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Getting boards on board with carbon neutrality

21 January 2021: In the summer of 2020, ICAEW’s board approved a roadmap for the organisation to go carbon neutral and by autumn became the first major professional body to declare carbon neutrality. But what does it take to get a board on board with action on climate change?

 There is nothing like sharing experience to accelerate progress and, when it comes to climate change, delay is not an option. In an ongoing series of articles, ICAEW will share insights into how it undertook its journey to carbon neutrality. 

Firstly, when ICAEW’s board considered the proposal to become carbon neutral, what were the key pillars that led to its unanimous endorsement of that strategy?

1 Create awareness of the climate crisis and educate

A pivotal moment for ICAEW was the screening of the World Wildlife Fund film Our Planet Our Business a couple of years back. ICAEW Council, the board and staff saw that film and understood its key messages, including that there is no prosperity on a dead planet. What was also clear was that the accounting profession can play a pivotal role in bringing about change. ICAEW is now the first major professional body to go carbon neutral, and hopefully professional bodies across all sectors will follow that lead.

Combined with the educational work of ICAEW’s sustainability team, the film did a lot of the heavy lifting when it came to creating awareness. It put climate change in terms that are easy to understand, showed how business can bring about change and demonstrated what happens to the planet when no one acts. 

The upshot was that the ICAEW board had very few questions about why it should put in place its carbon-neutral plans, and the decision to proceed was made at the board’s first reading of the roadmap.

It is also becoming clearer what happens to an organisation that does not take steps to improve its sustainability credentials: it will look less attractive to potential employees, be harder to build a supply chain and harder to view an organisation’s values positively. And let’s not forget that there will be legislation and regulations in the future that will penalise any organisation that has not put sustainable thinking into practice.

So it is important everyone knows the vision, and that it's clearly stated, especially for any organisation that acts in the public interest. ICAEW’s board felt there is no greater way to operate in the public interest than to address climate change and become carbon neutral.

2 Develop a cogent roadmap to carbon neutrality

Ideally, an organisation’s sustainability strategy should be aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Goal 13 itself is to take action on climate change to stop global warming, so this helps anchor conversations with boards. 

Any roadmap should be developed as bespoke to the organisation it applies to (and its operations), as well as highly researched, well-informed and above all honest. It also helps with engagement if the board actually enjoys reading it!

The ICAEW roadmap included both the pathway towards reducing internal carbon emissions and the investment needed to do that, as well as detail on the external projects we will support to offset the carbon we produce.

3 Provide comfort on assurance 

ICAEW went through a detailed process of appraising carbon offset brokers (and inter alia their offset projects) before it decided with which one to work. We received presentations from several potential brokers, prepared and completing checklists with key metrics even understanding their approach to combatting modern slavery in their supply chains. 

We chose one that also offers a dynamic reporting tool providing up to date project progress allowing us to track outcomes. On top of that, there is access for all staff to the supplier’s training academy.

Further resources:

  • ICAEW is committed to enabling members and the broader profession to respond to the challenges of climate change. Find resources, information and inspiration on the ICAEW Climate Hub.
  • People and Planet in the Accounts: a series of articles exploring how nature and society might be included in the financial statements.
  • World Wildlife Fund film Our Planet Our Business