12/15/2010 02:02 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

STEM Is Fundamental to 'Green' Accounting

As a manager in Ernst & Young's Climate Change and Sustainability Services, I help clients identify, secure and comply with government incentives that encourage the use of renewable energy or improvements in energy efficiency. My interest in connecting business and environmental sustainability evolved during my career at Ernst & Young, as I realized the importance of sustainability strategies to a wide variety of businesses. But it is my recent volunteer experiences that have increased my appreciation of how understanding the science behind climate change and environmental sustainability enhances my ability to address the related business issues. Comprehension of the broader "STEM" issues -- science, technology, engineering and math --allows me to provide more in-depth and effective counsel to my clients on their sustainability strategies.

For example, I recently helped a large retailer capture a tax deduction for having energy efficient lighting installed. Developing an understanding of modern lighting technologies, such as LEDs, was essential to allow me to model the reduction in energy usage as a result of installing these fixtures. Because I understood the base technology, I was able to speak the same language as the engineers on the team and help them see how the scenarios met their goals, as well as the goals of tax directors, CFOs and CSOs (Chief Sustainability Officers). Understanding engineering and technology is also essential when we counsel clients in the clean-tech market who are developing or investing in renewable energies, such as solar or wind energy.

Earlier this year, I was part of a team of Ernst & Young professionals who volunteered with the Earthwatch Institute to help coffee farmers at Coope Tarrazu in Costa Rica adopt more sustainable farming practices. In the mornings, we were part of a field research project. The eight of us counted honeybees and the number of flowering coffee plants so we could determine their effect on the pollination of coffee plants and therefore the increase in yields. In the afternoons, we analyzed data that showed how the overuse of pesticides and herbicides could decrease the yields of coffee beans and helped the co-op's business managers compare different business incentives.

It was very rewarding to help Coope Tarrazu see the direct connection between sustainable farming practices and profitability. With all my clients, I strive to help them understand how the specific projects I work on contribute to their broader response to climate change.