Consulting firms step up green initiatives

by Vault Consulting Editors | June 15, 2010

  • My Vault

Climate change initiatives are increasingly top of mind for corporate executives these days—some companies are beginning to include sustainability metrics in their annual review process, while others have announced their intention to become carbon neutral. A recent Ernst & Young study of 300 corporate executives from 16 countries found that 70 percent plan to increase spending on climate change initiatives between 2010 and 2012, and almost 50 percent plan to spend between 0.5 to over 5 percent of their revenue on green initiatives.

Says Steve Starbuck, Americas Climate Change and Sustainability Services Leader at Ernst & Young: "Corporate leaders are not letting the lack of global standards and regulations slow their climate change investments. Other market drivers, such as equity analysts’ growing interest in climate change performance, are prompting a further need to act and be more transparent.”

Consulting firms are doing their utmost to make sure they're not left in the dust. It's a long road ahead, though, since consulting firms are notorious for sending staff around the country each week to cater to clients needs. Not much carbon conservation there! L.E.K. Consulting was ahead of the curve in this regard; having gone carbon-neutral in January 2008, it was the first global consulting firm to make such a major change.

Broad institutional changes are hard to implement in the consulting industry, since many clients demand face-to-face interaction with off-site consultants. So while few consulting firms have made such major changes as L.E.K., many have made minor tweaks in their day-to-day routines that help promote the cause of environmental sustainability. These initiatives include an increased focus on recycling, installing motion sensors so that only necessary lights are used, using environmentally friendly products and reusable cups, setting printer to default to double-sided printing and, in a few cases, moving into LEED-certified buildings. Some of the firms that really excel in the area of green initiatives are A.T. Kearney, IBM, Bain, BCG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Gallup Consulting. It's clear from the results of our latest Vault Consulting Survey that consultants are aware of green issues and of corporate efforts to change their ways, but most still tend to feel that their company is doing more talking, less walking.

Nonetheless, consulting firms continue to make advances in the green space—every little bit counts, right? This week, Deloitte and Ernst & Young both agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent over a 10-year period in the greater Waterloo, Ontario Canada region. Where will the firms be cutting back? They will encourage employees to travel to the client site in their own cars and to commute to work on their own (bye bye company cars), cut back on waste and limit water use. While the latter options might be more sustainable in the long term, encouraging consultants to travel to the client site on their own will only work in a very limited area (ie, Waterloo), or for companies that have the ability to staff locally.

So what's the saying? Think globally, act locally? Perhaps that's the approach that will inevitably work for consulting firms as they attempt to juggle corporate sustainability efforts with the increased pressure to broaden their global reach and serve clients effectively.

Filed Under: Consulting

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