Much of the public discourse about net-zero ambitions and other corporate climate goals centers on the strategies and aspirations of large, multinational companies.
But as more businesses contemplate how to address their Scope 3 emissions — those impacts that lie outside their direct control and that are attributable to organizations within their value chains — the focus on the necessity of providing resources for smaller enterprises is intensifying.
Perhaps one of the best-known resources to emerge so far is the SME Climate Hub, introduced by the We Mean Business Coalition in September 2020. Now, Intuit, the leading accounting and financial software provider for small businesses, is stepping up with an initiative of its own.
On Tuesday, the company pledged to help 1 million small businesses in the U.S. cut their emissions in half by 2030. As part of that mission, Intuit has negotiated relationships and special pricing with a dozen service providers listed on a new platform called the Intuit Climate Action Marketplace. Each company addresses pain points such as energy supply and efficiency, food waste, travel, commuting or procurement.
"We’re of the mind that all businesses should start to think about this as not only a thing that is nice to do, but that is part of business," said Cassie Divine, senior vice president of QuickBooks Platform at Intuit, addressing the need for the mainstream of businesses around the world to address climate change. In the U.S. alone, there were close to 32 million small businesses at the end of 2017, as of a 2020 Small Business Administration update. Globally, small companies (those with fewer than 250 employees) account for 90 percent of the "business population."
The goal of the Intuit marketplace is to give them specific tools that make acting on these practices more straightforward. The marketplace is available to any small or midsize business (SMB) in the U.S. or U.K. that’s interested in addressing its carbon footprint (not just existing customers), according to Divine and Sean Kinghorn, global sustainability leader for Intuit. "We have done the homework and tried to curate the best of the best," he said.
The listed companies include:
- EnergySage, which manages a renewable energy marketplace (U.S.)
- Octopus Energy, a green energy provider (U.K.)
- Allumia, which offers energy efficiency as a service (U.S.)
- Goodwings, for net zero travel booking (U.K./U.S.)
- Edenred Benefits for commuting services and micromobility (U.K./U.S.)
- Too Good to Go, a mobile app for selling surplus food (U.K./U.S.)
- Copia for orchestrating food donations (U.S.)
- Sendle, a carbon neutral shipping carrier (U.S.)
- Aspiration, which plans trees as part of transactions (U.S.)
- Tradewater for refrigerant management (U.S.)
- Red-Inc, an "eco-friendly" office supply company (U.K.)
- Rheaply, for exchanging assets (U.K./U.S.)
The decision not to include an offset program in the mix of available services was deliberate and centered on helping SMBs prioritize absolute reductions, Kinghorn said.
Intuit’s motivation for creating this sort of a resource is multifaceted; given its focus, there's also a certain amount of self interest. While Intuit doesn’t receive fees for helping connect SMBs with the listed companies, each will be required to report on activity related to the marketplace so Intuit can use that aggregated data to calculate the carbon emissions reduced or avoided through these transactions. Divine also anticipates that the marketplace could help attract new customers over time, although that’s not a requirement for participation.
Carbon accounting for SMBs
Intuit isn’t the only software company talking up the importance of helping small businesses reduce their environmental impact or up their game when it comes to addressing ESG issues.
Carbon accounting app startup Persefoni, which last week disclosed a massive $101 million Series B funding round — the largest for a climate tech software company — is planning to offer a free version of its enterprise software platform that enables small organizations to collect and report on their emissions data. The idea is to simplify the process for SMBs — and prepare them for a future in which their larger business to business customers and partners start requiring them to disclose this information.
"In most cases, the cost and technical barriers to create trusted carbon footprint inventories in line with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol have been far too high for SMB organizations to justify," said Persefoni founder and CEO Kentaro Kawamori, in a statement. "Worse yet, there is considerable risk for these organizations in using niche calculators or tools that continue popping up; tools that use unverified data and/or proprietary calculations, and mislead organizations into thinking the results they receive are accurate."
When I spoke with Kawamori last week, he said the software will handle Scope 1, 2 and 3 measurements. He anticipates that Persefoni will release the software in the first quarter of 2022.