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Danny McCance 26 Apr 2018 10:19am

How big accountancy firms are tackling plastic pollution

Plastic consumption and pollution from single-use plastics is currently a hot topic, in the news, for the government and within boardrooms across the UK. The mood has shifted and the public is demanding that businesses take responsibility. This month KPMG announced that it banned the use of plastic cups in its offices, following in the footsteps of PwC. With this in mind we decided to speak to leading firms across the accountancy profession and find out what steps they are taking to tackle this problem

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Caption: Plastics, if inappropriately managed, often end up floating in the world's oceans

EY

“We kicked off our plastic reductions at the beginning of February,” said Caroline Artis, senior partner for EY in London.

This includes its sustainability strategy being explained in employee handbooks alongside what the firm and employees expect from each other. EY is also providing reusable products to all staff.

“All new joiners, whether experienced joiners, grads or apprentices, will now get an environmental welcome pack. They will all get a reusable bag to reduce use of plastic bags, they will get a reusable hot drink cup, which is part of the next phase to eliminate completely single-use coffee cups and they will also get an EY water bottle, which will help get rid of plastic cups for water,” Artis said.

Artis added that throughout summer the firm plans to eliminate all single-use plastics across catering, vending, stationery, branded merchandise, postroom, and cleaning.

She said that the process is happening in phases, with the elimination of catering plastics starting in June. “We are eliminating all plastic branded carrier bags and switching to reusable bags too,” she continued.

“We’re not only looking at plastics but also eliminating disposable drinks cups. Our estimate at the moment is that we use 6.5 million disposable cups, about 52 tons of waste. That is what we’re committed to eliminate, with the go-live date of autumn.

Artis said the amount of work that EY had already done meant it had high hopes of being plastics-free “within 12 months”.

PwC

Alongside principles such as reduce, reuse, recycle, PwC looks at how it procures items to increase demand for secondary markets.

A decade ago, the firm switched-out plastic bottles for reusable ones in client rooms and five years ago it switched from plastic lined cups for hot drinks and water to compostable cups.

“We’ve taken quite a holistic view of plastics as part of a broader programme we call ‘Going Circular,’ which we’ve been running for over a year. It is about applying the principles of the circular economy to all the materials we use and all of our waste. We actually have a set of principles we use internally to guide our actions on plastics,” said Bridget Jackson, head of corporate responsibility at PwC.

A while ago the firm began to get its cleaners to pick out plastics from the waste, Jackson explained, as it noticed that despite its attempts to eliminate plastic coffee cups, people would still bring in plastic elements from outside.

It is also trying to change how its employees think about plastics. Part of this is a new programme PwC is running in conjunction with social enterprise GiveMeTap, which is providing water bottles to the firm.

The pilot, Jackson said, is to see whether giving out reusable bottles reduces its staff’s purchasing of plastic bottles, and also to see if it reduces the firms usage of compostable cups.

“We’re running it so the quid pro quo for getting a water bottle is that they’re required to give us a bit of information every day in a survey we send at the end of each day,” Jackson explained.

Jackson also pointed to other categories, which she says are equally important as the “food plastics” that the media is concentrating on, such as plastics in stationery. PwC is working with a start-up called Terracycle, which focuses on hard to treat materials, to reduce plastics waste from stationery and on a pilot for foil-backed plastics.

“We need systemic change and actually businesses need to have a set of principles, and almost a ‘plastics policy’ like the one we’re using ourselves, rather than black and white promises,” Jackson said when asked if the sector is doing enough.

The firm is now working on a review to identify all the types of plastic used in the business. It is due to be completed this summer.

KPMG

“It started with the plastics cups for cold water, and moving in May to cups for our vending machines for hot drinks, so they will be replaced with either paper or compostable cups, dependent on disposal routes,” said Sarah Lindsay, environment manager at KPMG.

Lindsay said the decision by China in January to effectively stop taking plastics for recycling from the UK was factor in the firm’s shift. She said that at the time KPMG’s contractor said it would no longer take plastic cups for recycling. This was in addition to employee demand and “campaigning through Blue Planet”.

However Lindsay says it was not just a case of bowing to public pressure. “The decision was pitched to management as a very practical reason and an employee engagement reason.

“I think there is an element of people jumping on the plastics bandwagon and, although the subject of plastics is hugely important, there are many other environmental factors that are too, and the danger is that we all get wrapped up in plastics only,” she argued.

Lindsay said this was one of the firm’s objectives on waste and recycling but that KPMG is interested in its footprint in general, which includes energy and water saving as well as the supply chain.

She said the industry as a whole is making positive steps, but that there is still some way to go.

Moore Stephens

Paul Clark, Moore Stephens partner and member of the Corporate Social Responsibility committee, said that, as well as going paperless, the firm has replaced all plastic cups and stirrers in its London office with china cups and spoons, and that it “meticulously keeps data on waste”.

“We have a target of getting to 100% recycled waste. We’re not there yet but we’re over half way,” Clark said.

When asked about keeping track of the firm’s progress, he explained, “We’re accountants, so have spreadsheets for everything”.

This data, Clark said, “Extends beyond waste to usage of energy, we have a record of landfill saved, CO2 saved and trees saved.

“Every incremental percent becomes harder, so it’ll be the final 10% which will be particularly difficult. I’d have thought over the next couple of years, we’d be looking to get close,” he added.

Grant Thornton

“At Grant Thornton we are committed to the protection of the environment, including prevention of pollution and the minimisation of our environmental impacts through our operations and services.” 

Karen Higgins, sustainability senior manager at Grant Thornton UK, says the firm is committed to increasing its recycling rate and is looking for “innovative ways to do this”.

“For example, where possible, rather than using landfill sites, we look to support local community projects such as Electricity Product or Community Heating,” she said.

Higgins added that the firm encourages its workforce to share its commitment by taking on projects such as Thames 21, where volunteers collect waste from the Thames.

Deloitte

The Big Four firm says that since the introduction of its environmental programme, Our Green Journey, in financial year 2011, it has already reduced waste production by an average of 25% per employee.

It gives all new starters metal water bottles, which it says has reduced plastic cup usage by half. These are sourced from GiveMeTap.

Deloitte is also carrying out a review of all disposable items, including plastic cups. Currently, it provides ceramic cups and dishwashers, in place of disposables, in the majority of its regional offices. 

The firm regularly updates employees with news on environmental policies and has over 550 colleagues on an internal discussion forum about the topic.

BDO

Andy Butterworth, BDO COO, said the firm is currently trialling cups that use recycled materials called Frugalpac and that almost half its UK offices no longer use plastic cups. Many of BDO’s offices have also ditched plastic cutlery in favour of more environmentally-friendly and compostable alternatives.

Butterworth concluded that it is “really positive to see environmental issues on the business agenda”, but that “national and global communities must continue working together” in order to solve them.

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