Article published by Julius Wenzig and colleagues on the engagement of controllers with sustainability

Sustainability controlling is a key area for advancing a sustainable transformation in companies in a systematic and fact-based manner. Empirical studies show, however, that controllers hardly deal with sustainability at all. In search of the reasons, Julius Wenzig, Anne-Katrin Nuzum and Prof. Dr. Stefan Schaltegger wrote an article that was recently published in the renowned journal Business Strategy & the Environment. The article is freely available in Germany via Wiley Verlag.
The article “Path dependence of accountants: why are they not involved in corporate sustainability?” examines the barriers of controllers to engage in sustainability and bases the analysis on the theory of path dependence. Data basis were semi-structured interviews with 33 controllers in Germany. The results of the analysis show three interconnected, self-reinforcing mechanisms: a strong focus on financial priorities and small-step improvements, and an alignment with top management expectations.

In detail, the interview results show that controllers mostly focus only on financial impacts, while sustainability aspects are only included to the extent that they are explicitly and directly linked to financial benefits. However, deeper analyses and sustainable business models are rarely developed in controlling. Adjusted expectations of top management also prevent sustainability from being addressed. This adaptation can be explained rationally, but past research has already shown that controllers often have difficulties interpreting expectations comprehensively. Accordingly, clear communication from management is essential. In addition, a strong specialization within the companies contributes to the fact that sustainability is usually not located in controlling but rather in environmental management, marketing or human resources. However, it is precisely the systematic and fact-based approach of controlling that can be beneficial for the sustainable development of companies.

Julius Wenzig works at corsus as a senior consultant and expert for sustainability measurability, sustainability strategies, assessment and reporting. He is an economist with a focus on sustainable development and works in various research projects, advises municipalities, companies, politics and non-governmental organizations.

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