What does Net Zero really mean for my business?

This is not just about balancing carbon, it’s about transformational change.

This is not just about balancing carbon, it’s about transformational change.

By Lindsay Ventress, Service Line Lead – Energy at EcoAct.

The world is starting to look towards a vital global goal: Net Zero. According to science it is essential that we meet this goal no later than 2050 if we are to give ourselves a chance of limiting global warming to relatively safe levels.

The reality of this target is a requirement to reduce emissions by 7.6% every year between 2020 and 2030. In 2020, it may be possible we will come close with emissions predicted to fall between 4-7% but under the tragic circumstances of a global pandemic. This puts into stark relief the scale of change required. However, the window of opportunity it still open and it is possible to achieve our target and make our businesses more resilient in the process.

For an organisation, what does Net Zero really mean? How do you devise a robust strategy for reaching Net Zero and what actions should be taken?

The definition of Net Zero

The challenge with Net Zero has been the lack of internationally recognised definition and the absence of any universal guidelines on how to achieve it.

With no time to lose in limiting global warming, there is a growing consensus between climate experts who have been working with terms like “carbon neutrality”, “net zero emissions” for some time. Put simply, Net zero is a state where we add no incremental greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. This means emissions output is balanced with removal of carbon from the atmosphere via carbon sinks (e.g forests, mangroves, carbon capture, etc). Essentially, what goes in, must be removed.

Perhaps the most important part of Net Zero, however, is that it requires drastic reductions in emissions outputs – to as close to zero emissions as possible. Then what is left should be removed to achieve Net Zero.

This is why Net Zero means more than balancing carbon, and why it really means transformational change.

What does a robust strategy for Net Zero look like?

The path to Net Zero will look different for every organisation. Therefore, a robust strategy for Net Zero is one that is well-informed of your business priorities, stakeholder inputs and the risks and opportunities that climate change poses to your unique business.

Senior management must be on board, ideally driving forward the objective. It will be impossible to achieve the change required without full buy-in from the business and an alignment with the overall business strategy. Your C-Suite needs to be championing your commitment to make it work.

It must be underpinned by robust systems for data collection, monitoring and reporting. Without this, your ability to credibly report your emissions, your target and manage the increasing demands for transparency will be severely challenged.

A Net Zero ambition will need to include a science-based target for emissions reduction. This is to ensure that emissions are being reduced in line with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

It will need an action plan to reach the target, taking into account projected business growth, all planned and potential reduction initiatives as well as an understanding of the financial investment required to activate change in your organisation.

It must also have a credible strategy for offsetting emissions. Make sure you are using a reputable and experienced supplier and that all projects are certified by internationally recognised standards. The projects you choose should also do more than benefit your organisation from a carbon perspective, but also have a positive social and environmental impact on the communities in which they operate.

What should I do next?

  1. Make a commitment – the more of us that do, the more we can start to collectively activate change and make the global goal achievable. It will also continue to send a message to governments that this is an important priority for business and we need their collaboration.
  2. Get your fundamentals (data) right – Whether it is measuring your emissions, setting targets or reporting, good data and systems in our experience are crucial. Make sure you have a good system and evaluate your internal processes for possible improvements.
  3. Start engaging your stakeholders and collaborating – You need to understand, listen to and incentivise your stakeholders as you will need them to help you to achieve your targets and affect change. You are not alone in grappling with the challenges, look to industry groups and corporate sustainability experts to access information, and join the conversation.
  4. Seek out opportunities in change – Consumers and clients as well as internal stakeholders are looking for answers to help them be more sustainable. There are new markets and opportunities to be explored. This will be an enormous driver for innovation and transformational change. There are also savings to be made in better efficiency, and reputational advantages to showing proactivity and stepping ahead on the journey.
  5. Take action today on your full impact – With a closing window to reduce emissions adequately, we need to utilise every tool in our toolbox to minimise our impact. We’re not going to be able to eliminate all of our emissions tomorrow. Consider ways to take responsibility for your full impact while you urgently reduce emissions. One way to do this is through offsetting your remaining emissions with credits from internationally certified sustainable development projects. These projects help to improve lives, share technologies, protect precious ecosystems, and ultimately to make sure that we are taking every possible action today to minimise our global impacts. Not all of these projects sequester/remove carbon, but regardless they can play a valuable role in our transition to a Net Zero future.

EcoAct’s A to Zero programme.

Earlier this year, EcoAct launched their A to Zero programme. This modular programme has been designed to support organisations in navigating the challenges of Net Zero. It sets out a robust pathway for corporate climate action that will help a company to activate the transformational change required for Net Zero and to build a more resilient future.

Find out more here.

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