The Carbon Profile of a Sustainability Consultancy

Ever wonder what the carbon footprint of a sustainability consulting firm looks like? Well, look no further...

Each year, we publish a sustainability report (download the 2011 report here) that showcases our environmental and social impacts. It also tells the story of what we've been up to over the past year, and looks ahead to trends and future plans for our organization. One of the most data-intense areas of our sustainability report is the section that deals with carbon.

We're committed to publishing a 5-year history of our annual carbon emissions, along with a breakdown of key carbon drivers. However, as a small company, we find that our carbon profile can vary dramatically based on just a few factors -- for example, the bump in carbon emissions in 2010 is directly attributable to sending two consultants to China to tour a client's contract manufacturing facilities.

Those two round-trip international flights made up a huge percentage of our overall carbon profile -- but don't necessarily mean that the trip wasn't worth the payoff (we got great insight and have been using the data gleaned to help the client make some significant changes.)  And when carbon emissions came down in 2011, it didn't necessarily mean that we were much "better" -- just that the carbon tends to bunch together during significant trips.

One thing you'll also notice is that a huge percentage of our overall carbon footprint is related to our travel -- visiting clients, attending conferences, auditing suppliers, and other meetings and events. We've done what we can to minimize travel, and in fact, our travel isn't so outrageous in and of itself -- but the fact that we are so lean and efficient in other areas makes the travel piece look huge.

Other carbon impacts are relatively modest. One particular business decision -- to operate as an e-business without designated office space -- really pays off when it comes time to calculate our carbon emissions. We don't have to heat, cool, and ventilate separate office space (or commute back-and-forth each day), which saves us money and emissions.

As a company that is relatively young, we also want to account for the growth and development of our organization. For that reason, we also look at our carbon profile on a normalized basis -- pounds of carbon per work hour. When viewed through that lens, it’s clear that we're on the right track in streamlining our operations in a way to get more bang for the buck. Since 2007, we've reduced our carbon/work by 80%. Not too shabby!

So that's what our carbon profile looks like. We're still surprised (after all these years) that more sustainability service providers don't disclose similar information. At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, one of our highest priorities is to "walk the talk."  We try not to expect things from our clients that we don't do ourselves.  And going through the carbon accounting process each year gives us new insight into how to make it robust and meaningful for the organizations that choose us as their partner.

Would you have guessed this is what a sustainability consulting company's carbon footprint looks like? How does it compare to other sustainability service providers? What other kind of information about carbon emissions would you like to see in next year's report? Leave a comment here, or join the conversation with SSC President Jennifer Woofter on Twitter (@jenniferwoofter).