Decarbonization Guides

From Obligation to Opportunity: Mastering Carbon Management in Professional Services

June 5, 2024

In an era where climate change is no longer an abstract concept but a stark reality, businesses are being called upon to take action. For professional services companies, embracing this imperative is not just an ethical choice; it's a strategic necessity. Some are already leading the way, reaping significant benefits, while others lag.

In a recent webinar co-hosted by Clarasight and Green Project Technologies, “Decoding Climate Reporting and Reduction for Professional Services Companies, we shared the collective lessons learned from working with more than 200 professional services organizations that have turned their carbon management and sustainability programs into a competitive advantage.

This blog post highlights the key takeaways from the webinar. The webinar’s recording can be watched on-demand for those hungry for more in-depth insights.

The Power Duo of Carbon Management

Carbon management is a dynamic duo consisting of carbon accounting and decarbonization. These two components serve different but complementary goals.

Carbon Accounting focuses on accurate data collection, emissions calculations, and auditable processes for reporting. It involves collecting historical data and using rigorous, auditable processes to account for emissions. It’s all about knowing your carbon footprint inside out.

Decarbonization is about making progress towards emissions targets. It usually requires enriching carbon accounting data with business context, analyzing it to find opportunities, and creating a plan to hit your targets. Decarbonization is about reducing emissions, not just offsetting them.

While carbon accounting and decarbonization goals differ, implementing them in a coordinated fashion yields significant efficiencies.

Four Best Practices for Achieving Decarbonization

A 2022 Accenture study shows that 93% of companies must catch up to meet their decarbonization targets. Recognizing what the remaining 7% are doing right can help guide efforts toward sustainability goals.

Here are the four best practices we’ve seen best-in-class companies adopt:

1. Prioritize client impact and internal readiness.

  • Prioritize delivery of value to clients.
  • Communicate your rollout strategy to maximize adoption and engagement internally and with clients.
  • Build ESG or sustainability-driven practices that support client’s goals.
  • Recognizing that as a service provider, you’re part of your clients’ Scope 3 emissions, so delivering long-term value requires ensuring your decisions align with their targets.
  • Practice what you preach and empower decision-makers to drive the sustainability agenda.

2. Start with high-impact, high-visibility decarbonization initiatives.

In professional services, commuting and business travel are critical drivers of business value and company emissions. Client requests and senior leader expectations typically set expectations around travel. We’ve found that the definition of ‘necessary’ and ‘good travel’ varies based on client type, project type, and region. Business travel, work-from-home, and commuting are often vital categories to focus your decarbonization efforts on, with much of the necessary data and insights already existing but living in silos. Beginning with achieving visible, quick wins in these areas helps surface a more granular footprint and allows you to provide clients with the level of specificity they desire.

3. Focus on science-based targets before setting policies.

Policies are a poor indicator of success in achieving decarbonization goals for two primary reasons:

  1. Policies are incredibly broad-based and often deployed in a one-size-fits-all approach, and
  2. Policies are often top-down and not catered to individual teams, making employees feel unheard.

Conversely, targets are more effective at driving sustainability success because they enable companies to build bespoke, customized understandings of where employees, teams, and functions are in their journey and then meet them with a specific set of relevant targets. By defining targets for a group of individuals to work towards and tracking the progress in real-time, you gain tremendous data that can inform custom policies rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

4. Measure and monitor everything.

Driving sustainability success and business outcomes comes down to collecting actionable, real-time data rather than annually or quarterly. To get results through data, consider the following:

  • Use data aligned to where expectations get set and decisions get made.
  • Climate data is inherently contextual, so bring as much context into the reporting as possible.
  • Transition from using estimates to actuals to identify opportunities for absolute reduction.
  • Use data to determine what good travel looks like.

Three Steps to Excellence in Carbon Management

We’ve discovered leading companies achieve excellence in their decarbonization journey through a three-step process.

  • Connect the dots: Understand client and internal readiness and collect data to generate baselines. Then, use that data to identify opportunities for early wins.
  • Align processes with culture in a thoughtful way that doesn’t sacrifice business outcomes—model scenarios to understand the expected impact on sustainability and costs before you roll them out. Provide real-time insights early in that journey so people can track towards the intended goals.
  • Deploy initiatives at scale: Continue to measure, monitor, and empower your people with real-time data, celebrate wins that highlight the impact, and automate reporting for key stakeholders in real time so they can make business decisions that progress towards company goals and targets.

Tackling carbon accounting and decarbonization may seem daunting, but when executed strategically, the results are a force multiplier to all elements of a business. By prioritizing client impact, starting with high-impact initiatives, focusing on targets before policies, and measuring everything in real-time, professional service companies can turn the challenge of decarbonization into a competitive advantage, benefiting all parties involved…climate included.

Looking for more? Click here to watch the webinar on-demand.

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