Story at a glance

  • Consultants at McKinsey accused the firm of not doing enough to address its clients carbon emissions and asked the company to publicly disclose how much carbon pollution its clients produce.
  • McKinsey defended its work with big polluters, saying it’s necessary in order to stay relevant.
  • Some employees resigned over the lack of change.

Employees of one the largest and most influential consulting firms, McKinsey & Company, demanded their firm adopt stronger climate change strategies for its clients. But the firm refused, and some frustrated employees resigned over the lack of change.

According to The New York Times, more than 1,100 employees of McKinsey signed an open letter to the firm’s top leadership in March. They urged the company to be honest about the significant risk McKinsey faces by pursuing its current strategy, which includes consulting for 43 of the biggest corporate polluters, and that not helping clients shift to a more sustainable path that preserves the planet would go against the firm’s own values of helping, “our clients make distinctive, lasting and substantial improvements in their performance.”

An excerpt of the letter also said, “Our inaction on (or perhaps assistance with) client emissions poses serious risk to our reputation, our client relationships, and our ability to ‘build a great firm that attracts, develops, excites, and retains exceptional people.’”


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McKinsey doesn’t publicly disclose its client list, but according to internal documents reviewed by the Times, McKinsey has taken on BP, Exxon Mobil, Gazprom and Saudi Aramco as clients, who account for some of the world’s biggest corporate polluters. 

Climate Accountability Institute, a nonprofit that researches climate change and tracks the contribution of fossil fuel producers’ carbon production, found that Saudi Aramco, Gazprom, Exxon Mobil and BP were the biggest emitters within the top 20 oil, gas and coal companies accounting for carbon and methane emissions in 2018. 

D.J. Carella, a spokesperson for McKinsey, told the Times that reducing emissions worldwide “requires engaging with high-emitting sectors to help them transition.” He said walking away from these high-emitting clients “might appease absolutists critics,” but would not solve the climate crisis. 

Also notable is Dominic Barton who was a managing partner at McKinsey for nine years. He stepped down from his role in 2018 in order to join the board of Teck, a coal mining company based in Vancouver, Canada. 

One of the world’s biggest exporters of steel-making coal, Teck’s carbon footprint in 2019 was equivalent to one-tenth of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, when accounting for coal burned by Teck’s customers. 

Barton eventually left Teck in 2019 after he was named Canada’s ambassador to China

Authors of the letter proposed that McKinsey should publicly share the amount of carbon pollution its clients emitted. They argued this would help them do their part to limit a global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the temperature determined by scientists that could limit the dangers of climate change. 

Kevin Sneader, McKinsey’s managing partner, responded to his employees’ open letter by saying they “share your view that the climate issue is the defining issue for our planet and all generations.” He pushed discussions of the topic to Earth Day, April 22, 2021. 

Following his response, Sneader also announced that McKinsey would help its clients reduce their carbon emissions to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal and, “aim to be the largest private-sector catalyst for decarbonization.”

However when April 22 arrived, Sneader said McKinsey would continue working with its big polluter clients to stay relevant, according to the Times. 

Rizwan Naveed, one of the authors of the letter, left McKinsey in July. He wrote in an email to colleagues, “having looked at the actual hours billed to the world’s largest polluters, it is very hard to argue today that McKinsey is the ‘greatest private sector catalyst for decarbonization.’ It may well be the exact opposite.”


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Published on Oct 27, 2021