How to put your net zero pledge into action
2020 was so extraordinary that Oxford Languages could not decide on one, single “Word of the Year” to sum up the global mood, instead opting for dozens of terms.
The list included the obvious: “covid-19”, “lockdown” and “social distancing”; but another phrase, “net zero” reflects the ramped-up response to the other global crisis: climate change.
Since 2019 more than 110 countries, including the UK, have pledged to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, effectively ending their contribution to climate change. It means two-thirds of the world’s emissions are now covered by a net zero commitment.
Increased business ambition
This galvanised global commitment to tackling climate change has, as you would expect, driven a seismic shift in business and public sector ambition. Research published in September 2020 showed that 1,500 companies globally have now set net zero targets of some kind.
Pressure from investors and customers is at an all-time high: the CEO of the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, recently urged companies to disclose a clear plan for transitioning to a net zero economy, or “see their businesses and valuations suffer”. Other research by Carbon Copy found that more than half of all local councils in the UK have set a goal of reaching net zero emissions locally by 2030 or sooner.
Backing up words with action
Yet despite the ambition, rhetoric and clear case for action, the reality is that many net zero pledges are not yet backed up with a credible and clear roadmap to getting there.
Another recent poll showed that more than a third of councils in the UK are not confident that they’ll be able to meet their public commitments to net zero, citing a lack of data and information as the obstacle. In the private sector, research by Client Earth of the UK’s top listed companies suggests that many firms “have their head in the sand”. It found that although 50% mentioned a net zero target or similar in their annual reports, very little detail was provided, making it difficult to assess how ambition is being translated into action.
Setting a pathway to net zero
Given the scale – and complexity of the decarbonisation challenge, it is understandable that many organisations will be asking, “Where to start”.
There are many different routes to net zero, but fundamentally there are 5 key steps:
- Decide on scope. You should include as a minimum your “Scope 1” emissions (those directly released by your organisation e.g. combustion from furnaces), and “Scope 2” emissions (from the electricity you buy). You should also include emissions from purchased goods and services (“Scope 3” or “value chain” emissions) if they are a large source of emissions.
- Measure. Collect emissions data across your organisation, to calculate your carbon footprint.
- Set a target and date. This requires looking at your current emissions and assessing the financial and business impact of reducing them over set period of time. Your timeframe should be – “science-based”, i.e. it should be within the timeframe for the global goal set in the Paris Agreement. Set clear KPIs to track progress, and set short and medium-term targets to keep you on track.
- Reduce. Once you know your carbon footprint, you can begin to look at the actions required to reduce it, and set out a long term carbon reduction plan.
- Renewables. Access to renewable energy will increasingly become a necessity, ideally through on-site generation but also perhaps by purchasing certified renewable electricity from a supplier.
At Concept, we are helping many organisations gain an accurate picture of their carbon emissions, and develop a long-term, cost-effective roadmap to decarbonisation. If you would like advice on how to start your carbon reduction journey, get in touch.