man in suit

The sustainability teams at the major consulting firms continue to swell with KPMG Australia snapping up Action Sustainability Asia Pacific this week.

The acquisition brings to the table a range of speciality skills in the built environment,  along with sustainability supply chains and investments.

KPMG Banarra’s global head of human rights services, Richard Boele, told The Fifth Estate that property has been one of the earliest sectors to mainstream sustainability and ESG.

“It’s a real testament to the industry.”

He says organisations such as the Green Building Council of Australia have played an integral role in turning Australia into a leader in green buildings.

The recent acquisition will also help the company build out its existing capabilities in human rights and modern slavery.

The consultancy “dipped its toes” into the human rights space with the acquisition of Banarra in 2018, and just four years later, has acquired a second company with expertise in this field.

There’s now a cohort of around 60 across both KPMG Banarra’s and KPMG’s Sustainability Services teams. Boele says the company has one of the biggest consultancy teams (around 20 people) dedicated to social impact services.

Action Sustainability Asia Pacific also specialised in company sustainable finance, particularly around investing and governance and ESG management.

Boele says there’s been strong demand for climate risk services, and that it’s no longer just the top listed companies concerned about the changing climate and sustainability. In fact, he says “we’re seeing key signs of mainstreaming sustainability and ESG”.

KPMG is not the only one of the big four doubling down on sustainability. EY is currently recruiting several people for its Climate Change and Sustainability Services practice. There’s now 250 people working at the firm across Australia and New Zealand on an expanding array of service areas related to climate change and sustainability.

The “S” in “ESG”

When it comes to ESG, Richard Boele believes most organisations are weakest on the “S”. “There’s great opportunity for action on social sustainability.”

There’s strong demand for the firm’s modern slavery services. But what’s more interesting is the rising interest in human rights strategy work.

Boele says the exposure to modern slavery has prompted companies to consider their human right impact more comprehensively.

“Things such as how the company’s operations are harming people in terms of economic rights, labour rights, cultural rights … it’s about understanding how businesses intersect with people, and might inadvertently cause harm, and how to structure businesses to reduce harm.”

He says the built environment sector is starting to recognise its social impact.

“There’s been some significant infrastructure project that have had negative unintended outcomes.”

He says the company is subsequently getting more work assessing the social impact of developments, including precincts.

Based in Sydney, the Action Sustainability Asia Pacific team will relocate to KPMG’s Barangaroo premises this month.

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