As corporate environment, social, and governance (ESG) disclosures have increased, more companies are seeking third-party assurance over their ESG disclosures. However, unlike financial statement audits, which must be performed by licensed CPAs, in most jurisdictions are there are no regulatory constraints on who can express an opinion on ESG disclosures, and companies often utilize other types of professionals for ESG assurance. In Corporate decision-making: Why choose a CPA for your ESG assurance needs? (April 2023), the Center for Audit Quality and the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants discuss reasons why companies should choose a CPA as their ESG assurance provider.
The paper cites five benefits of engaging a CPA for third party assurance of ESG information:
Knowledge of a company’s business and business processes. “CPAs understand specific industries, market forces, and why certain ESG metrics are important financially as well as from a risk perspective. They have extensive experience in gaining an understanding of a company’s business processes and assessing and responding to risk, and they have expertise in evaluating internal systems and processes for collecting, measuring, analyzing, and reporting information.”
Adherence to recognized standards. US accounting firms usually apply the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ attestation standards. “The AICPA standards have been subjected to due process procedures, a transparent, public and reasoned process. The AICPA attestation standards are also publicly available at no cost, which allows users to evaluate the practitioner’s report against the requirements of the attestation standards.”
Commitment to quality control, professional and ethical standards. “CPAs comply with rigorous and widely recognized requirements for independence, firm systems of quality control, and subject matter competency.” Non-CPA firms “may not have the same rigorous credentialing, continued education, quality control, and oversight which could potentially impair independence and objectivity at the risk of public protection.”
Use of specialists. Accounting firms have access to specialists “with expertise in a wide variety of ESG information, including climate-related areas such as GHG emissions, and have proven experience incorporating those specialists to deliver seamless services.”
Trusted and valued by users of ESG reporting, including capital market participants. “Investors are increasingly focused on ESG information because they find such information helpful in understanding the resilience of a company’s long-term value-creation strategy, and the information enables them to manage their investments based on ESG risks and opportunities.”