In honor of Earth Day, Consult THIS is highlighting efforts in environmental sustainability made by 5 consulting firms that we feel deserve special recognition. Whether these efforts resulted in historic achievements in the field of sustainability (some did) or were just plain interesting (like here), each of these big players spurned the bottom line to make a difference to our planet Earth.
Day 2: A.T. Kearney
A student participates in a national carbon neutral campaign in Costa Rica.
Back in 2007, when the management consultants at A.T. Kearney announced their intentions to make the company carbon-neutral by 2010, similar declarations seemed to wring out from every corridor in corporate America. A year earlier, Al Gore's blockbuster climate change documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" introduced a previously-indifferent public to the specter of global warming—whether they liked it or not. Attentive corporations quickly jumped onboard the "green" bandwagon, and the notion of carbon neutrality—or, zero-sum carbon emissions across a company's operations—became a sort of status symbol among companies vying for green credibility.
But corporate support for the trend waned after an article in the Wall Street Journal called the whole notion of carbon neutrality into question: without a universal standard to measure carbon neutrality, there was nothing to separate the truly neutral from those using trumped-up figures for a PR payoff. Furthermore, the Journal probed, to what extent were companies actually lowering their own carbon emissions? Research showed that most companies touted credits from "carbon offset" projects—in which companies pay organizations to "offset" their carbon emissions via carbon-reducing projects (ex. tree-planting)—as accounting for the vast majority of their efforts to limit their carbon emissions.
But while most quietly hopped off the carbon-neutral bandwagon, A.T. Kearney strengthened its resolve to become carbon neutral by 2010—and responsibly so.
The firm crafted a four-part plan to do just that. First, it "defined and measured a rigorous set of carbon indicators," allowing A.T. Kearney employees and the public to follow the process with an unprecedented degree of clarity and transparency. Next, it leveraged the brainpower of its best asset: talent. By "empowering employees globally to develop greener office protocols," the firm kicked off a grassroots effort that saw emissions drop firm-wide by 5 percent in 2008, 14 percent in 2009, and 20 percent in 2010. And when they were developing these unique methodologies to combat carbon emissions, the A.T. Kearney consultants realized that they could bring them straight to the client; by now in 2011, "new models for client-service delivery" have become the norm. And lastly, the firm revisited the controversial idea behind "carbon offset" projects. While making the emissions difference by "investing in climate-protecting projects," the firm instituted a strict vetting policy on projects to ensure that they "meet the highest international quality standards" for legitimate emissions reduction work.
Fast-forward to July 2010, and A.T. Kearney debuted its new look. "We are proud to be the first among our traditional high-value added consulting peers to be carbon-neutral worldwide," said managing officer Paul Laudicina. "A.T. Kearney’s advice to our clients is now 100 percent carbon neutral."
Now, we're more than happy to give ATK credit where it's certainly due, but a few other consultancies might beg to differ with the firm's "first among our peers" claim. ICF International, for one, claimed carbon neutrality in 2008 and now gives clients advice on how to follow in their stead. L.E.K. also made a similar claim in January of 2008, going so far as to proclaim itself "the first global management consulting firm to become carbon neutral across its global operations," a title it still claims.
Clearly, some issues remain to be sorted out in the debate surrounding carbon neutrality and the corporations that pursue it. But whether it's bought or achieved through more earnest means, the effort to reduce carbon emissions is one that is undoubtedly for the benefit of the planet. Well done, ATK.
For more information:
A.T. Kearney Achieves Carbon Neutrality in Global Consulting Operations
Photo: Kent Gilbert, AP