The climate crisis is a pressing issue that we all must face. Without swift action more places will feel the impacts of extreme weather, impacts which will permanently change how people live.
At ICAEW we recognise the urgency of the situation – and we have taken action. We were proud to be the first professional body to go carbon neutral, in the autumn of 2020. But our journey is ongoing, and as we consider next steps we are keen to share the things we’ve learnt with other organisations.
Operationally, we have been working towards carbon neutrality for around five years and have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 20% since 2015. In July 2020 we set out a roadmap for the Institute to go fully carbon neutral, stretching to the year 2030 and beyond, as we recognise that achieving this will be a long-term process.
In 2015 we started the annual process of measuring our greenhouse gas emissions, which has helped identify our hotspots and the key areas for improvement. Measurement has been an essential part of our move to carbon neutrality, as it provided a benchmark, showed us where the bulk of our emissions came from and where the most effective action could be taken. It’s also helped us understand whether the actions we have taken to reduce our carbon emissions have worked or if we need to make changes.
With measurement complete, we were able to set out in our roadmap the actions – internally and externally – that we would undertake to reduce our carbon footprint over several years.
For example, we’ve removed gas-based kitchens in our headquarters and improved lighting and energy efficient equipment, our data centre will move to the cloud, and we’re identifying different ways to provide heating and hot water. We also chose to balance the impact of our carbon footprint through the purchase of carbon offsets, which should be purchased carefully to ensure they have the desired effect that they advertise. ICAEW’s were selected through a methodical process with a high-quality offset broker and comply with global standards.
The offsets we selected align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and contribute to supporting projects that benefit local communities in Cambodia, Kenya and Vietnam. The project in Cambodia helps provide clean drinking water, with a treatment scheme that means locals will no longer need to cut down trees and light carbon emitting fires to boil contaminated water. Instead, filtration and purification systems provide safe drinking water and protect against illness. In Vietnam our offset project provides biogas plants, while in Kenya it helps with forest and wildlife corridor protection.
Purchasing carbon offsets is not the end of our strategy. We recognise the need to reduce our emissions internally. Due to the pandemic lockdowns our carbon footprint has fallen by approximately two-thirds and with changes to our employee commuting patterns we do not expect to return to pre-pandemic levels for the foreseeable future. However, the latest measurement we carried out found that in 2020/21 71% of our greenhouse gas emissions came from our business premises, 24% came from business trips and travel, and 5% came from employee commuting.
To reduce those percentages, we’ve introduced carbon-reducing initiatives at our offices. We’ve increased recycling and reduced the amount of waste we send to landfill, and introduced LED lighting in our London headquarters which resulted in a 60% reduction in power consumption. And even before COVID-19 restrictions were implemented we had expanded our remote-working capabilities to decrease the need for business travel.
ICAEW became carbon neutral in autumn 2020, the first major professional body in the world to do so, but we will continue to take steps to reduce our emissions wherever we can. We believe that carbon neutrality should not be the sole goal, and so we’re aiming to reach net zero, where we longer add to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We have committed to reaching net zero by 2050, along with other global accountancy bodies, and over the next 12 months we will be developing a roadmap to achieve this milestone.
Chartered accountants should always work in the public interest, and this includes becoming more sustainable and joining the fight against climate change. It’s in all our interests to protect the planet, and we will continue to find ways to do so. By showing leadership in this area, and sharing our own carbon neutral journey, we hope to inspire other organisations to do the same.
Dabinder Hutchinson is Chief Financial Officer at ICAEW