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UK accountancy profession takes next step towards Net Zero

Author: ICAEW

Published: 26 Apr 2022

26 April 2022: The Net Zero Accountancy Initiative is being launched today by a coalition of industry partners, marking a major step forward in the accountancy profession’s journey toward Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions (1). The Initiative puts the tools for action on the climate crisis into the hands of accountancy practices.
  • A profession-wide protocol that provides a clear and consistent path by which accountancy firms can reach Net Zero and a common standard against which they can be certified
  • A dedicated, sector-specific digital platform providing a complete solution for accountancy firms to calculate their carbon emissions, set targets, get tailored reduction plans, compensate for unavoidable emissions
  • Trusted Certification Marks for firms to communicate their success to clients, employees, and other stakeholders

Net Zero Now, the climate action platform, worked with Sage , the leader in accounting, financial, HR and payroll technology for small and mid-sized businesses, ICAEW, ACCA, AAT and the Good Business Charter to develop the Net Zero Accountancy Initiative. The Initiative makes it easier and more cost-effective for businesses of all sizes to take action on the climate crisis. 

The UK government has set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 (2). Net Zero Now estimates that accountancy practices in the UK are responsible for nearly half a million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year (3), equivalent to the emissions of over 100,000 cars being driven for a year (4). While big firms can afford specialist sustainability advice, 80% of all accountants in practice work for a small or medium-sized firm (5) and the process of going Net Zero is seen by most SMEs as being expensive, time-consuming and complex (6). 

At the heart of the initiative is the Net Zero Accountancy protocol which provides an industry standard for reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions, which sits alongside a Climate Action Toolkit providing useful guidance for practices on how to reduce emissions. These resources are freely available at www.netzeronow.org/accountants

 Following a robust development process, the protocol has been peer reviewed by a broad base of stakeholders, representing the sector and sustainability and climate experts, and is aligned with international climate science. This means that for the first time there is cross-industry consensus on net zero for the accountancy sector. Accountants who follow the protocol can either be certified Net Zero or have their Net Zero target date certified. 

With many client companies now setting emissions targets to include required reductions in their supply chain (7), working towards Net Zero is increasingly important for all accountancy practices to attract business. Data also shows that a majority of younger employees consider a company’s social and environmental commitments before deciding where to work (8), making Net Zero a critical recruitment tool. A pilot of the Initiative from November 2021 to January 2022 (9), with firms including Grunberg and Wilson Wright, found that: 

  • Compared to other sectors with a more complex carbon footprint, it’s relatively simple for accountancy firms to get to net zero
  • There is consistency across accountancy practices in the challenges they face going net zero, so a sector wide approach can be highly effective 
  • The key emissions sources for the profession are energy for offices, employee commuting and business travel and IT equipment

Neil Ross Russell, Managing Director of Net Zero Now, said: “The accountancy profession has an enormous role to play in the transition of our economy to net zero, both through reducing its own emissions and in guiding its clients through their own sustainability accounting requirements. Using the Net Zero Accountancy platform, it’s now simple and affordable for all accountancy practices to take action on their own greenhouse gas emissions. Developed in partnership with the industry, and underpinned by global climate science, the Net Zero Accountancy Initiative can transform the sector’s response to the climate crisis, delivering a host of business benefits along the way.”  

Richard Spencer, Director of Sustainability at ICAEW, said: “Widespread change on net zero can only be achieved through collective action from business, government, NGOs and civil society, and accountants can play a vital leadership role in this. At ICAEW we’ve already embarked on our decarbonisation journey and are here to support our members and firms by providing the necessary tools and guidance to do the same. We hope that the Net Zero Now Protocol will encourage our members to embark on their own net zero journeys.”

Glenn Collins, Head of Policy, Technical & Strategic Engagement of ACCA, said: “Achieving net zero needs careful and consistent measurement, accounting, reporting and verification – and accountants’ skills are vital to realising all this. ACCA has supported the protocol development to help practitioners on their journey.

“As a professional body with our own commitments to the UN SDGs - including achieving net zero - we know that our members are committed to contributing solutions in the public interest and achieving climate change targets. Being part of this prominent steering group will ensure a consistent and co-ordinated approach as reaching net zero cannot be done in silos – it needs integrated thinking, expertise and action.”

Adam Williamson, Head of Responsible Business and Policy, AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians), said: “Climate change is one of the biggest issues facing the world today and we all have a role in driving the effort to achieve net zero – both as individuals and organisations. AAT works closely with partners such as The Prince of Wales's Accounting for Sustainability Project (A4S) Accounting Bodies Network to raise awareness and provide guidance. From an organisational perspective AAT are moving to a new energy efficient building in Canary Wharf this spring, and will continue our efforts to encourage government to take further action to reach the net zero goal.

“We are also working closely with our members to help them to engage in this crucial collective effort, which we know can seem daunting to many small businesses. The Net Zero Now Protocol provides an affordable, practical route for SMEs to achieve this, and we would encourage our members to explore the free Protocol and Climate Action Playbook and how they can help them to reach their net zero goals.”

Paul Struthers, EVP and Managing Director, UK & Ireland at Sage, said: “Sage is showing up and standing with the millions of small and medium size businesses we serve around the world by tackling the big challenges of our time. We want to create partnerships that help knock down the barriers businesses face to operate in a more sustainable way. We know through our partnership with Net Zero Now we are helping practices gain access to great insight and support that will enable them to start their sustainability journey, using technology and insight to drive forward their net zero ambitions.”

Jenny Herrera, CEO, Good Business Charter, said: “Tackling the climate crisis needs to be a collaborative effort including organisations of all sizes.  The Good Business Charter is a deeply practical accreditation. We want to ensure our current and potential members, especially the smaller ones with fewer resources to work on this, are connected to effective ways they can meet net zero. We have a good number of professional services firms and we believe working on a protocol that takes their specific industry and sets out tangible ways to achieve net zero will be such a valuable tool.”


Notes to editors:

  1. Deloitte defines net zero as: ‘Essentially, we reach net zero when the amount of carbon dioxide we add is no more than the amount taken away. These goals guide us to significantly reduce our absolute emissions and find ways to sequester any residual carbon emissions - so there’s no net increase in CO2’.  According to the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi)  to reach a state of net zero emissions for companies implies two conditions:
    a. To achieve a scale of value-chain emission reductions consistent with the depth of abatement achieved in pathways that limit warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot and;
    b. To neutralise the impact of any source of residual emissions that remains unfeasible to be eliminated by permanently removing an equivalent amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
  2. UK enshrines new target in law to slash emissions by 78% by 2035 - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
  3. Net Zero Now Accountancy Initiative 
  4. Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator | US EPA
  5. Net Zero Now Accountancy Initiative 
  6. Broadway Initiative SMALL BUSINESS ADVICE ON NET ZERO, April 2021
  7. Of the 239 companies that signed up to the Science Based Targets Initiative in 2020, 94 percent included commitments to reduce supplier emissions (McKinsey & Co, June 21) 
  8. 76% of millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments before deciding where to work, (Carbon Intelligence, Oct 19)
  9. Net Zero Accountancy Initiative pilot data is available on request.