Tenants have more control over their emissions — and the associated costs — than you might think. That’s been the case for Intuit, the Mountain View, California-based software company known for QuickBooks, Turbo Tax, and Mint.
Intuit has office spaces in 19 locations in nine countries that are mostly leased, says Sean Kinghorn, Intuit’s global sustainability leader. He estimates that more than 90% of their buildings for 9,000 employees are leased.
Kinghorn, who has been with Intuit for nearly six years, said that the company hit their 2020 greenhouse gas emissions goals in 2016. At that point, Intuit set three new ones. For scope 1 and 2 emissions, they’re seeking an 80% reduction by 2025, and for all three scopes it’s a 50% reduction by 2025 — both using a 2012 baseline. The third goal is reaching 100% renewable electricity by 2030.
Recently Kinghorn discussed the steps Intuit has been taking to get there, including the benefits for the software company.
What is the business case for reducing emissions?
Employees care a lot about social and environmental causes, and our sustainability progress and programs are a differentiator, increasing employee attraction and retention. Our recruiting team indicated that social and environmental programs tend to come up frequently in the recruiting process, especially with the younger generation.
Climate change is a material risk to our business, including facilities, so we need to do our part to reduce emissions aligned with best-in-class climate science. Intuit has also seen substantial financial savings and strong ROI on our investments in energy efficiency, water conservation, and renewable energy.
Where are you now in relation to your emissions reduction goals?
For our last reported year, we had a 64% reduction for scope 1 and 2 emissions. We will surpass 80% this December, five years early. We will be hovering right around a 95% reduction.
Last December we signed a virtual power purchase agreement. When that goes live this December, we’ll hit 100% renewable electricity and surpass our scope 1, 2, and 3 goal.
How did you end up pursuing that agreement?
Being in a leased environment, it’s very restrictive in the sense that we don’t own our own buildings — and we don’t own big data centers. We’ve been creative in that we focus on energy efficiency first. Then we evaluate onsite renewable energy potential. We’ve done multiple onsite solar projects. But those two combined can maybe get you to a 30 to 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions so then we look beyond the physical campuses for offsite renewable energy deals.
What’s an example where you’ve lowered your environmental footprint in a leased space?
One is our San Diego campus. Before we purchased it a few years ago, we were focused on energy efficiency so we did LED lighting retrofits, smart sensors, HVAC controls, IoT — and we did an onsite solar project to provide shading for employees’ cars.
In that project, the original analysis was for the solar to provide 25 to 30% of the electricity for one building. But since we focused so much on energy efficiency, we actually got a notice from the local utility saying, ‘We think something is wrong with the metering because that month solar provided 100% electricity for the building.’
It wasn’t intentional, but energy efficiency is king.
Could you share another example?
Before I started at Intuit, offsite renewable energy projects didn’t make sense for a company of our size in a leased environment. We don’t have big loads. Nobody’s going to build a brand new project with half a wind turbine.
You have to think creatively. At our Mountain View campus, in 2016, we signed a deal for an offsite wind farm, a physical power purchase agreement for an eight-year term to power the entire campus with wind.
We were not allowed to sign any term past the lease term on the buildings themselves. That deal was less than 3 megawatts. We were able to take a tiny slice off an existing project that fit our needs.
What was one of the biggest challenges involved?
We’d never entered into a contract like that before, so it’s new language for the accounting, legal, and finance teams. The same went for the virtual power purchase agreement we signed last December.
But we started early and worked through the process, talking to peer companies that had done those types of transactions. We had an accountant speaking to another accounting team, instead of the sustainability guy, which is me. That was helpful because I don’t know the accounting lingo.
Taking the time to educate internal stakeholders is important because everyone’s excited about sustainability and financial savings. Those deals that we’ve done, we’ve saved money. Mountain View — we saved money compared to our regular electricity contract.
Any advice for other sustainability leaders?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to others. People are open and excited to have those dialogues: ‘We were in your position a couple years ago, this is how we navigated it, and here are some recommendations for you.’ That’s the beauty of the sustainability space.
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