What do an ice climbing axe, the electric VW bus, the Assassin’s Creed computer game franchise, weightlifting shoes, The Lord of the Rings movies and modular affordable housing projects have in common?
No, this is not the setup of a flat-footed joke. It’s a proper question.
And the answer is that the products of one software company played a part in the design process of all the above.
That company (founded nearly four decades ago) is called Autodesk. Most people will know them for their flagship AutoCAD software, where CAD stands for ‘computer-aided design’.
Today, the company’s various software help architects, designers, manufacturers, movie animators, and every type of industry professional you can muster, create both virtual and physical designs.
What’s more impressive about a company that’s virtually present in every industry is how they dare to care about social, environmental and governance matters.
Back in 2009, when corporate sustainability commitments were much harder to come by, Autodesk set a science-based emissions reduction target for themselves.
What’s interesting is that this wasn’t your usual ‘we’ll reduce our carbon footprint by x percentage’ target.
In 2007, the UN’s scientific advisory body (the IPCC) said that global emissions between 2000 and 2050 would have to reduce by 85% in order to stabilise the climate.
In response to this, Autodesk created a method called C-FACT that allowed them to align their own emissions goals with the 85% reduction target recommended by the IPCC – while adjusting for the company’s relative contribution to the global GDP.
This was corporate goal setting based on the best climate science.
Autodesk made the methodology public from the very outset. And, in 2014, they even released an updated version to help cities reduce their emissions.
This is how, Lynelle Cameron, President and CEO of the Autodesk Foundation, explains it:
“We wanted to develop a rigorous methodology in line with scientific greenhouse gas reduction goals that would enable economic growth, and then make it open source so that other companies with a much larger footprint could replicate and improve upon the methodology.”
But the company wasn’t done here. They coupled their target-setting approach with a series of other actions as well.
Namely, the company:
• Set an internal carbon price;
• Made a public commitment to use 100% renewable electricity by 2030;
• Voluntarily reported their environmental metrics to the CDP;
• Committed to reduce their short-lived climate pollutant emissions (methane, black carbon etc.);
• Vowed to remove commodity-driven deforestation from their supply chain by 2020;
• And openly committed to responsible corporate engagement in climate policy.
But if that wasn’t enough, they also joined the 2050 Pathways Platform, the UN’s Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction and the Powering Past Coal Alliance.
Oh yeah, they also signed the Step Up Declaration in 2018.
We would belabour the obvious if we said that Autodesk seems serious about sustainability…
And the results?
Autodesk decreased its absolute GHG emissions by 43% since 2009.
Plus, they power 100% of their offices and data centres with renewable electricity.
These feats earned them an A- score on the CDP’s climate change scorecard in 2019, as well as a spot on the CDP’s Supplier Engagement Leaderboard.
The company was then listed 5th on the Global 100 list of the world’s most sustainable companies, compiled by the Canadian media and research firm Corporate Knights.
Of course, emissions are not the be-all and end-all of sustainability, so it’s also worth mentioning that the company gave $39.9 million in product donations in the last financial year.
In a show of good corporate citizenship, Autodesk has even offered free commercial use of many of their products during the Covid-19 pandemic.
What is most remarkable perhaps is how Autodesk became living proof that sustainability makes perfect commercial sense.
Since 2015, the company’s stock has more than tripled (it rose by 43% last year alone).
With forays into artificial intelligence-driven 3D printing, and a shift to subscription-based software licensing, we’re confident that Autodesk will only continue to build on its success.