Management consulting firm AT Kearney has announced that it has achieved carbon neutrality across its worldwide operations. In so doing it says that it is ‘fulfilling its first-in-the-industry 2007 pledge to be carbon neutral in 2010’.
For those who don’t know, AT Kearney has a long history but spent 10 years as part of EDS before a management buyout in 2006, just two years before EDS itself fell to HP. The company now has 1,700 consultants in 54 offices in 37 countries.
AT Kearney explains that it’s approach to carbon neutrality is built on four planks:
• measuring its carbon footprint
• instigating greener practices in offices
• implementing new models for client-service delivery
• investing in climate-protecting projects, i.e. offsets.
The firm points out that since it established its baseline metrics in 2007 it achieved a 5% reduction in emissions in 2008, a 14% reduction in 2009, and is aspiring to a 20% reduction in 2010.
The company has clearly made efforts to reduce emissions, but how carbon neutrality has been achieved deserves closer examination.
By my calculations the expectation is that by the end of 2010 emissions will be down by about a third on 2007 levels. But lets put this in context. The Kyoto protocol looked to developed nations to reduce emissions by around 8% by 2012 on 1990 levels. The UK and Europe are now also looking to reduce emissions by around 30% by 2020, based on 1990 figures.
In AT Kearney’s case more than 80% of emissions come from travel. That’s not likely to have changed much over the years and the extent of travel will be closely related to revenue. A quick search suggests that the company’s revenue in 2007 was about four times what it was in 1990. So the 35% reduction on 2007 means emissions are probably still 2-3 times higher than they were in 1990.
In AT Kearney’s case, becoming carbon neutral is primarily achieved by the purchasing of offsets. The firm talks of ‘climate-protecting projects meeting the highest international quality standards’. I’m sure they are, but not all offsets are achieving the savings they are intended to, there is a limited number of quality offset schemes to go round and they’re not the solution for addressing emissions in the economy as a whole.
The real emphasis needs to be on reducing emissions internally. AT Kearney points to travel as the main cause, but talks about its sophisticated tools for calculating emissions from travel, not about the use of alternatives, such as videoconferencing and teleconferencing, to reduce them. Cutting down on travel is a controversial issue in the consulting industry, but it will be necessary part of reducing emissions in the longer term.
Of course AT Kearney is not alone. Many consultancy organisations are having to address their emissions, a lot of them in the IT sector. The saving grace is that, as AT Kearney puts it; “The firm’s carbon neutrality is part of a broader initiative designed to deliver sustainable, environmentally sound results to A.T. Kearney’s global client base”. In a nutshell, consultancies need to be leading by example. But where they make most impact is probably in the advice they give to a broad base of corporate clients.