Decoupling our Carbon - in the thirteen years to 2020

Setting the scene

The last decade has been an important time for the environmental agenda. There has been growing momentum behind a collective will to tackle climate change, including the international agreement in Paris in 2015. Yet, action to reduce emissions has been slower than hoped. Extreme hurricanes, flooding and wildfires have almost now become the norm. The scale of destruction of natural habitats around the world is also now visible to all, and the dangers associated with it have become evident - including the increased risk of pathogens jumping from animals to humans.

Clearly, more needs to be done. Action to maintain greenhouse gas emissions within ‘safe’ levels has never been so urgent. Indeed, this is borne out by the fact that the World Economic Forum 2020 global risk register now highlights extreme weather, climate action failure and biodiversity loss as being the most significant risks for businesses around the world - ahead of interstate conflict, global governance failure and cyber attacks.

Businesses are crucial to the stability of our planet and the long term viability of the global economy and our civilisation. They play an important role in decoupling greenhouse gas emissions from growth. Without this, our collective future will be an uncertain one.

How we helped

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PwC has been working to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with its operations and supply chain for many years. We first started reporting our total scope one, two and three carbon footprint in 2007 and have set reduction targets and devised decarbonisation strategies ever since. Our thirteen year journey to 2020 encompassed three distinct phases: 2007-2012, 2012-2017 and 2017-2020. At each stage, we increased our level of ambition, setting new, public reduction targets, and reporting transparently on our progress towards them on an annual basis. 

Throughout, we‘ve focussed on innovation and engaging our workforce.

Led by the facilities team, and sponsored by the Executive Board, we collaborated with other visionary companies to identify, test and deploy new methods of reducing the climate impact of our offices. This programme - called Acting on Carbon - included operating differently, consolidating floorspace and offices, upgrading our building stock, and investing in new technology, as well as switching to renewable energy sources. The programme also extended to containment of our business travel, especially for internal purposes. We shared what we learnt extensively along the way, hosting thousands of visitors to our award-winning green offices, sharing our story at sustainability events and by developing a detailed report about the first ten years of our Acting on Carbon journey in 2017 to set out what had worked and what hadn’t, and the scale of carbon reduction achieved by each solution we trialled and implemented. 

Although it is not fully measured through standard corporate carbon reporting, we identified the importance of the circular economy as a way of eliminating our broader climate impacts early on. We developed a programme to address them, called ‘Going Circular’. Our Corporate Sustainability, Facilities, and Procurement teams collaborated to identify ways to minimise and reduce any adverse impacts of the materials we use in our business and the waste we generate. We moved to segregated waste hubs, launched a campaign called Let’s Talk Rubbish and have achieved zero to landfill since 2012. We started to send our food waste to anaerobic digestion or commercial composting, and any old staff uniforms to shredding (to make insulation for the automotive industry). We redesigned our volunteering t-shirts for reuse. We repurposed office furniture, and we’ve remanufactured all our old laptops and phones throughout. We set up a plastics policy and eliminated all unnecessary items, as well as encouraging reusable water bottles amongst our people. In 2017, we shared the first ten years of this Going Circular journey in a comprehensive report that set out a high level cost-benefit for different solutions, as well as details on how to integrate circular economy considerations into your procurement processes.

At the end of each year, we eliminate our residual carbon footprint with verified, certified offsets, primarily in high value global biodiversity hotspots so that they both protect biodiversity and enable us to be carbon neutral - a status we have held each year since 2007. 

To tackle impacts beyond our direct operations, we set up a supply chain sustainability programme, engaging our key suppliers around our most important environmental considerations, integrating them into contracts, setting targets for supplier decarbonisation and reporting transparently on this in our annual reporting. We organised an annual conference with expert speakers, to inform and inspire our suppliers to tackle their own climate impacts, including our Net Zero Supplier Forum in 2020.  

Throughout this thirteen year period, we’ve engaged our employees extensively. The early years centred on ‘sustainable behaviours’ that would help us deliver the environmental results we had set for ourselves in our offices. But as climate change and other environmental issues have risen to the fore in recent years, our people now expect us to help them lead more sustainable lifestyles both at work and at home, as part of being a responsible business. As a result, we run multiple, regular, firm-wide campaigns such as Cycle to Work and Veganuary, and offer a year-round personal IT gadget recycling programme and undertake environmental volunteering. In 2019, we supported WWF to create a film about the role of business in protecting our planet, and screened it to our people across the UK and around the world. We constantly evolve our programmes to keep them relevant. In 2020, we created a Sustainable Living at Home campaign to support our people and to encourage environmental behaviours as our workforce moved to a new model of working from home, during the pandemic. 

Each of these initiatives has played a part in helping to reduce our carbon footprint, and in most cases, they have saved us money. They’ve also helped us to attract and retain the talent we need, and to meet rising expectations of our clients who now seek high environmental standards from their advisors. 

Making a difference

At the end of 2020, we’d reduced the total scope one, two and three carbon emissions by 60% versus our baseline of 2007, whilst increasing our revenues by 67% over the same period. This means we exceeded our 2022 target two years early. Even without the impact of the coronavirus pandemic we estimate that we would have achieved -40% and reduced our footprint in line with scientific advice to achieve a stable planet. This is driven by a combination of factors. We’ve exceeded or are close to our environmental 2022 targets, across the board.

For example, key statistics relating to Acting on Carbon include:

  • Our 2020 energy consumption is down by 60% versus our 2022 target of 50%
  • 86% of the electricity we procure is renewable
  • 80% of all our energy (including gas) is from renewable sources
  • This means that our combined Scope 1 & 2 emissions have fallen by 94% in the same period
  • Our business travel intensity is down 55% against our 2022 target of -33%

Meanwhile, our performance in relation to Going Circular is also heartening:

  • Our paper consumption is down 82%, surpassing our 2022 target of -80%
  • We used 59% less water, against a 2022 target of -50%
  • We reduced our waste by 73%, well on our way to our fifteen year target of -75%
  • We continue to maintain our recycling levels above the ongoing target of 80% and we recycled or reused 90% of all our waste

We’ve also made good progress in terms of our broader sustainability impacts. Over half (54%) of our suppliers reported having a greenhouse gas reduction target in place whilst 60% are already delivering reductions in their carbon footprint - an area in which we aim to accelerate in the future. Feedback from suppliers on our support to them on this topic has been positive. Anecdotal evidence also shows that our people value our efforts to support them in leading sustainable lifestyles with large numbers taking part in our campaigns such as Veganuary.

With an eye to the future, and embracing the need for everyone to go further, faster, we’ve now set a new ambition to be ‘Net Zero by 2030’ across the whole PwC Network. For PwC UK, this means setting a new baseline of 2019, and halving our operational footprint again, within the next decade, as well as doubling our efforts to decarbonise our supply chain, and using our skills and knowledge to help clients and the market to transition towards a net zero economy.

We’re proud of this long-standing track record of environmental commitment, and grateful to the many people and organisations that have partnered with us to make it happen. We also hope that our story may inspire and inform others at the early stages of their own sustainability journey, whilst recognising that 2020 marks a new ‘base camp’. Our sights are now firmly fixed on a new summit, in 2030.

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Bridget Jackson

Bridget Jackson

Chief Sustainability Officer, PwC United Kingdom

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