The corporate that embraced science-based carbon targets: Capgemini

  • The French multinational became the first IT services company to set emissions limits ratified by the UN-backed Science-Based Targets initiative in 2016.
  • Its aim to slash carbon emissions per employee by 40% by 2030 was almost met by 2019, thanks in part to a big energy-saving drive with its network of datacentres.
  • Its newest and most sustainable datacentre in Swindon, Wiltshire, has achieved power savings of 91% against the industry average.
  • The company’s ‘Road to Net Zero’ plan aims to achieve carbon neutrality across its operations and supply chains by 2030 but doesn’t include historic emissions.

In the rush to become ‘net zero’, many companies have been adopting carbon accounting methods and evaluations that are unsuitable and fall well short of scientific standards. Fortunately, by the end of 2021, more than 2,000 companies representing $38tn – a third of the global economy – had signed up to the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi), which helps businesses to more rigorously align their carbon emissions ambitions with international efforts to avoid average global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees.

The French multinational Capgemini is one of them, which became the first IT services company to set carbon reduction targets ratified by the UN-backed initiative in 2016. It aimed to slash emissions per employee by 40% by 2030, but managed to achieve 38% by 2019. One key driver was reducing the energy demand of its many datacentres, mothballing some older facilities and considering the sustainability of every aspect of newer ones.

The location of Capgemini’s newest and most sustainable datacentre in Swindon, Wiltshire, called Merlin, was chosen based on meteorological conditions and built using reused materials. Thanks to a state-of-the-art fresh air-cooling system, it achieves power savings of up to 91% against the industry average datacentre, and flywheel technology means it doesn’t require batteries for backup in case of a blackout.

This more detailed, end-to-end approach to calculating carbon emissions from all activities related to the company – which is required by the SBTi – led to Capgemini announcing in 2018 that it would also be collaborating with its many clients through a new Centre of Excellence to help them save 10 million tonnes of carbon emissions by 2030. Now Capgemini is aiming to be carbon neutral in its direct operations by 2025 and net zero throughout its supply chains too by 2030 as part of its ‘Road to Net Zero’ plan. It consists of ten goals, from using 100% renewable electricity by 2025 and having a fully electric vehicle fleet by 2030, to group travel schemes and sustainability learning and development for all staff.

Like Capgemini, businesses need to recognize how every decision they make right across their entire value chain drives carbon emissions up or down – what you buy, who you buy from, how you ship it, what you invest in, how you heat your buildings, how energy efficient you are, how much you waste,

how you design, make, sell and ship your product, how your employees get to work, how you store your product, how you move things round, how you finance your operations, how and where you sell your product and what people do with your product. Carbon emissions are the consequences of these decisions, and carbon reduction is much easier done at a granular level. 

And it’s only by taking this more holistic and scientific approach to carbon emissions that a business can truly claim to be net zero. Yet the SBTi is still not as comprehensive as the full-scope emissions measurements set out in the gold-standard Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GGP). The former only includes Scope 3 emissions targets from indirect sources other than purchased energy (such as suppliers and purchased materials) if they constitute more than 40% of their total emissions. But even the GGP doesn’t include a company’s historic emissions.

So it’s important businesses are clear about what net zero means when they say it, because powerful stakeholders will start to demand answers as to what time frame they are zeroing to, and to what extent they are paying off their historic carbon debts, whose emissions will still be swirling around the planet for the next millennia or so. What they won’t want to see is businesses finding ‘smart’ ways to get around confronting this global risk, employing creative compliance techniques as they continue the global game of carbon pass the parcel.

For many carbon-concerned businesses, net zero will be far too low a barrier. Most should have no problem being fully accountable for their historic carbon emissions and those associated with the entire life cycle of their products. Not only is it the responsible thing to do, it will also future-proof the business against the likely introduction of carbon rationing and more stringent attitudes about what’s socially acceptable. Narrowly defined net zero benchmarks won’t be enough to differentiate a responsible business making real reductions to the cumulative carbon in our atmosphere from those just passing the buck.

Photo courtesy of