A trip to the Amazon has proved that the trajectory of climate change may lie in the hands of chartered accountants’ reporting of businesses.
David Attenborough and Bear Grylls had nothing on a pair of Wits accountancy professors as they took to the Rio Madeira, the Amazon’s largest and most important tributary on a month-long trek.
Wits University’s accountancy professors Kurt Sartorius (73) and Wayne van Zijl (33), along with Sartorius’s son, Benn Sartorius (44), headed for Brazil on July 1, 2022 and finished with great effort by July 26, touching back down on South African soil on July 29. The aim of their 1 100km canoe journey was to raise awareness about the business relevance of climate change among corporates and raise funding for high impact research and reforestation initiatives.
“As accountants, we are the storytellers of a business performance and position,” said Van Zijl. Usually, businesses that are not environmentally friendly have large profit margins, compared to those who are more environmentally conscious, he added. This is because of the additional costs.
If these costs are not reported, society judges only by the profit. This disincentivises environmentally sustainable behavior if companies cannot report holistically. Accountants can prevent climate change by developing holistic reporting technology which would single out environmentally friendly companies. Raising funding for this development was one of the aims of the trip.
The senior Sartorius’s journey was a 50-year reunion with Rio Madeira, and a way to highlight the changes that occurred over half a century, as he re-paddled his 1972 route. Benn Sartorius said this is not their first adventure, “he and I have done many other trips together to Peru and elsewhere [but this one] was special.” Van Zijl saw it as an opportunity to finally join his revered lecturer from his university days on one of his “infamous professor Kurt Indiana Jones Sartorius” excursions.
The experience was indeed rewarding but also extremely “unpleasant” said Van Zijl. The younger Sartorius called the trip “brutal”. The team paddled through a tough terrain of low currents and extremely hot days, clocking between 50km to 60km daily through the two-kilometer-wide river.
When they were not on the water, they were on the muddy and insect infested land, where camp was set up by 6pm to avoid being attacked by mosquitos. Massive rainstorms, language barriers and scary characters along the river were all in a day’s work for this crew.
The trip was a collaborative initiative funded by Wits and the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants and formed part of Wits’s centenary campaign.
Professor Nirupa Padia, head of the school of accountancy told Wits Vuvuzela that, ”[The school] is extremely proud of this accomplishment by [its professors]. It is unheard of for accountants to be so adventurous and to go to this extent to make a difference on climate change and sustainability. It is inspiring for the staff and students to know that accountants too, can help save the planet.”
FEATURED IMAGE: Father and son have taken many trips together but this one was special. Van Zijl was ”amazed at the relationship”. Photos: Wayne van Zijl
- Wits Vuvuzela, Wits profs contribute to significant climate change publication, May 2020.
- Wits Vuvuzela, Accounting students first to profit from 2022 careers fairs, May 2022.
- Wits Vuvuzela, We can’t breathe! scream the youth, Oct 2019.