Consulting firms that aim to reduce their carbon emissions have taken a harder look at how they run their offices and delivery services.
While hardly a smokestack industry, consultancies nevertheless contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Reliance on air travel for face-to-face client meetings, a traditional component of consulting gigs, provides one prominent example. Consultancies, however, also generate electronic waste in the form of laptops, servers and other devices. Activities such as cloud computing and software development further expand their carbon footprints. Consultants' offices, meanwhile, consume energy for heating and cooling.
The task for consulting firms: Examine operations top to bottom and look for ways to improve. It's all about doing their bit to advance sustainability in technology industry circles. While the cost of sustainability has kept some organizations on the sidelines, IT and business advisors are adopting green practices to align with employee and customer values.
"When we think about the different opportunities, we think holistically, all the work approaches, all the sorts of ways we can unpack our business model and our operations," said Elise Zelechowski, global head of diversity, equity and inclusion, sustainability and social change at Thoughtworks, a technology consultancy based in Chicago.
Sustainability in technology industry firms
Consultancies use various standards, frameworks and cloud assessment tools for sizing up their carbon emissions. The GHG Protocol Corporate Standard, however, directly influences many of the industry's sustainability efforts.
The GHG Protocol Corporate Standard divides emissions into three categories, or scopes. Scope 1 emissions come from sources directly under an organization's direct control or ownership -- heating systems within buildings or vehicle fleets, for example. Indirect scope 2 emissions stem from electricity, heating and cooling purchased from a utility. And scope 3 emissions are those generated along the stream of commerce -- supply chain partners, for instance.
West Monroe Partners has been working on areas such as office heating, air conditioning and lighting, which fall within scope 1 and scope 2 emissions, said David South, senior principal of energy and utilities at the Chicago-based business and technology consultancy. The company follows Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, he added. LEED standards, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, cover the design construction and ongoing operation of green buildings.
Scope 3 includes air travel. West Monroe uses platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to communicate virtually with clients and minimize travel, South said, who acknowledged air travel is difficult to eliminate all together. But airlines that operate specific flights using sustainable aviation fuel provide another opportunity to reduce emissions.
"That will minimize the footprint for flights you need to take," South said.
Accenture, for its part, has set a 2025 target for cutting its scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions by 65%. The company reduced those emissions by 39% as of its 2020 fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2020. The company in FY 2020 exceeded its target of trimming scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions per unit of revenue by 40%, achieving a 45% reduction, according to Sanjay Podder, managing director and technology sustainability innovation lead at Accenture.
Accenture also examines its supply chain. By 2025, the company wants 90% of its key suppliers to disclose their targets and actions for reducing emissions. The company estimates 75% of its scope 3 emissions come from those suppliers. Accenture also seeks to obtain 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2023, having hit the 50% mark in FY 2021.
To address any remaining emissions, Accenture will invest in "nature-based carbon removal" technologies, Podder said. Accenture has a consulting relationship with Climeworks, a Swiss company that develops technology for removing carbon from the air but has yet to invest in the company.
Accenture's sustainability initiatives aim for net-zero emissions by 2025, Podder added.
Another sustainability focus for consultancies: the decarbonation of software development. Accenture and Thoughtworks were among the companies launching the Green Software Foundation in May 2021. The foundation's projects include developing a methodology for calculating a software system's rate of carbon emissions. The group's overarching goal is to make sustainability a priority for software development teams, alongside other parameters such as performance, cost and security.
"What are the considerations you might take into account when designing and developing software?" is how Zelechowski framed the green software issue.
Joe CamilleriCEO, Ethos Sustainability Solutions
Practicing what you teach
Consultancies, which have begun to offer their clients sustainability consulting services, would fail the credibility test without their own programs for carbon reduction. But from a business development standpoint, the firms' efforts do more than establish their bona fides with prospective clients. The ability to demonstrate sustainability approaches and tools becomes a sales and marketing asset. Partners have applied the sell-what-you-use approach in other fields, such as cloud computing.
Joe Camilleri, co-founder and CEO at Ethos Sustainability Solutions, a consulting firm based in Philadelphia, said demonstrating its sustainability tool in its own operations "has a very convincing effect when it comes to marketing our software." The company offers a product that scores clients' sustainability performance across 17 areas.
Pointing to actual results also helps. "Clients are interested to see how our sustainability performance changed over time based on the projects we implemented," Camilleri said.
Customers also want to learn what happens when an organization fails to hit the mark. Fear of missing targets plays a role in holding back companies from pursuing strong, public sustainability plans, Camilleri said.
"We use our own experience to show that it is not only OK to miss targets, but that it should be expected and planned for," he noted.