Environmental consciousness: green is the new black

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It’s long overdue and some organisations are well ahead of others having
bitten the bullet years ago before it was fashionable to become environmentally
conscious in their business activities.

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But this year, undoubtedly, is the first year that business has really sat
up, paid attention to consumers’ concerns and become vocal about what they’re
doing to reduce their carbon footprint and be viewed as eco-warriers.

It’s therefore quite shocking that of the
top 50 firms in this
year’s Accountancy Age annual survey only 11 firms say they have an
official company-wide policy on reducing their carbon footprint. This is
worrying given the concerted push by business to reduce their impact on the
physical environment.

Granted, accountancy firms in comparison to the likes of oil and gas or
construction companies have a much smaller impact on the environment. Still,
there’s no room for complacency. Firms use paper, electricity and water, not to
mention all forms of transport, some more damaging than others. And in many
senses the firms should be leading the way.

Time to face facts

If the current furore isn’t enough to persuade accountancy firms to do their
bit, then one pertinent statistic from the
Carbon Trust should be
enough to crystallise their thoughts: 40% of carbon emissions in the UK are
produced by business matter. As the Trust puts it: ‘A clear imperative for any
company to take action now to cut carbon.’

The biggest firms with arguably the most to lose in terms of reputational
damage have a carbon reduction policy in place and are happy to spout effusively
about the topic.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, for example, reports annually on its environmental
targets. The firm, like many other businesses, is working with the Carbon Trust
– a government-backed organisation that helps business and the public sector cut
carbon emissions – to develop an emissions reduction plan.

It will offset the total remaining emissions from its office energy
consumption and business travel and source carbon credits sufficient to offset
its greenhouse gas emissions.

Deloitte, the second biggest firm in the UK, is surprisingly less detailed in
its response to our Top 50 survey, stating it has a policy to reduce its
footprint, using measures such as renewable energy and a charge card to offset
carbon emissions from travel.

Initially offsetting was seen as a brilliant panacea. It allowed those in
industrialised nations to forge ahead with their consumer lifestyles while
simultaneously appeasing their consciences with the happy thought that they are
building energy efficient villages in remote parts of India.


Many environmentalists reject the idea of offsetting as a cop-out to real
measures, but current consensus among governments and organisations like the
Carbon Trust is that it’s effective as a final measure, but only after
exhausting all other avenues of carbon reduction.

KPMG, the leader among the Big Four with its green credentials, focuses as
much on becoming carbon neutral through improved buildings maintenance, as other
initiatives such as alternatives to business travel.

The firm has also started work on its new headquarters in Canary Wharf that
will be finished by 2009 and is intended to surpass current environmental
building requirements.

Called to account

‘In future, companies will be expected to account for their carbon footprints
in their annual reports. KPMG provides guidance and advice on how best to deal
with the issue of carbon emissions. Clearly, if we are providing such advice,
KPMG needs to ensure it has its own house in order,’ the firm says.

Among the mid-tier, BDO, Mazars and Kingston Smith stand out with policy
commitments to measure their environmental performance and set targets for
reducing the impact. Aside from a few of the smaller firms in the Top 50, few
made any comment indicating that either they are doing nothing, or there is no
clear formal policy.

Whatever the situation, firms can no longer use the excuse that they are
low-impacting on the environment, as every measure, however small, helps. If
their consciences aren’t hurting then they can at least think of the business
opportunity is provides. How can you rightly stand in front of your client to do
a environmental audit or advise on how to report if you aren’t practising what
you preach?

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