A bold public pledge

October 29, 2020

Liza RobbinsBy Liza Robbins.

It’s a bold, ambitious statement.

This month, Kreston Reeves in the UK has pledged to the world that it is going carbon-neutral by the end of 2021.

They made the announcement in their first-ever Corporate Social Responsibility Impact Report, which you may have seen on LinkedIn.

Why pick this goal now – in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic? What has been the impact on the firm? And is this something other Kreston firms should be emulating?

I set out to find out by talking to James Peach, head of CSR at the firm, and Dan Firmager, CSR representative, who were instrumental in putting together the report.

They told me that fighting climate change was one of four United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which the firm had chosen to adopt – the others being “Quality Education”, “Good Health and Wellbeing” and “Reduced Inequalities”.

“CSR has changed a lot over the past five years, and we’ve really struggled to know what to focus on,” James says. “CSR touches on so many things – wellbeing, charities, the environment – and we want to do things properly, not half-heartedly.”

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales recommended that firms focus on the UN’s SDGs. Rather than feeling restrictive, the SDGs helped Kreston Reeves form a really clear framework and focus for their CSR activities.

“We were already doing a lot of good, but it felt muddled internally,” says James. “These four headings gave us a way to talk about what we were doing in a way that was instantly understandable and relevant to people, and because they’re pretty broad, they encompass a lot!”

The demand to address climate change was already coming from staff.

“There’s a generational change in the firm,” says Dan, who is in his early twenties.

“Half our workforce are millennials or Generation Z, so we were aware that we needed to be doing this in order to keep these team members engaged. We were frequently asked what we were doing about becoming carbon neutral, and the issue came up in staff surveys as well.”

The truth is that as a professional services firm, Kreston Reeves were never great carbon emitters. Nevertheless, they do have a carbon footprint which they were determined to reduce. And they were keen to engage with and educate staff on climate change, to see if this could impact on colleagues’ actions outside the workplace.

Over the past year, they have reduced paper consumption by encouraging clients to accept scanned accounts and tax returns. Going forward, they will made double-sided printing the default. These may seem like small changes but they do have a greater impact.

They tried to reduce business travel well before COVID, introducing different video and phone conferencing platforms.

Other initiatives have included screening environmental movies for staff. And Kreston Reeves Financial Planning have been helping clients who wish to hold socially responsible investments build appropriate portfolios.

James and Dan say they are very proud of the firm’s achievements, but freely admit that there is a long way to go. They see this as an ongoing journey, and are using the UN SDGs to provide focus and accountability.

The report – in which they publicly commit to becoming carbon-neutral, and set out a series of other CSR goals for the coming year – is part of their strategy.

“We’re demonstrating our commitment and putting these issues on people’s radar. Cultural change takes a long time, so the only way to do this is to set an example and take people with you,” says Dan.

The reception to the impact report has been overwhelmingly positive, both from staff and from many contacts and potential referrers.

“People feel that we share an approach and an ethos, and want to discuss how we can help them,” James says.

Kreston Reeves has won work from clients simply by becoming a lot more vocal and open about their CSR and environmental priorities.

“Ultimately winning new business is about building relationships, and many good clients are more interested in talking about our CSR achievements than about say tax,” says James. “It creates better conversations!”

To me, this shows the importance of having a strong sense of purpose embedded in your firm.

You start attracting clients with similar values. In a competitive market, it can be a strong differentiator.

Staff become more engaged in a firm with a clear purpose, where they feel that their work is meaningful.

Finding ways to communicate this, like Kreston Reeves did, is more important than ever during COVID, when staff working from home may be feeling detached from their colleagues and from the firm’s culture.

Following our meeting, Dan used a live webinar to address a group of graduates and school leavers  who were looking into a career in accounting. He made sure to mention the Kreston Reeves carbon neutral pledge to them as well.

He also found that a significant number of the questions were focussed on the firm’s CSR programme and what Kreston Reeves’ culture was like. So it’s even a good recruiting tool for the younger generation, who care about the environment a great deal.

If their example has inspired you – as I hope it has – then take a look at Kreston Reeves’ CSR Impact Report to learn more about their approach. You can download a copy here.