Accountants ditch number crunching for paddles  

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. 

Wits professors Kurt Sartorius and Wayne van Zijl together with Benn Sartorius took a 1 100km trip down the Rio Madeira to try bring awareness and raise funds for climate change initiatives. Photo: Wayne van Zijl

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


Slice of life: The pressing issues of climate change




Today we find ourselves stuck in a tug of war with economic challenges and political disputes. Where one could feel overwhelmed just trying to keep afloat while junk status is a threat to our country. Yet one forgets that there are other factors, such as climate change, that should wave a red flag other than political and economic problems.
We naturally adapt to the climate we live in, but what happens if the changes to our climate take place quicker than we can keep up?

Climate experts revealed that February was documented as one of the hottest months ever recorded and the effects of climate change are being felt abroad and close to home. Scientists believe the unusual heat is a combination of El Niño climate patterns and man-made global warming.
In South Africa we have experienced minimal rainfall and intense heatwaves, causing crops and livestock to die. Due to the intense heat, water levels dropped and reservoirs evaporated causing water shortage in parts of the country. As a result water restrictions were put in place and food prices increased, all having a ripple effect on our economy and our daily lives.
Though not as important as increasing food prices, the effect can be seen in recreation as well.
In December I went with a group of friends to Hartbeespoort Dam for the weekend hoping to go boating. However, due to the lack of rain the water had dropped so much that we were unable to launch the boat.
Towards the beginning of March, the complete opposite happened. Hartbeespoort Dam had received so much rain that the dam had flooded, forcing the authorities to open all the sluice gates.
A classmate whose grandfather owns a farm in the Free State told me that her grandfather used his dying crops as cattle feed and that they had to sell some of their cattle as they did not have enough water for all of them.
My brother, along with his friends, went on multiple water runs to Steynsrus and Virginia in the Free State in February and March as part of the Education and Care Horse Outreach (ECHO) programme. This is a group of concerned horse lovers that responded to the call for water and food in the drought-stricken Free State.
I strongly believe that individuals should care about the earth. I’m no tree hugger if that’s what you’re thinking, but the fate of the one and only planet we call home is uncertain if we do not address the challenges we face.
Carbon dioxide and greenhouse gasses occur naturally, trapping heat inside the atmosphere and keeping the earth’s climate stable. However, due to higher amounts of greenhouse gasses being released the earth’s temperature is rising.
According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, the Arctic’s ice cap has shrunk by nearly a third since 1979 and this winter’s sea ice is roughly a million square kilometres less than its average for this time of year.
Friday April 22 is Earth Day, which aims to encourage people across the world to be more environmentally friendly. This might mean increasing the amount they recycle, volunteering in local events, planting a tree, reducing their energy consumption or simply just spreading the word

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Five things to do this Earth Day Wits Vuvuzela, April 2016