Buttermilk Falls during an October 2021 rainstorm. Credit: Photo submitted by Ashlie Ervin

ITHACA, N.Y.—Common Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on authorizing city staff to explore and enter into a contract for pro-bono sustainability consulting services from KPMG, one of the largest accounting firms by revenue in the world.

If the city were to enter into an agreement with KPMG, city staff wants to see the company’s services focused on addressing the potential impacts of flooding in the city, according to the resolution council will discuss Wednesday. 

The draft flood maps released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2022 greatly expand the areas in the City of Ithaca that are considered at risk of being impacted by a 100-year flood, a major flooding event that has a 1% chance of occurring any year. 

The resolution council is scheduled to consider Wednesday, which was member-filed by Alderperson Rob Cantelmo, states that KPMG’s services could include policy and infrastructure analysis. KPMG is offering to develop an urban digital twin, a model of the city that would allow for simulations to be run on peak flood levels, or disruptions to emergency services that flooding could cause. 

But KPMG’s exact scope of work would be determined in negotiations, pending council’s approval, as well as what data or other information the company may want to retain as a part of its pro-bono offer.

The opportunity comes as a part of KPMG’s Net Zero Urban Program. It’s an effort that is aimed at establishing models between public actors like municipal governments, the private sector and the finance sector to accelerate the rate cities can achieve net zero carbon emissions, according to the company’s website

The multinational corporation’s interest in Ithaca, while it comes with the offer of free services, appears to be an effort for the company to explore and gain a foothold in the business of city decarbonizing. 

KPMG announced the program in 2022 at the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27), and is aiming to reach 10,000 cities, scale 100 digital prototypes, and raise $25 billion in capital through the Net Zero Urban Program. 

The Ithaca Voice reached out to representatives at KPMG with the request for an interview about its nascent Net Zero Urban Program and its interest in Ithaca. Alison Wently, a spokesperson for KPMG, said in email, “We cannot comment at this time, but once we’re ready to share, I’ll be happy to give you a call and keep you updated on any progress.”

Rebecca Evans, the City of Ithaca’s Director of Sustainability, told The Ithaca Voice that she began talks with KPMG after learning about the company’s Net Zero Urban Program.

Ithaca would be a pilot project within a larger program, Evans said, which is one of the reasons KPMG’s work would be pro-bono.

Evans said she began speaking with KPMG initially about the Ithaca Green New Deal’s building electrification program, but she, and other city staff, came to feel that the city could use more assistance “in terms of resiliency planning and coming to terms with the new FEMA maps.”

The resolution that would authorize city staff to begin negotiating a scope of work with KPMG is going before council members for the first time Wednesday without committee deliberation — differing from the normal legislative process. Resolutions, typically, are discussed and voted on in a committee of Common Council before appearing before the full council for a vote. 

The City Administration Committee, where the resolution concerning the KPMG proposal would have been discussed, had its last meeting canceled due to a lack of quorum.

Jimmy Jordan is Senior Reporter for The Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at jjordan@ithacavoice.org Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn