Technical
Xenia Taliotis 7 Sep 2017 04:59pm

Planning for the future is good for business

In our ongoing series looking at the best practices in practice, Xenia Taliotis discovers why accountants are uniquely placed to help combat climate change

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Caption: Image: Jordon Cheung

The latest figures released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicate that the global temperature is likely to rise by between 2.6°C and 4.8°C by the end of the century if emissions are not cut drastically. Even the most optimistic forecasts indicate an increase of between 0.3°C and 1.7°C, which will only be achievable if every business and every person does their bit.

Accountancy practices are tackling climate change by putting their own houses in order and by encouraging their clients to do so. Malcolm Preston, partner and global leader, sustainability and climate change at PwC, says: “Accountants are uniquely placed to help their clients make their businesses more environmentally responsible. We can show them that it not only makes sense for our planet but also, and more immediately, for their bottom line.”

PwC has achieved zero waste to landfill for the past five years, exceeded its target to reduce its total carbon footprint by over 25% in absolute terms, and implemented a programme to re-use and recycle all materials and waste including IT, food and textiles. Its London offices, 7 More London and Embankment Place, were the first commercial new build and retrofit to be accredited with the BREEAM “Outstanding” rating (the leading method of assessing, rating and certifying the sustainability of buildings). To help clients get greener, it now employs 700 people in its sustainability department, with more than 100 of them in the UK.

That’s great but, says Preston, there is still more to be done. “Sustainability goes far beyond green issues. It covers putting an end to poverty, to hunger, to inequality, and we can help make this happen by advising our clients to build corporate responsibility into their management systems. We need to show them the role responsible technology can play in helping to solve issues, and the social and environmental risks of deploying technology without a sustainability mindset. The most effective way of bringing people on side is to point out the consequences of not doing so, starting with what will happen on their own doorstep. It’s about it making good business sense.”

Bishop Fleming’s grant services director, Ewan McClymont – the man behind its Environmental Management System – says that sustainability is now at the heart of the practice and is firmly embedded in its culture. “Our initial aim was to reduce our energy consumption by 5% each year. That was in 2012 and there’s not been a year when we’ve failed to achieve a reduction against our target. I don’t think we’ve done anything radical – nothing that other businesses can’t implement as part of good practice – and are seeing results that benefit our firm and the environment.”

The practice has focused on paper consumption, power and mileage and considerably reduced each. “Paper has been our greatest success,” says McClymont, “a total drop of 35% in five years. Our mileage consumption has decreased by 18% per £1,000 income – and energy consumption is down by 5% per employee”.

Bishop Fleming also uses energy brokers who review its energy supply across its seven offices, all in the south-west and West Midlands, and find the best deal for all of them. “We want to drive down consumption and costs year on year, and the best way of doing this is to bring in the experts.”

Over in Weston-super-Mare, Dave White, CEO of White Bruce, says: “We’re a very young firm so have been paperless and cloud-centred from the beginning. We’re based at the Hive, which is BREEAM accredited, so our carbon footprint is very, very small – and that’s how we intend to keep it!”

Like Preston and McClymont, White believes that the greatest contribution accountants can make is to educate their clients. “I don’t think our profession is doing too badly – more and more of us are paperless, using online document libraries, and opting for video conferencing whenever possible. But our real job is to persuade our clients that it is in their best interest to adopt these policies. We’re in a powerful position to rephrase the argument and make it all about their bottom line, rather than the destruction of the world. Sustainability and profit can go hand in hand, and it is our job to make the figures work.”

KEY TO SUCCESS

Global warming concerns everyone. Beyond having sustainability at the core of your business, you are well placed to convince your clients to embed sustainability in their culture, too. If you meet resistance, reframe your argument in terms of financial rather than environmental gain.

Having good corporate responsibility credentials gives you an edge with clients. It is socially unacceptable and reputationally damaging to have nothing in place. CSR is no longer an add-on, it’s integral to success.

Involve your clients from the beginning and explain your actions. Tell them that most of the meetings will be held through video conferencing and tell them why.

Free advice – there are numerous environmental websites that can help with tips and advice. The Carbon Trust, at carbontrust.com, is excellent. Start with an environmental review of premises and processes and benchmark against best practice.

Bring in the experts. Green consultants will look at your business and tell you quickly where you can easily make savings.

FIVE TOP TIPS

01 Doing nothing is not an option – rising energy and fuel costs are a certainty. Think in terms of cost saving rather than carbon reduction – the two go hand in hand but the language of cost saving usually gets the attention of senior management.

02 It’s not about making big investments, but if you are upgrading equipment, make the energy rating part of the buying decision.

03 Keep it simple. Review your electricity and gas tariffs annually, insulate your loft. Turning down the thermostat by just 1°C can save about 8% on your heating bill. Set your printer to print double-sided, avoid stand-by mode on computers and switch off unnecessary lighting.

04 Measurement your efforts. If you can’t measure it, you’re not managing it and won’t minimise it. Begin with simple processes to measure key areas. Stick to what’s important and to areas that will make an impact. It’s also important to give yourself realistic targets to hit.

05 Involve staff, ask for their opinions, update them on progress, reward good ideas. It’s basic stuff but cultures can only change if everyone buys into the plan. Appoint someone or a group of people to co-ordinate progress – ask for volunteers. A focus on the environment will also help with recruitment.

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