How much of a climate-threatening carbon output does a white-collar company generate? Too much, says Ernst & Young, which last week announced that it plans to go carbon neutral by the end of this year.
The London-based financial firm plans to reduce air travel, which accounts for roughly three quarters of its total carbon emissions of about 1.3 million metric tons, according to a 2018 company report. A company spokesman said the accounting firm plans to switch to rail transportation and invest in smart software for its workers to communicate.
The firm will also purchase renewable energy, such as solar or wind, to power its global offices, according to a spokesman. Office output counts for about 13% of its annual emissions, per company data.
Usually, big manufacturers are the target of green-minded activists. But as EY’s air travel carbon output demonstrates, white-collar companies can help reduce the overall problem, albeit not on as grand a scale as an oil refinery. EY is just the latest company in what’s perceived as a clean industry to try sanitizing its energy practices.
For example, in January, software and cloud giant Microsoft said it will reach carbon negative by 2030, joining other tech competitors such as Amazon and Apple that have made similar pledges. How could these tech outfits possibly be major polluters? They run huge server farms that require vast amounts of fossil-fuel-produced electricity.
EY is the first of the Big Four accounting firms to make a commitment to offset and reduce emissions. Air travel counts for the bulk of emissions from the company, jumping 18% in 2018 from the year prior, due to increased domestic and long-haul flights from workers. That helped increased the company’s total carbon emissions by 13%, despite EY reducing office energy output by 5% over the same period.
A spokesman said EY could not disclose the amount it plans to pour into the initiative, but expects the costs incurred “through purchasing carbon offsets will reduce as our work to reduce our emissions gathers pace.”
Last month, the World Economic Forum said in a report that climate-related concerns were the top long-term risks for stakeholders.
Several U.S. pensions are also reviewing fossil fuel investments in their portfolios to support sustainable businesses, including the New York State Retirement Fund.