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Bishop Fleming shares its 12-year carbon reduction story

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 25 Nov 2022

Ewan McClymont, Business Development Director at Bishop Fleming, outlines how the chartered accountancy firm has identified scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions through Net Zero Now.

Bishop Fleming is about two thirds of the way to formulating a carbon reduction battle plan. It has worked with Net Zero Now to identify its carbon footprint for scopes 1 and 2. Work on scope 3 is nearing completion.

The chartered accountancy firm has been measuring its utilisation of three key metrics for nearly 12 years: kWh electricity and gas, business mileage and paper.

“We’ve made some great strides in these areas. For instance, our overall use of paper is down 87.6% and average reams per employee down 91% on our 2012 base year,” says Ewan McClymont, Business Development Director at Bishop Fleming. “Our kWh was down by 18.5% last year against 2012 despite having increased our headcount by 40% in the same period, and business mileage in 2021 was reduced by 74% per employee (albeit in partial lockdown conditions).”

The firm then joined Business in the Community (BITC) in June 2021 as part of a focus on responsible business. “Having undertaken an intensive benchmarking exercise with them that covered three core areas – healthy business, healthy communities and healthy environment – we are currently calculating our overall carbon footprint for the first time,” McClymont says.

This includes independent verification with Net Zero Now and a wholesale review of its operating practices to commit to a sustainable greenhouse gas reduction plan.

Constructing the net-zero blueprint

Under an overall responsible business framework, it’s important for the firm to ensure it understands its own carbon utilisation first to be able to advise clients.

“This is where The Net Zero Accountancy Protocol, developed by Net Zero Now and ICAEW, provided an ideal platform for us to undertake the first stage of that journey,” McClymont says. “We also need sufficiently trained staff who understand how sustainability works and the impact it has on profitability.”

Ultimately, Bishop Fleming should be able to identify cost savings through carbon reduction, or at least offset any investment through these savings. McClymont noted that these are conversations the firm looks forward to having with clients from a position of having done it already.

Working through the three scopes

The firm has identified its scopes 1 and 2 carbon footprint and is currently focusing on the more difficult scope 3 data. McClymont says: “The process is making us question our current procurement practices in certain areas, as well as operational processes.”

Once Bishop Fleming has completed scope 3, it will agree on a carbon reduction programme that focuses on the next two years. This will enable the business to fully understand where the most significant gains can be achieved before any longer-term offsetting plans are established.

“We are very much approaching this on a step-by-step basis – first understand our current position, set credible targets, agree and implement actions, then review and report,” McClymont says.

Lessons learned from the Net Zero Now process

“Not knowing what you don’t know is quite daunting and can be a good reason not to start,” says McClymont. “Take advice as early as possible, attend events and webinars (most are free), read articles and get up to speed on the Net Zero carbon language and jargon as soon as possible.”

Start with measuring scopes 1 and 2, McClymont advises – information on electricity, gas, owned vehicle fleet and air conditioning is generally easy to find. With scope 3, work out what is material to the business and map out where the data might be found.

“You can’t mark your own homework, so find a verification partner early and take their advice. Don’t view the exercise as simply buying carbon credits through tree planting and beware of greenwashing.”

Businesses should focus on carbon reduction over a sustainable three-to-five-year time period and only think of offsetting when there is at least a 50% baseline reduction achieved. This helps give credibility to the process.

What the firm wished they had known

It was surprising to find out how much data already existed somewhere in the firm’s management information systems, says McClymont. “The trick was agreeing an ‘inventory’ of material areas to measure in scope 3 and tracking them down.”

While it’s been a lot of hours and hard work, the firm feels the exercise so far has been incredibly rewarding and, if anything, they wish they had started it sooner.

Overall, the journey is helping Bishop Fleming be much more accountable for its carbon, be more transparent in its actions and it enables the company to engage with two major stakeholder groups (staff and clients) in a more proactive way.

Pam Tuckett, Healthy Environment Lead Partner, says: “It is great to be able to see my passion for the environment being driven forward by Bishop Fleming. It’s an important issue for many of our clients and staff and we can now hopefully demonstrate its significance to the firm as well.”

This short film explains why addressing climate change is of such strategic importance to ICAEW members.

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