Green IT a Key Component of KPMG's 'Living Green' Strategy

Green IT a Key Component of KPMG's 'Living Green' Strategy

Accounting firms are not among the most carbon-intensive companies, but the greenhouse gas emissions generated by business trips, paper use and purchased electricity can add up.

KPMG, one of the “Big Four” public accounting firms, first began analyzing its U.S. carbon footprint in 2007 and developed a formal strategy to reduce it called Living Green. The program set several three-year environmental goals, including boosting alternative transportation by 5 percent and cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by a quarter.
KPMG has embraced Green IT, according to CIO Dick Anderson, pictured here with the data center's microturbine system. Image courtesy of KPMG
The company has embraced green IT practices as a way to help it meet these targets, CIO Dick Anderson told me when I caught up with the company to learn about its efforts. Energy-intensive data centers offer plenty of opportunities to improve efficiencies.

The jewel in the crown of KPMG’s green IT efforts is a new technology center that opened at its Montvale, N.J. campus in October. The center earned the company accolades from Computerworld when the publication named KPMG to its list of Top Green-IT Organizations.

Satisfying nearly three-quarters of the center’s energy needs is a cogeneration system called PureComfort, which is made by Carrier Corp., a sister company of United Technologies Corp.

It is comprised of 14 microturbines that run on natural gas to generate electricity. An absorption
chiller captures excess heat to provide chilled water, which can be used to cool the data center.

“The carbon footprint by using natural gas is reduced instantly by 13 percent,” said KPMG Green IT Manager Darren McGann, who may be the first full-time green IT manager employed by one of the Big Four accounting firms.  “Other environmental benefits over traditional grid electricity ... are the reduction of nitrous oxide by 94 percent and sulfur dioxide by 99.9 percent.”
Carrier's PureComfort cogeneration system: This diagram depicts an absorption chiller and six microturbines.  Skanska, Carrier
Capturing the heat that would otherwise be lost makes for an extremely efficient system when compared to buying electricity from the grid and using it to provide the same amount of cooling that is generated by the cogeneration system, according to Greg Hester, a regional engineering manager with Carrier. The PureComfort system is three times more efficient that the grid, the company said.

Although the PureComfort system is being used in grocery stores, hotels and hospitals, data centers are an ideal location because electricity needs are predictably steady. “They don’t have huge swings in their electrical and thermal loads,” Hester said.

Aside from reducing the carbon footprint of KPMG’s data center, the cogeneration system alleviates stress on the power grid and offers the company dependability by protecting it against power outages.

KPMG received $1 million in state and federal incentive funds for the center. While there are other data centers in the U.S. that utilize the cogeneration technology, Anderson, KPMG’s CIO, said the company’s system is among the country’s largest installations.

Its green IT strategy also includes virtualization, and procurement and e-waste policies for new and old equipment. New equipment, for example, must meet Energy Star and EPEAT standards. KMPG recycles all old technology equipment, including 45 tons in 2008. The company also reduced its printer inventory by a third by replacing printers with multifunction models.   

Road and air business travel also represent large sources of emissions at KPMG, so the company has deployed Halo Video Collaboration studios for the company’s three most heavily trafficked U.S. air routes. KPMG provided more than 90,000 hours of online training to trim business travel.

One of the most interesting pieces of information that arose during in my dealings with the company involves the variety of metrics KPMG uses to evaluate its carbon footprint. The company uses the Greenhouse Gas Protocol to measure absolute emissions -- 150,200 metric tons in 2007 -- but also tracks emissions on a per-employee and per-hour basis.

The emissions-per-employee metric allows KPMG to make more meaningful comparisons between offices and business units to identify carbon-intensive locations and divisions that provide the greatest reduction opportunities, the company said. Measuring emissions per hour helps KPMG estimate the emissions for a given client engagement.

KPMG’s Living Green program in the U.S., which supports KPMG International’s Global Green Initiative, has helped the firm increase the frequency of its reporting. It tracks air travel, PC energy consumption, video conferencing and electronics recycling monthly.
2008 KPMG Living Green Annual Report 2008 KPMG Living Green Annual Report
The company highlighted its efforts in its first Living Green report (PDF), which served as a vehicle to share its firm-wide activities with employees. Green teams were formed in early 2008 to help drive Living Green’s initiatives, and the program placed third in the 2008 Net Impact Green Challenge, a contest that recognizes successful sustainability projects led by the nonprofit’s members.

“In pursuing green initiatives, it’s important to harness the passion and power of people at all levels,” Steve Clemente, KPMG's Living Green program leader, said via email, “and translate that enthusiasm into a focused commitment to eco-friendly practices.”

Data center image -- Source: Skanska; Dick Anderson image -- Source: KPMG; PureComfort image -- Source: Carrier Corp.