Meet a Member: Jennifer Harrity-Cantero
Jennifer Harrity Cantero is well-known within the AAM Community as an expert on ESG. She’s an AAM Board Member, podcast host, former marketer turned practice leader, and mentor and friend to many within AAM. In this month’s Meet a Member, Jen talks to us about ESG and emerging trends.
Rachael: Hey AAM friends. I am here today with Jennifer Harrity Cantero for this month’s Meet a Member. This month, our topic is focusing on emerging trends in our industry. And I think Jen would be an expert in that area. She’s the first one I thought of when we started to talk about that topic. So let me take a second to introduce you to her, and then we will dive into some questions.
Jennifer Harrity Cantero has more than 20 years of business and marketing experience in her role as the founder and leader of the Sensiba Center for Sustainability at Sensiba San Filippo, a San Francisco Bay Area based Top 100 accounting firm. For ten years, Jen has led the marketing efforts at Sensiba. For five of those last few years, she simultaneously launched her firm’s sustainability and ESG practice, which is what we’re going to talk about today.
In 2020, she transitioned from her marketing role into full time leading her new client facing practice, helping companies move to a purpose driven, sustainable business model that includes social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. In addition to her sustainability practice, Jen hosts the Rebooting Capitalism podcast and serves on the AAM board. She was also honored in 2021 by the San Francisco Business Times as one of the 100 most influential women in business and again in 2022 as a forever influential woman. Quite the accolades there!
Jen and I have known each other for quite some time. She used to chair the AAM Minute as well. So today we want to talk about ESG since we’re talking about emerging trends. What do you think that marketers need to know about ESG?
Jennifer: ESG (or environmental, social and governance) is also referred to sometimes as sustainability. It’s something that is quickly going to become, if you think of a stool, the fourth leg of the accounting stool: tax, audit, consulting, sustainability.
And because of the regulations that are coming out right now from the SEC requiring climate-related disclosures, and soon they will be proposing human capital disclosures, because of where those disclosures are going to be listed on financial documents, that is quickly going to become an accounting firm’s responsibility to not only help their clients calculate that data, but then also list it on financial reports and audit that it is true. So it’s a whole new, wonderful opportunity for the accounting world. We’ve all been looking for different types of consulting-type practices that we can shift to because we’re shifting from, as we’ve all known, the compliance model to the consulting model over the past few years and looking for other opportunities on that consulting side.
This is a wonderful opportunity. It’s brand new. The organization IFRS, which is the global oversight for the accounting world, just established back in November of 2021 the ISSB, the International Sustainable Standards Board, to oversee the standards for the accounting world in sustainability. And they’re actually harmonizing several different frameworks within the sustainability world to pull together standards that the accounting world can look at and replicate all over the globe.
So it’s not a matter of IF this is coming, it’s only a matter of WHEN. And I can tell you, standards are coming down in spring from the federal level, and California state will probably have something this year as well. They just proposed something yesterday in the legislature for review. So very exciting stuff happening in this space. I think accounting is primed to jump in this opportunity and become the trusted advisers for non-financial data, not just the financial data.
Rachael: A couple of follow-up questions. I’m curious — I am in the center of the country. Are most of your clients on the coast with you or are you seeing it all across the U.S.?
Jennifer: I’m seeing it all over the world. You know, the EU’s ESG standards and regulations and the adoption of them have come out over the last couple of years. The very first financial reports with this data have been coming out. So we’re looking at that and figuring out where they were successful and where they kind of failed so we can learn for when that stuff hits here.
I have clients all over the U.S. because this is going to be a federal demand for disclosures. It’s going to hit everybody. Right now, it’s for public companies only. However, there is a going to be a large trickle-down effect to privately-held small- to medium-sized businesses, which I know is what most of the accounting firms within AAM serve.
So you’re going to get a lot of questions. If your folks are not talking about this with your clients, somebody else will be because it’s going to impact all businesses.
Rachael: So it’s not going to hit a certain size. It’s going to be everybody from giant to mom-and-pop.
Jennifer: Exactly. When you calculate your carbon footprint, there’s three different scopes. One and two are fairly easy to measure—things like how much fuel that your fleet vehicles use or the electricity you use when running your operations. Scope three is kind of the kitchen sink, and it includes supply chain.
So public companies are going to have to dig down into their supply chain to get this reporting data. And who’s in their supply chain? Small- or medium-sized, privately-held organizations. A lot of companies are in danger of losing those relationships if they don’t have those numbers. I know many of the clients that I work with, when they’re trying to go through upgrading their own sustainability and ESG initiatives internally, the first thing they look at is their vendors and what sort of accreditations those vendors have. And they are switching, and that’s big competition. So being able to help your clients, particularly those small mom and pop shops, be able to calculate and manage this data is going to be small for them, but it’s going to be able to give them a competitive advantage against their competitors because they’re going to have the data and their competitors might not.
Rachael: So we talked a little bit about the data management and the carbon footprint. What are some other things that your clients are asking for in terms of services?
