Recent news headlines are ablaze with the latest trends in Sustainability, and not a day goes by without a corporate announcement of a new decarbonization goal or target. The constant thrum of Sustainability ideas, innovations, and achievements, from plummeting solar power prices to Tesla’s ballooning market cap, has bolstered a wave of corporations to act with urgency to make climate pledges. While this feels like a big shift, especially for American companies, it is the next phase of a journey that began roughly 20 years ago, with guidance to measure and publicly report on carbon emissions associated with activities under the direct control of businesses (e.g., operational energy use, refrigerants use, fuels use for operational vehicles, etc.), otherwise known as Scope 1 emissions. The protocol also suggested measurement and reporting of indirect carbon emissions based on energy-sourcing for business operations, known as Scope 2 emissions. Reporting requirements for Scope 2 inspired deeper sensitivity and awareness of the massive carbon implications of the traditional utility grid for businesses.

The next evolution of Sustainability is going to be tackling Scope 3 emissions, which guide companies to measure and decarbonize supply-chains, business travel, and waste management (including end-of-life products). This clearly implicates the emissions of all a company’s suppliers, which are key parts of their business operations but typically outside of their direct managerial control. The focus on Scope 3 emissions elimination coincides with an uptick in announcements of company commitments from things like moving to 100% renewable energy use by some future year, to moving to “Net Zero” in a similar timeframe. Shifting to a Net Zero focus creates a much higher bar for action than simply touting use of certain environmentally friendly technologies, because it means companies are committing to eliminating the exact amount of carbon that is emitted across the totality of their business operations from the environment. Not only is the “absolute” emissions level total more difficult to calculate, it’s also more difficult to manage and effectively track over time.

Sustainability Advancing to Top Focus for Corporate Innovators Today

While there were mixed and some decidedly negative views of how governments performed at the recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), the strong corporate presence and historic commitment-making by industry was undeniable. To date, most publicly traded companies have made Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) commitments for 2025, 2030 and beyond, creating pressures for players across all sectors to do the same. According to Cara Smyth, Managing Director of Accenture’s new Responsible ESG Retail Consulting Practice, there are a few different drivers for this trend, starting with business desires for customer growth and loyalty. “Investors have figured out companies with ESG focus are more profitable and better run. Reducing environmental and social impacts also reduces costs of doing business. The pro’s involved in making ESG investments are also pretty good, leading to increased brand valuation, customer loyalty and employee talent retention.”

While corporates are increasingly embracing ESG solutions to drive growth, Amy Haddon, Vice President of Global Content for Schneider Electric’s Energy & Sustainability Services division, says managing risk is an even bigger factor. Investors, reeling from billions of dollars lost to climate-related infrastructure damages each year, are searching for solutions. Haddon asserts, “We’ve seen huge interest lately in climate risk modeling. The uptick in mindfulness of risk has spurred a sea change in Sustainability. I’ve been in the industry for 14 years and hadn’t seen this level of interest in predictive tools until now.”

The first thing companies typically lean-into with Sustainability is a focus on decarbonizing operations. This has become routine for many companies and most recognize investments in energy efficiency have been profitable overall. Decreasing energy use coincides with decreasing energy costs and shifting to renewables can also be profitable, given falling prices and a favorable investment climate. Barriers to Capex approvals to invest in energy efficiency remain as companies weigh different ways to put their dollars to work, but decarbonizing energy is not a capability problem anymore, it’s an organizational budgeting problem. The rise of third-party Energy Efficiency-as-a-Service companies that fund, orchestrate, and optimize the management of building energy devices (HVAC, refrigeration, lighting, etc.) and a growing group of energy providers that fund investments in on-site renewable energy systems for companies, etc. are also helping to relieve pressures on corporate budgets and allow for more rapid energy and financial savings.

ESG Measurement and Introduction of Advanced Energy Solutions in Corporate America

If decarbonizing operations is well understood by most companies today, Teymour Bourial, Strategy Manager for Accenture’s Sustainability Strategy practice in Europe, indicates that the Net Zero focus on decarbonizing the supply-chain is much more complicated. According to Bourial, “There are a lot of people involved in what is called Scope 3 emissions and organizations do not have direct control over all of it, so this is harder to measure and optimize.” As a result, companies end up estimating supply chain emissions in rough ways and are not clear on exactly what they must do to optimize them, especially in a pandemic era when there is so much dislocation generally in global supply chains. Measurement and standardization around Scope 3 emissions has thus become a top priority for ESG practitioners aiming to help companies achieve their Net Zero ambitions.

To achieve Net Zero, a business needs to be able to accurately measure and calculate its total carbon emissions as a business.  However, there are precious few off-the-shelf solutions for corporates to do this, and to date the process of measuring for Sustainability has been manual, expensive, and effectively out of reach for a lot of companies. One promising solutions provider focused on effective measurement and tracking of total carbon emissions for businesses is Minimum, a Y Combinator-backed startup based in London.

