Dr. Thomas Schneider is a Professor of Accounting at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, but his academic focus goes way beyond traditional theory. With 12 years of professional experience in management accounting, Dr. Schneider brings real-world expertise to the classroom and explores the relationships between accounting, social/environmental responsibility, and ethics.
“Accounting is not just debits and credits,” Dr. Schneider says. “I want to inspire students to someday move into these things. Thinking ethics instead of just aiming to maximize profit. Maximizing profit in the short term may not always be great in the long term.”
“I’m interested in how the market and companies recognize and value environmental liabilities – things like cleanup costs and corporate social responsibility. What type of mandatory reporting security regulators require, such as climate change risk, and how that affects the business model. How do you value non-monetary things? How do you value a greenhouse gas offset?”
Research is a focus at all universities, but Dr. Schneider says Ryerson allows faculty to explore innovative approaches and opportunities. “Research gets valued here. A lot of my research isn’t mainstream. Ryerson and TRSM have a better outlook. Other universities might force you to be part of the status quo. Ryerson is recognized as a place on the right trajectory and on the way up.”
One of his major research projects focuses on energy efficiency retrofits in the second-largest social housing project in Toronto, located in city’s core. His research looks at the Triple Bottom Line: “We look at how the government values things, how the accountants internally value things. The economic, which is the cost savings; the environmental, which is the energy efficiency – using less electricity, less natural gas, which means less greenhouse gas – all those good things come from that; and the social aspect: it’s better for your mental well-being to be in a better atmosphere. So even just replacing the windows in a high-rise apartment building will have social welfare benefits too.”
Another project looks at hydroelectric dams in British Columbia, where water rights have been granted to large corporations in perpetuity. “Here we are in 2015 looking at water rights owned by the largest mining company in the world. They now own the water rights for a huge portion of BC, effectively given to them in 1950. The entire First Nations community not only wasn’t compensated, they were flooded out and that society was effectively destroyed. If you’re the government, First Nations, or community as a whole, should we take a longer term view on the value of things? A corporation wants a payback in 10 or 20 years, but are we going to give something away that our grandchildren should own?”
Dr. Schneider’s experience in management accounting allows him to bring real-world issues into his classrooms. “I didn’t do my PhD until I was in my late 30s and didn’t become a professor until I was in my early 40s. So when I’m teaching ethics and accounting, I bring a lot of my own personal experience in dealing with ethical situations. There is no shortage of that to deal with. I’m bringing it into my ethics class because that’s my area of expertise. Too often in accounting, we teach courses and it has nothing to do with our research.”
While most Accounting students will go on to become Chartered Professional Accountants (CPAs), Dr. Schneider says that learning about ethics, including responsible investing and environmental screening, will better prepare them for the workplace.
“In my ethics course, students have to take a topic like executive compensation or other topics that have some social, ethical or social-environmental aspect to them. One of the best projects I had last year was looking at conflict minerals. A lot of the world’s supply of metals like tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold, which are in our smartphones, comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a lot of the mining has been done by forced labour. There are all sorts of human rights abuses from armed groups that generate money from selling these minerals. Now, as part of securities regulation, in order to be listed on the stock exchange, companies have to report on their use of these minerals and whether or not they come from these conflict areas. That was the best project I’ve seen.”
“Students pick up on things that are really new, exciting and topical. And it has to do with accounting because this is now mandatory reporting. It has to come out through these regulations. All regulatory filings that real accountants have to deal with.”
“I tell my students: Go get your accounting certification. But even if you’re not going to, you should know when your accountant tells you something. Accounting skills are valuable in the workplace. Anybody who is going to be involved in any way with a business. If you’re a professional in any area, you should have an understanding of how the books are kept.”
Ready to pursue an Accounting degree that goes beyond debits and credits to deal with real social issues? Check out the School of Accounting and Finance to learn more.
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