Net-zero climate impact by 2030: Our progress and what lies ahead

As Head of Environmental Sustainability at McKinsey, each day I feel a mix of cautious optimism and burning urgency. On the one hand, I am energized by the incredible green solutions that are being developed to make operations more sustainable.

Isabelle Schuhmann
Isabelle Schuhmann
Isabelle Schuhmann

This includes recent wins and milestones across technologies such as sustainable aviation fuels and carbon removals. Our fellow Sustainable Aviation Buyer’s Alliance member United Airlines recently completed the world’s first passenger flight on 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel, while the Frontier initiative, of which McKinsey is a founding member, created an advance market commitment to buy $925 million of carbon removals by 2030.

These examples show us that progress is possible, meaningful, and happening every day around the world. On the other hand, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments offer a stark reminder that we must recommit ourselves to our mission daily if we hope to limit global warming to 1.5°C degrees.

One year ago, our firm committed to reaching net-zero climate impact by 2030 and set science-based targets for 2025 validated by the Science-Based Targets initiative in line with a 1.5°C-degree pathway. Since then, we have made significant progress that we can be proud of, and we also have a long way to go. Today, on Earth Day, I want to take a moment to reflect on our journey.

Reducing absolute emissions from office operations by 25 percent

Embracing electric transportation, shifting to renewable electricity, and creating sustainable office spaces. Within just one year, offices with the highest share of automobile transportation have introduced electric vehicle or hybrid vehicle policies. We are actively working on rolling this out globallyand for countries with nascent electric-vehicle infrastructure, we are exploring alternative mobility packages that enable our colleagues to use different transport options like rail passes, shared mobility memberships, or occasion-based access to rental cars.

In terms of our electricity consumption, we were the first global consultancy to join RE100 in 2018, and we set a target of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2025. We reached 95 percent in 2020, and we are anticipating to have reached 97 percent for 2021. For countries without an established renewable energy certificate system, we are actively working with other RE100 members to send a demand signal to drive progress and scale up renewable energy production globally.

Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of our existing global office space has achieved green-building certification.

Reducing travel emissions by 30 percent per colleague

Implementing hybrid working models and supporting the advancement of sustainable aviation fuels. Travel accounted for 83 percent of our firm’s 2019 carbon footprint. With the switch to remote working, we have seen travel drop by 70 to 80 percent over the last two years. As we shift back into the new normal, we are implementing hybrid working models, aiming to walk the fine line between maintaining the social fabric of our firm and how we serve our clients, all the while also drastically reducing emissions. Some examples include virtual recruiting, remote client engagements, and traveling for critical meetings only.

Aside from traveling less, sustainable aviation fuels are the most promising near-term solution that can help us on our 2030 net-zero journey. These fuels have the potential to deliver the performance of fossil jet fuel with over 70 percent fewer lifecycle emissions. However, there is currently no accounting system approved by Greenhouse Gas Protocol to track a company’s emission reductions from sustainable aviation fuel against their science-based targets. A functioning certificate and accounting system will be critical to scale demand. This is one of the reasons we are founding members of the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance, and why we are working closely with the World Economic Forum Clean Skies For Tomorrow initiative as knowledge partners and signatories to the Clean Skies for Tomorrow 2030 Ambition Statement to reach 10 percent sustainable aviation fuel adoption by 2030.

Halting the rise of global emissions is one of the world’s biggest challenges, and its complexity is an inspiration for us to work harder...

Isabelle Schuhmann, McKinsey head of environmental sustainability

As the world works toward a green overhaul, it can be intimidating to take on challenges that seem intractable. Our ethos at McKinsey is one of problem solving, and there is no challenge too great to solve. Halting the rise of global emissions is one of the world’s biggest challenges, and its complexity is an inspiration for us to work harder, innovate with our clients and partners, and continue to lead by example.

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