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Reputation and Sustainability: Credible goals for professional services

By Hannah Morris
18th August 2020

Understanding how to get buy-in for bold sustainability commitments and how to develop and implement a credible net zero strategy is a challenging feat. We hosted a webinar with our client from global law firm, CMS (UK), to discuss how CMS has been driving sustainability as a high priority objective, and what it means for them and their clients. 

This webinar focused on how to create a credible and ambitious sustainability strategy, aligned to science-based targets, with insight into how CMS (UK) has connected business value with sustainability. We have summarised some of the key themes and common challenges from the webinar here.

 

Why is climate change important for professional services firms and what does it mean for clients? 

CMS (UK) is aiming to align business to SDGs, which were set out in 2015. 2020 is the decade of ambition, challenge and action in relation to these issues. 

“COVID-19 has had a significant impact on operating models for most firms, however this shouldn’t pause ambition in relation to climate. We have experienced a severe shock [due to COVID-19], but climate is a severe shock in itself. As corporate citizens we have the ability to collaborate and take on this challenge to accelerate our efforts.” Olivia Jamison, CMS (UK)

What does it mean for CMS’ clients? Everyone is on the same journey facing the same challenge. “It is no longer a CSR issue and now truly a strategic business issue at the heart of what CMS does, and something we have seen throughout our client base too.” Olivia Jamison, Partner, CMS (UK).”

Sustainability commitments make a powerful differentiator

As with many professional services firms, people lie at the heart of CMS’ operations. Retaining and attracting talent is a key priority and in the ever increasingly competitive market – sustainability commitments make a powerful differentiator. Being able to demonstrate climate ambition through credible targets is attractive for both current and future generations of lawyers. 

As the topic of Scope 3 emissions and supply chain becomes more common around the boardroom increasingly professional services firms will be asked to disclose to CDP and encourage to set targets as they will fall into their client’s Scope 3 emissions. For CMS (UK) they were asked by a client, as one of their key suppliers, if they would participate in CDP. This led to a much wider conversation within the business and opened their eyes much wider to the issue. Again, being able to demonstrate climate ambition becomes a powerful differentiator for clients making business decisions about their supply chain. Working together with their clients on targets helps deepen professional relationships and provides a competitive advantage. 

“We need to tackle this quickly and strategically – This is not an add on, this is integral to all that we do!”

 

Getting buy-in for your sustainability strategy

It is clear there are lots of different drivers for climate ambition – It could be client led, personal legacy led, or even purpose and doing the right thing. Regardless of what it is, we need to understand it and help to get the buy in. It is clear to see there is still a lot more work to be done to engage senior stakeholders at firms with sustainability programmes, as shown by the 57% who voted in the below poll.

 

Engagement

“Climate risk is no longer a long term issue affecting the management team of tomorrow, but that of today” Danny Postill, Head of Facilities, CMS (UK). Often, cost-reduction is seen as a primary driver for firms rather than carbon-reduction (short term win vs. long term goal).

There has been great engagement with CMS’ in-house ‘Test for Temp’ app from employees across CMS. A score calculated from simple lifestyle questions has helped create positive behavioural change across the business.  The CMS app is proving a great touchpoint for employees to engage with the environmental initiatives within the firm.

“We need to support employees to make the right decisions, about travel and lifestyle that support climate goals as we move out of lockdown and back towards normality” Olivia Jamison, CMS (UK).

 

The importance of Scope 3 and achieving Net Zero

Much like all other professional service firms, the majority of CMS’ emissions is in it’s supply chain, therefore a target was set for all three scopes. “Scope 3 is a big priority for CMS now to help us get to our Net Zero ambition.” Danny Postill, Head of Facilities, CMS (UK).

95% of CMS’ total footprint emissions are in Scope 3. Business travel and purchased goods and services produce the highest indirect emissions and will be a focus for CMS to understand how to reduce this. CMS has started to engage with its supply chain to improve data quality and guide their carbon reduction efforts. In addition, having internal engagement will be critical to reducing emissions from business travel.

CMS’ target is to reduce emissions from its own operations and supply chain by 30% by 2025 and by 50% by 2030. CMS then aims to offset any remaining emissions to go net zero by 2025. The next challenge is Scope 3- which is much more difficult and really about collaboration. 

 

Scope 3

50% of our attendees feel that although tackling Scope 3 emissions is a priority, they are not confident with their data or strategy. This is a cross-sector trend as data collection, particularly throughout COVID-19, can be difficult and require extensive stakeholder engagement. However, the challenge should not discourage professional services to get started. Data accuracy can be improved over time, inaction is going backwards. 

 

Net Zero for Professional Services Firms

At the heart of a Net Zero strategy is a Science-Based target, which should ultimately be aligned to the ambitious 1.5 degree pathway. To reach that, firms need to answer these critical questions when building out a net zero strategy:

  1. What is a credible emissions boundary?
  2. What is a credible emission reductions pathway?
  3. What is a credible emissions removals pathway?
  4. What is a credible net zero timeline?

 

“For any emissions target to be credible, you absolutely must include scope 3 emissions within that boundary – at a minimum, we would expect to see 100% of Scope 1 and 2 included, and at least 66% of Scope 3 emissions, which is in line with the criteria with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).” Kesi Courtman, Sustainability Consultant, Carbon Intelligence

Once emissions have been calculated, we can start to think about what a reduction pathway might look like. Reductions are driven through improving energy efficiency in buildings and operations, reducing travel and supply chain emissions, and switching to renewable energy. 

The final part of the removal’s pathway is understanding the net zero strategy. Our view is that focus should be a reduction pathway, rather than a removals pathway. To ensure there is confidence to commit to an ambitious net zero target, and potentially to support that C-suite level buy in, an understanding of what offsets are and the cost of them is vital. 

“Net Zero isn’t just a one off – it’s about having a programme in place that evolves over time.”

The timing of building a credible net zero strategy is up to you. You need to maintain and continue to decarbonise and continue to mitigate emissions. Really ambitious firms, such as CMS (UK), should look to go net negative to remove historic emissions.

“Net Zero isn’t just a one off – it’s about having a programme in place that evolves over time. It is one thing to have a good strategy, you need to think about the capabilities that a firm has in place to deliver it.” Will Jenkins, Associate Director, Carbon Intelligence.

 

Tackling climate change requires continuous ambition and commitment

We believe that setting a science-based target is one of the strongest and most credible ways a company can demonstrate their commitment to tackling climate change. We have a long standing history with the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and have supported 1 in 3 UK companies that have an approved SBT. Contact us today to understand how we can help your firm set a target. 

 

Watch the full webinar recording here.

Webinar timings:

  • start – 09:00 – Introduction to setting science-based targets – Will Jenkins, Associate Director, Carbon Intelligence
  • 09:00 – 20:45 – Why having climate ambition is important for firms and what it means for your clients – Olivia Jamison, Partner, CMS (UK)
  • 22:52 – 32:30 – How CMS Established themselves as market leaders through working towards achieving ambitious carbon reduction targets – Danny Postill, Head of Facilities, CMS (UK)
  • 34:28 – 44:47 – Critical questions to answer when building a net zero strategy – Kesi Courtman, Sustainability Consultant and Will Jenkins, Associate Director, Carbon Intelligence
  • 44:28 – end – Questions & Answers with all panellists