An accountant for 22+ years, Jim Dennis views expanding into Carbon Accounting a thrilling prospect not only for his career, but for the entire Newton & Henry firm and their long standing client list.
Sumday sat down with Jim to discuss what offering Carbon Accounting means to his firm, his clients, and what excites him about this new era of accounting.
Sumday: Tell me about your role and Newton & Henry’s offering.
Jim Dennis: From a services point of view we're reasonably diverse. We do traditional tax and accounting with eight bookkeepers or finance officers in house. We also do audit and assurance for both self-managed super funds and private companies.
I support clients with big decisions like business acquisition or disposal, capital expenditure, planning, succession planning, whatever they might need a hand with.
On the industry side, the mix is about 50% agriculture - family owned and corporate-owned farming, and the other 50% is really diverse, everything from service industries - medical practitioners, tradesmen, hospitality and retail. Property and developers make up a big part.
We don’t tie ourselves to an industry quite deliberately because it provides diversity for our staff and resilience as a business.
We've recommitted to our business being focused on training as well as client services. So that means we are currently focused on recruiting talent, looking to bring in six to eight new grads per year
Sumday: What first got you interested in Carbon Accounting?
JD: Myself and a few others in the team had started to see, especially in agriculture, a lot of the need for carbon accounting service creeping in.
Red Meats Updates is an annual event for red meat producers here in Tassie and we attend and support it every year.
I noticed the last couple of years there's been at least one carbon focused topic on the agenda, last year there were two, and this year there looks to be three. This acts as a barometer of where the focus is. Greenhams, a major meat processor on the northwest coast, have just launched a new brand which is triple bottom line oriented. One of the measures they ask you to meet is being able to prove you understand your CO2 equivalent emissions and be on a pathway to reduction.
Most of my clients are farmers or in the agricultural industry, and it’s no longer just about running a carbon credit project and the benefits of selling those credits. The market is changing and farmers want to understand the benefit of various opportunities, including insetting v selling credits. Some won’t even be running a carbon project necessarily, but there’s still going to be opportunities for those who are accounting for and reporting on emissions as markets continue to evolve. That is going to be attractive for buyers who are looking to sell sustainable products, especially as requirements around using the word “sustainable” continue to tighten up.
We’ve also seen clients in other service sectors or in hospitality that are aligning themselves with the green Tasmanian brand. If the ACCC comes knocking, we’ll need to be able to defend our position more than saying “we live in Tasmania and we use renewable energies to power our homes”. I mean, what exactly are the sources of your emissions and what steps have been taken to reduce those where possible? Having more substance and data around that is key.
I look forward to seeing people have their financial statements ready to talk to their bank manager, but they’ll also need to pull out their carbon assessment so that they can understand where they're at environmentally.
As an accountant, I love what Sumday has done with their business model. They think accountants are well placed to not just add up dollars, but add up another unit of measurement - CO2. We’re good at this - it’s what we do. We're good at taking the outcome of that, helping people understand it and then helping them make informed decisions.
"Sumday’s decision to decouple from the advisory side and focus on valuing accountants as the people to deliver this is a really clever business decision. Everyone in the firm who has done the Sumday course is very enthusiastic." - Jim Dennis
Sumday: How did you find the Sumday Carbon Accounting Course?
JD: I really like the mix of listening to Lindsay Ellis in the video modules versus reading the content. That’s how I like to learn.
I found the learning management system really nice to work through. You can see your progress, and being able to break the course up into a few different days was great. Having the practical questions at the end of each unit worked well.
Sumday: So what’s next for Newton & Henry?
JD: We’re currently developing a business plan around launching our carbon accounting service.
This morning I caught up with our recruiter to put a position description together for a carbon accounting manager. Their job will be to help us build out the rest of the plan, but also build out and run the team that will do that.
It's a great opportunity to bring someone new into the practice with a unique offer of a job. Whether it's a relocation or someone who's looking to change from traditional accounting, or even a traditional accountant looking to train in this.
We've decided to do a pilot to help roll this service out. We’ll do a carbon assessment of our firm first, then offer it as a free pilot to three other clients.
As a firm we’re aligned to doing high confidence reports. So we are looking to work with clients who aren’t just interested in ticking boxes. We want to work with people who are inclined to produce a high confidence report using less standard benchmarks.
Sumday: How many employees do you think you'll onboard for this initially?
JD: We’re looking to onboard a manager plus two others to work on this service, so 3 within the next twelve months.
Sumday: How important is it to be able to provide sustainability accounting services?
JD: It's a growing demand. It’s not necessarily a well-established demand but we are very happy to make the call a bit earlier and be ahead of the game competency wise. When I look at my clients, those that are the industry leaders will put this high on their agenda.
Sumday: How have you found working with Sumday?
JD: At a high level the business model is very clear. Sumday’s decision to decouple from the advisory side and focus on valuing accountants as the people to deliver this is a really clever business decision. Everyone in the firm who has done the Sumday course is very enthusiastic.
Sumday: What gets you excited about carbon accounting?
JD: As someone who has been an accountant for 22 years, I hope I’m in the middle of my career. Being able to do something completely different, by moving into the carbon accounting space, is actually one of the things that excites me the most. I was talking to the engineering manager at TimberLink. He's been in that role forever. The company gave him the sustainability reporting job and that's when it dawned on him. He said “it's been great for me. I've designed bloody sawmills and chippers my whole life and now I'm measuring carbon and emissions and reducing waste and it's given me a whole new lease on my career.”
What’s fundamental as a business is to be able to do quality work. We don't want to be up against competitors that think the quality of carbon accounting isn’t important and they charge thousands of dollars and do low confidence reports. But people don't understand what low confidence means at the moment.
We've got our clients right on our doorstep that all need this work, so we're going to focus initially on that.
I know we can offer someone the opportunity to run with this and they could easily build a partnership solely around carbon accounting,
Personally I'd love to take a year off my day to day and just do this, but for now we need to bring in someone who can do that. I'm happy to have the passion to support it.