Jennifer: Here’s an example. We had a client come to us that wanted to get into Nordstrom’s. And Nordstrom’s requires all of their companies that sell goods through them to have a CDP, a climate disclosure project, score, kind of like a letter grade. And they have to have a score of C or better. And this company, when they went through and tried to do it themselves, got a D minus. They were really sad, and came to us and said, “Hey, help us get this score up. What do we need to do to better our company so that we can get into Nordstrom’s?” We went through and helped them look at what they were doing and how to tell their story appropriately, because there’s a lot of things that companies don’t think about to talk about as part of their sustainability program.
Like accounting firms. We all have data security that we do. Well, our services, like our SOC-1, 2 and 3, that we do as well as our own internal data security. That’s part of sustainability — being good stewards of data. Telling that story is appropriate in that space. So going in and looking at the different things that the business does and helping them tell that story better — which is part of what marketers can do to help in this new era of services. Helping your clients articulate their sustainability story in a smart way that allows them to eliminate any risk that might come from making false claims or overexaggerated claims is one thing we can do. We can help them be able to get certain certifications, to calculate some of the numbers they had done in scopes one and two, but they needed scope three to be calculated in order to get a higher score. So we went in and helped them do that as well.
Clients come to us because consumers are asking and demanding that they have third-party verifications on certain things. So we help them go in and run their company through those frameworks. Or they are demanding science-based targets from some of their vendors and saying, “Hey, do you have a science-based targets initiative at your company?” They’re coming to us to help them figure out 1) what that is, and 2) how to go about it, and how to submit and tell that story. It’s looking at where you’re at, or reducing or making a bigger impact in some areas. And setting metrics. What metrics are material for their industry? Things like that.
Rachael: I’m sure I could have a ton of follow-up questions. But I think the biggest one is what are some resources that you can share for marketers who want to learn more about this and how it might impact their role?
Jennifer: There’s lots of great YouTube videos that basically just describe what sustainability is and how it’s evolved over the last 50 years. A lot of us just think of the definition from 50 years ago when we started the EPA and Earth Day and it was more environmental. It’s more social and economic and purposeful now. And a lot of different things fall under that. There’s really great videos on LinkedIn Learning that folks can go do to further understand. I know the AICPA and a lot of the state societies are quickly pulling together courses to help educate accountants on carbon accounting, calculating carbon footprints, and how to consult with firms or organizations by looking at their impact and moving that needle forward.
Rachael: Since our issue is on emerging trends, what are some other emerging trends that you’re following?
Jennifer: Europe usually is 2-3 years ahead of us in terms of almost everything. And so I’ve been watching their trends and seeing the uptick in false advertising lawsuits. It’s just starting here. There is a very popular coffee company that works with coffee pods (we’ll just say) that just settled a class action suit for $10 million for false advertising in terms of sustainability. That is something that marketers will need to think about for their clients. Help consult with clients, but then look at what statements your firm makes that you don’t have data to back up or that you don’t have a certification and really show that you walk the talk.
I know a lot of us are trying to make our accounting firms look diverse in order to attract more diverse talent. And that could be false advertising based on who works at your firm. So trying to make sure that you’re not falling into that false advertising area as well is a good thing to look at particularly as you’re thinking about starting a sustainability practice. I would highly recommend that your firm walks that talk first, and that being your first step, go through B Corp certification, do a SASB report, and do an impact IQ report.
As you’re working in this area, clients are going to ask you, “Well, what are you doing? What type of things have you run your firm through?” Start there so that you have a greater understanding of what those different frameworks ask and how they’re implemented within the organization so you can take that knowledge through to your clients.
Rachael: Very good point. Let’s move on to a few fun things I want to ask you. Rapid-fire, fun facts about Jen Cantero. So what is your favorite food?
Jennifer: Cheesy carbs. Anything that’s cheesy and carbs, hands down.
Rachael: Dream vacation?
Jennifer: Costa Rica.
Jennifer: CrossFit. I love Olympic lifting.
Rachael: You have any good PRs you can share?
Jennifer: Yeah, my deadlift is at, I want to say, 235 right now. I’m going for 300. I’m going for going for the big lift.
Rachael: Favorite holiday?
Rachael: Favorite book?
Jennifer: The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. Shonda Rhimes is, as you know, a TV writer. You might know her from Gray’s Anatomy or Scandal. She did a wonderful book that has the same wit and sense of humor throughout it about her life and how things changed when she started to say yes to more things. So if you’re somebody who is shy and wants to get out of your comfort zone, this book is really inspiring.
Rachael: One more… bucket list item?
Jennifer: I would love to go to Egypt. I’ve been big into Egyptology ever since I was little and to go see the pyramids in person would be amazing.
Rachael: It has been so fun catching up with you today, and I love what you have to say about ESG. Definitely an area where we can all learn a little bit more.
Basic 101 Videos on Sustainability & ESG:
AICPA Course (9 hours CPE)
ACCA Course (16 hours CPE) with more information on international regulations
Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting (FSA) Credential: https://www.sasb.org/fsa/
International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) (general sustainability courses and a sustainability credential):