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Collaboration and shared experience key to tackling climate change

Author: Caroline Kearns and Richard Spencer

Published: 01 Oct 2020

Following ICAEW’s commitment to carbon neutrality, Caroline Kearns and Richard Spencer discuss ICAEW’s ambitions and the crucial importance of collaboration in delivering carbon reductions.

ICAEW has become the first major professional body to announce its carbon neutrality. It is now offsetting all its emissions and has committed to shrinking its carbon footprint by 40% by 2030. 

The project was led by Caroline Kearns, Strategic and Program Manager to ICAEW’s Chief Operating Officer, in a move that demonstrates change has to be embedded at the heart of day-to-day operations and every team and individual has their part to play.

Kearns says: “This 10-year initiative is first and foremost about our commitment to internal action to decarbonise. Internal actions since 2015 have reduced our footprint by 20% and we are continuing this downward trajectory. 

“ICAEW’s Board hasn’t simply pledged to offset all emissions up to 2030 – we have a sophisticated strategy in place. It includes a detailed investment plan of additional individual projects calibrated to the operational areas of the business, with identification of how much carbon each one will save. Everyone will be able to play their part.”

Richard Spencer, Director of ICAEW Technical Thought Leadership, heads up the organisation’s sustainability team and explains: “This project is located within the mainstream running of the business. It’s not being driven by the sustainability department and that's very important. The key message of our Finance for the Future Awards is that anything like this needs to be brought into the main guts of the business.”

First steps

Before ICAEW could start identifying carbon-saving projects, the first step was to identify and understand the organisation’s total carbon footprint and decide the level of ambition for milestone reduction targets. 

External support was vital, confirms Kearns. “To do this exercise and do it right, it had to be led by carbon reduction consultants familiar with our operations, such as our current energy sources, our boilers and with the components of our footprint. We decided to use the consultants who are already responsible for the annual measurement of our GHG emissions” she says. 

Spencer agrees: “Bringing in a third party builds trust in the process. It shows that we've got a second pair of eyes on this.”

Sustainability consultants Verco have been measuring ICAEW’s carbon footprint annually since 2015 and started this project by looking at its scope. Early on, they surveyed ICAEW’s employees about their commute and found that this accounted for 29% of ICAEW’s emissions.

“Our consultancy told us that not many organisations include these emissions in their targets, but ICAEW’s senior management decided to include them in our footprint,” explains Kearns. “We believe we are responsible for the emissions created by our employees and volunteers getting into our offices and we wanted to be really ambitious with this initiative.”

ICAEW has pledged to reduce overseas travel and provide incentives for electric vehicles for those who drive for work, but the team acknowledges that this is an area that cannot be tackled without collaboration. “In order for our staff travel footprint to reduce then somebody else, such as transport providers, needs to do something, but we, of course, will work with them to achieve that,” says Spencer.

Long-term actions

COVID-19 has, of course, had a dramatic impact on commuting in the short term, but in the long term, there will be a range of actions needed. This will include the ability to choose low-carbon commuting options. Spencer says: “We need local authorities, particularly London, to bring in carbon-free travel, but ultimately this will require huge infrastructure changes.”

To be part of the broader conversation, ICAEW has joined London’s Climate Change Partnership, which brings together public, private and community-based organisations to prepare and adapt for climate change. The partnership works to inform policy with local evidence, as well as sharing information on projects from individual members.

While zero-carbon commuting options are limited, ICAEW is looking to external partners to provide ways to offset these emissions alongside the rest of its footprint. Kearns explains: “We will be supporting a number of external projects that generate carbon savings internationally. In identifying these projects we are ensuring they align with many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which ICAEW has been working to incorporate into our operational plan since 2016. 

“In committing to carbon neutrality, ICAEW is supporting the 13th goal, which is ‘Climate Action’. The external projects we invest in are all taking tangible action against a number of the other SDGs too, she says.

The power of collaboration

In a final nod to the power of collaboration, ICAEW’s Board and CEO, Michael Izza, is committed to sharing a case study of the project and its journey over the next 10 years. 

“As well as being an illustration of how we've approached the project, we want to be helpful and instructive,” explains Kearns. “We want to act as an example for members and others, and while as a professional body we’re obviously not like other organisations, everybody will follow a similar process in their efforts to tackle climate change.” 

Since ICAEW’s carbon neutrality announcement, it has already been asked to share with and appraise the National Audit Office on its roadmap and asked to address the more than 100 professional bodies that make up the Professional Associations Research Network.

The case study won’t just focus on what goes well, Spencer adds. “We're happy to be a worked example, rather than a tidal wave of good news. We think it’s important to talk about what didn’t quite work alongside the successes. This gives everybody else permission to try things.”

In February 2020, as one of the participants in the Accounting For Sustainability Project, ICAEW called for the accountancy profession to act now to help the organisations they work with respond to climate change. By offsetting all its carbon emissions, setting reduction targets of 40% and sharing learnings wherever possible, ICAEW is demonstrating how seriously it is taking sustainability, says Spencer.

“ICAEW isn’t simply signing a letter, we are walking the walk,” he says. “But the journey to zero carbon is something that no organisation, government or network can do alone. It is an ambition that requires all of us to play our part. It’s a joint endeavour.”

Are you professionally ready to mitigate the risk and maximise the opportunity of climate change? Find resources, information and inspiration on the ICAEW Climate Hub.