drove companies to need to use renewable energy as a power source.”
CohnReznick had a study done by a consultant who looked at the employees’ travel and commuting practice and the impact of those factors on its carbon emissions footprint. It has committed to planting trees over the next 10 years to reduce its net amount of carbon emissions, and has also been developing services for clients in the renewable energy sector, and helping clients strive to be better with ESG. In addition, the firm has been providing scholarships to underprivileged children through the CohnReznick Foundation, making contributions to underserved communities.
“We thought the next natural thing was to create an award where we can recognize other companies that are making a difference,” said Kessler. “We feel that we’re making a difference and we want to recognize other companies that are making a difference as well. We’re the sole accounting firm sponsor of Major League Baseball, and we’re teaming with them. They have strong initiatives with ESG.”
The firm has long been involved with the American Institute of CPAs, which has also been emphasizing to accountants the importance of ESG and providing sustainability reporting and assurance services to clients.
“For the profession, we recognize it as an important topic for businesses, organizations and firms of all sizes,” said Coffey. “This is one of those once-in-a-generation things that’s going to really change what we do. We see it as the next generation of business reporting and value creation for businesses. As a profession, we have an incredible role to play when you think about all the pieces of ESG and our sweet spot as a profession. It’s about the internal controls that gather data. That’s natural to us. It’s about measurement in accordance with standards. It’s about creating valuable internal reporting for decision making and transparent external reporting and then the assurance piece. There are a whole bunch of verticals within the scope of ESG that are just a natural fit for the profession. CohnReznick is doing all of that and has been for quite some time.”
CohnReznick has been analyzing its vendors and suppliers to see if they are working with underprivileged communities and weighing the product quality and costs. The firm has also set up a committee for ESG.
“We’ve sliced and diced our employee base by level, location, gender and ethnicity, and we can see where we need to improve and develop a plan to potentially improve in a lot of areas,” said Kessler. “We’re doing well in areas, and there are other areas we know we need to improve.”
With the Gamechangers awards, CohnReznick hopes to increase recognition of ESG initiatives beyond the firm. “The U.S. in many ways is a little late to this game,” said marketing director Julie Rogers Murawski. “We were finding, as we talked to clients, that many of them are just trying to figure out where to get started and they don’t know what regulations might apply to them. They don’t know exactly where to focus. Just like CohnReznick has been on this journey for many years, so many businesses have been ‘ESGing’ for many years, but maybe it wasn’t called that. We wanted to highlight and recognize the great initiatives and the impact that companies are already making in the hopes that we can start to inspire and have a more effective conversation about where this is going, because the companies that see it as a value creator are going to be ahead of the game. They will be the game changers if they’re looking at it from a value creation standpoint, as opposed to just a compliance and regulation standpoint.”
CohnReznick is also planning to give out a Next Gen award of a financial stipend to a college student, ideally in an accounting program, who is already showing a leadership capacity in the ESG space or has an interest in pursuing ESG as part of their career.