Intuit teams with Project Drawdown for ambitious ‘climate positive’ pledge

Finance software company Intuit, which collaborated with Project Drawdown to rethink and define its strategy to become carbon neutral, is partnering closely with the research organization to figure out how to reach a more ambitious goal — becoming “climate positive” by 2030.

Under that commitment, made in September during Climate Week NYC, Intuit has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 50 times greater than its current carbon footprint, using its 2018 metrics for Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions as the baseline. 

Intuit previously committed to reducing its emissions using science-based targets in line with the emissions reductions needed to keep global warming at the 1.5 degrees Celsius increase guidance set by the Paris Agreement. So why go farther with such a dramatic, unique pledge? 

“It’s considered to be leadership to be aligned with the 1.5-degree [goal] with science-based targets,” said Sean Kinghorn, senior sustainability program manager at Intuit, noting that the company’s science-based targets have been verified by the Science Based Targets Initiative. “And we’re ahead of schedule to beat all those targets. But we as a company kind of took a step back now that we’re hitting our targets early and said, ‘What’s next?'”

What’s next for the company is working to sustain its role as a leader in corporate sustainability, he said.

Intuit has achieved carbon neutrality for its global operations since 2015 by improving its energy efficiency, investing in renewable energy and buying carbon offsets, according to a 2018 corporate social responsibility report from the company. In 2018, it even hatched a plan to help its customers and employees purchase clean power.

So, even as it strives to meet science-based goals that will continue to drive down its Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, Intuit is looking for reduction opportunities beyond those scopes — it’s looking to help its employees, partners and the communities in which it operates take climate action through this pledge.

“I think that’s a real differentiator,” he said. “And that’s where the collaboration comes in.”

While Intuit is still in the early stages of figuring out how it will meet the “50x by 30” goal — Kinghorn said the company has “a strategy in place” but doesn’t yet “have a roadmap” for how it will get there — the company already has partnered with Project Drawdown to support its efforts.

The two organizations previously worked together along with Intuit’s carbon offset provider Natural Capital Partners to rethink its carbon-neutral strategy, using the global climate solutions that Project Drawdown laid out in its 2017 book.

As part of this latest collaboration, Project Drawdown will help Intuit figure out the best solutions to pursue and “to provide some sanity checks and verification” on the methodology and thinking behind the approaches it decides to use, said Jonathan Foley, executive director of Project Drawdown.

Foley added that he anticipates that Intuit also will hire independent auditors to truly verify the metrics of its work — how and when it takes place on the ground, the carbon drawn down from its efforts and dollars spent on the work.

Kinghorn said Intuit finalized the pillars — solutions for employees, customers that are primarily on small businesses, communities where it operates and partners — that will drive its strategy for the 50x by 30 goal at the end of 2019. It plans to experiment with each of them to figure out the sustainability solutions that would work best respectively and contribute to the overall goal.

Additionally, Intuit is the leading partner on what Project Drawdown is calling Drawdown Labs, a small group of 10 to 15 companies — which Foley said he can’t yet formally name publicly — that are looking to create a more ambitious new level of climate commitments within businesses.

“It’s super inspiring to see a lot of businesses stand up where governments sometimes aren’t,” Foley said. 

Still, companies can be doing more, especially in the absence of climate action on the part of national governments. 

“The partnership with Drawdown Labs is critical for our success in our new 50x by 30 goal,” Kinghorn said. “We look forward to working with their team and sharing our solutions with other companies looking to commit to climate-positive goals.

Once Drawdown Labs is up and running, Foley said, “we want to see if we can develop approaches to have businesses go above and beyond their operational footprint.”

“This is just a great way for any form of leadership to step up and say, ‘Hey, let’s see what we can do to address climate change together,’” he added, “because it’s going to be a big job and we need all hands on deck.”

After Intuit’s September announcement, Kinghorn said he received a question about how realistic it was for the company to reach its ambitious goal.

“My response was, ‘It’s hard to imagine anyone criticizing Intuit if we hit 30x instead of 50x,’” he said. “The point is instead of doing less bad we’re trying to do good in the world. A lot of these companies are fearful of setting a bold goal and then not hitting it, but I can’t imagine anyone getting criticized for setting an audacious climate-positive goal and then getting two-thirds of the way there.”