Minimum has an API that measures and tracks a company’s emissions on a constant basis across all its business transactions. This kind of transparency creates clarity on causality and helps companies focus on the appropriate reduction plans. Co-Founder Freddie Evans says, “We have a calculations engine that breaks carbon footprints down into tiny component parts, like Lego bricks. Then we take the data and store it in a tech-first way, breaking the Lego bricks into varying sets of equations that can be re-built for customers.”  He offers an example, saying that some companies aren’t entirely certain of how their products are made, let alone what energy company their Indian facility uses, so Minimum comes up with proxies for those gaps. The more data Minimum ingests, the better the proxies and the more precise carbon accounting and tracking becomes

The team at Minimum have put their fingers on a real and important problem of corporates needing a living calculation of carbon over time. For many years, companies looking to advance Sustainability have employed clunky, mainly paper-based processes with data in multiple locations to collate a variety of views into the carbon emissions of their business. Repeating this process, which never quite achieves an accurate view, is an unsustainable exercise in futility.  Mark Feasel, President of Smart Grid for Schneider Electric, is bullish on the use of digital tools to support the data collection and processing associated with Sustainability reporting. He explains, “Imagine systems that could automate all of the reporting associated with carbon tracking and emissions, that could lower the cost of gaining insight and verify the efficacy of everything the business has already done. I think situational awareness is the most important part of the journey, automating the process and providing proof that data is authentic, clean and can run on AI would be a profound advance for all companies.”

The more companies work at driving company carbon transparency for their executives, boards, employees and ultimately their customers, the more obvious solutions to neutralizing those emissions become.  While it is always important to be thinking about “quick fixes” for emissions reductions like ensuring office energy supply is primarily renewable through Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), there are several energy system innovations that companies should be exploring now.

Energy Innovations for Corporate Clients

As Brenda Cucci, a Sustainability Sales Capture Lead for Accenture points out, “Companies are really searching today for energy and Sustainability solutions that are easy to understand and implement, aid in overall business execution and have a clear business value associated with them.” One up-and-coming Solution that can significantly help with Scope 3 emissions reductions is Controlled Environmental Agriculture (CEA) or Indoor Vertical Agriculture. Companies like AeroFarms, Fifth Season and Bowery Farming are popularizing the use of technologies, including advanced lighting, Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, sensors, and traceability tools to grow leafy greens, berries, and other vegetation indoors, using less water and with zero negative impacts on land. Indoor agriculture is also noted for creating higher-value jobs, and for improving the quality, taste and nutrient value of food grown. Investment in CEA has increased as start-ups in the space have matured, surpassing $2B in 2020 and expected to grow 5X over the next 10 years as new installations and business models emerge.

Lisa Causarano, one of the leaders of Schneider Electric’s Indoor Agriculture venture, says that companies experimenting with CEA solutions today like Pepsi, 3M, Kroger, and others tend to be high energy emitters, but they are doing what they can to reduce the travel time for food, which is key to overall Scope 3 emissions reductions. “When we talk to companies exploring indoor farms, it is always with the understanding that having the farm on-site will reduce demand for food or ingredients from other sources, which often come from as far away as Mexico or even Asia,” says Causarano. While one of the key market barriers to adoption of CEA is, coincidentally, its higher-energy use and associated cost, Schneider Electric’s venture is focused on providing various efficiency technology solutions aimed at bringing those costs down, and ensuring associated energy sources are renewable, to drive even more Sustainability benefits from it.

Schneider experienced a large uptick in interest in CEA solutions during the pandemic.  With supply chains across the globe massively disrupted, companies were more focused on where their products were coming from and trying to localize that more to minimize disruption.  Causarano says companies started asking, “Is it wise that our food that is generated in California and needs to be trucked all the way into New Jersey, Chicago and Kentucky, or does it make sense to have food grown closer to the source to serve large populations in ways they don’t have to wait three days or more for produce to reach them?” The need for accessible food is also pertinent to companies beyond those that sell food, including companies that provide food service to its own employees.

With the passage of the Biden Infrastructure Bill this November and sweeping automaker commitments to go all-electric, many companies are also taking a closer look at eMobility solutions, from putting charging stations on their properties, to engaging EV-drivers as a growing customer segment of their businesses, to electrifying their own fleets of vehicles.  When businesses add new electricity loads like EVs and indoor farms to their operations, adding microgrids to provide a constant source of clean, resilient, and cost-effective power for those installations become even more attractive.  Schneider’s Mark Feasel says he gets daily inquiries from corporate clients about microgrids today, and the company has installed more than 300 microgrids in the US alone. He notes, “It started with Amazon and Microsoft who were looking to differentiate themselves in the market, and then it took hold with Consumer-Packaged Goods (CPG) companies and Retailers because they were seeing the enhanced impacts on brands, and today microgrids are looking good for Pharma and others for different reasons. The swath of organizations interested in exploring the case for corporate microgrids is getting much larger.”

The days of reaching for a straightforward PPA and declaring victory on carbon emissions are rapidly ending as companies begin to view Sustainability and energy performance as key elements of their overall innovation, customer-engagement, and brand-enhancement strategies.  The commitments are mounting at the same time technologies are emerging to bring more clarity on where a company is today on carbon, relative to its peers, and the modularization of energy solutions that were previously considered a stretch for corporate clients, like electric fleets and microgrids to support them, are the next frontier for companies across various industries to explore. Accenture is proud to be working on the cutting-edge of all these trends with our partners to support our clients and the health of their businesses well into the future. Contact Erin Grossi ( for any questions.