Ernst & Young became the first of the Big Four accounting firms to announce a plan to reach carbon neutrality globally. The firm’s goal is to get there by the end of this year.

To achieve carbon neutrality, Ernst & Young says the firm will focus on reducing travel emissions, following sustainable procurement practices, and increasing renewable energy procurement from sources like wind and solar to power their offices worldwide. In addition, the firm anticipates purchasing carbon credits and investing in projects such as reforestation that can help address emissions.

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Previous steps to reduce the firm’s carbon footprint include designing an environmental strategy that aligns with the United Nations Global Compact, issuing a global environmental statement in FY18 establishing responsibility for minimizing negative effects, worked with hotel suppliers to lower emissions from Ernst & Young employees, and introducing global supplier code of conduct and procurement environmental criteria.

Between FY17 and FY19, Ernst & Young says the firm decreased office energy emissions by more than 11% while continuing to grow its business, resulting in a 25% reduction in energy emissions per full-time employee.

Renewable energy procurement has also been a focus. In the United States, the firm signed a virtual power purchase agreement to finance and construct two large-scale wind farms in Texas to become 100% powered by renewables this year. In the UK, the firm says it’s pursuing a solar agreement for all of its power demand there.

The other Big Four accounting firms — Deloitte, PwC, and KPMG — have presented different sustainability strategies. Deloitte UK set 10-year environmental targets in 2011, and reported reducing carbon emissions by 24% per full-time equivalent (FTE) employee since then. In 2018, PwC UK announced emissions and renewables targets for 2022.

KPMG targeted a 10% carbon footprint per FTE by the end of this year using a 2016 baseline, and reported surpassing that goal in 2015, cutting their carbon footprint by 26% per FTE. “A key strategy is our focus on energy efficiency and alternatives to air travel, which represent over 80% of our carbon footprint,” KPMG noted. The firm also operates its own rooftop solar farm with more than 2,000 panels.

Carmine Di Sibio, EY Global Chairman and CEO, says:

“Protecting the planet for future generations is an important issue for EY people and becoming carbon neutral this year is a real step forward on the EY sustainability journey. As an organization that spans more than 150 countries, with varying views and ambitions on climate change, we recognize this is no easy feat. However, with over 284,000 EY people who are dedicated to our purpose of building a better working world, EY has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take immediate action to create sustainable, inclusive growth for generations to come.”

The announcement elevates action that EY has already taken to reduce its environmental impact, including:

  • Designed its environmental strategy in alignment with the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) environmental principles, including measurement and reporting of the EY carbon footprint over the past 10 years.
  • Issued a global environmental statement in financial year (FY) 18, setting the expectation that the global EY network bears a collective responsibility to minimize its environmental impact.
  • Between FY17 – FY19, EY decreased office energy emissions by over 11% while continuing to grow its business, resulting in a 25% reduction in energy emissions per full-time employee (FTE).
  • Over the past 15 years, its market-leading EY Climate Change and Sustainability Practice have supported EY clients’ decarbonization and sustainability journeys by helping them implement a range of solutions crossing sustainability, supply chains, and reporting.
  • Played a leading role in the World Economic Forum’s International Business Council and developed a core set of common metrics and disclosures on non-financial factors to their investors and other stakeholders.
  • Introduced a global supplier code of conduct and procurement environmental criteria to improve the sustainability of products and services.
  • Collaborated with hotel suppliers to reduce waste, emissions and water use from EY people.
  • EY people have dedicated time and skills to accelerate environmental sustainability through the EY Ripples program and helped scale nearly 100 impact enterprises focused on critical socio-environmental issues.

Steve Varley, EY Global Vice Chair – Sustainability-elect and EY UK Chairman, says:

“EY has the potential to become a world leader in sustainable business and becoming carbon neutral is an important step toward making that a reality. By supporting a culture of disruptive innovation, EY can find creative solutions that address global environmental challenges and drive growth that is truly sustainable. EY people are a driving force behind our focus on the environment and have sent a clear message that we must work together to build a more sustainable and better working world for EY clients and communities.”

In addition, EY around the world is already focused on sustainable solutions. EY US entered into a Virtual Power Purchase Agreement (VPPA) to finance and construct two large scale Texas wind farms to become 100% renewable in 2020. Meanwhile, EY UK is currently in the process of contracting directly with a solar farm developer and seeking to sign a 10-year agreement for 100% of its UK power demand. EY in India has planted 1 million trees since 2010 and in a number of countries, including in Costa Rica, EY has already achieved carbon neutrality. Through EY Ripples, EY people have worked with impact entrepreneurs to help scale a variety of environmental enterprises around the world including bringing clean, affordable energy to off-grid families in Sierra Leone and providing solar power for communities in Kenya.