How to prepare your business for a carbon neutral future
Theresa May has declared the UK will be the first G7 country to become carbon neutral by 2050, but what does this actually mean and how do we achieve it?
If you’ve been anywhere near a newspaper, Twitter or even Netflix in the last few months, you will have noticed that climate change coverage has taken over.
News articles and documentaries on deforestation, animal extinction and carbon emissions are more prominent than ever before. Wherever we turn, we are reminded of the challenges caused by the climate crisis. Meanwhile, the government has just pledged to make the UK carbon neutral by 2050.
A major factor in this increase in global attention on climate change is the recent IPCC Report, which warned that we only have 12 years to limit warming to 1.5 degrees maximum. This report helped us realise the extent of the damage and how important it is that we work to curb it.
While there are a number of complex factors involved, one of the ways in which we can have a positive impact is to move towards a carbon neutral future.
What is a carbon neutral future and how do we get there?
Essentially, it’s exactly what it says on the tin: a future whereby businesses, governments, organisations and civilians do not emit carbon.
According to the UK’s Climate Change Committee, this would be possible for England by 2050, and for Scotland by 2045. These targets are the first of its kind, and so far, no other G7 economy has signed up.
However, setting the target is the easy bit. The scale of the transformation needed to achieve it is not for the faint-hearted. Becoming carbon neutral is not possible without drastic policy changes and investment into new technologies, such as 100% renewable energy, and carbon capture schemes.
Companies have used carbon offsetting to help reduce emissions, but in reality, this is not enough. Carbon offsetting is compensating for the emissions businesses are making by preventing that same amount of pollution from happening somewhere else.
While offsetting is still considered a necessity by businesses, we will not be able to achieve a carbon neutral future with this alone.
What does this mean for businesses now?
Over the last six years, we have seen a 72% increase in the number of non-financial reporting requirements. However, this just means that businesses are reporting more – not necessarily reducing their carbon footprint. To achieve a lower carbon (not zero carbon emissions) future, around $3.5 trillion needs to be invested in the energy sector every year for the foreseeable future.
Alongside this, while we have more regulations, they are not necessarily carbon-reduction related, meaning that businesses may sometimes lack motivation or be confused about what action is the best to take. Whether intentionally or not, this could result in accusations of greenwashing and lack of integrity.
However, businesses should not be disheartened, there is an action they can take now that will have a real impact. The key to this is a three-step process:
1. Understand energy use across the business and supply chain
To reduce your business's carbon footprint, it’s first important to understand your impact.
Under the newly introduced Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting, more businesses than ever before are having to report on their GHG emissions. This is a good foundation.
By calculating your emissions, you can begin to work out how to reduce them – this also applies to those companies who fall outside the scope of the regulations.
Another useful tool will be a materiality assessment, which will help you identify those areas of sustainability, including and going beyond carbon, which are most important to your business and stakeholders. Combining this with an analysis of supply chain operations, we can start to identify the pressure points.
2. Develop a strategy and meaningful targets
The outcomes of this work will help formulate a more strategic approach that will enable you to have the biggest and most effective impact possible. The strategy should also be aligned to external frameworks, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and CDP.
An important part of the strategy is to make it measurable by setting meaningful and accountable targets.
3. Implement the strategy and report on progress
The work does not stop there, a strategy will only ever be as effective as its implementation.
One of the most important aspects is getting buy-in from people in the company, not only at the top – with executive leadership fundamental – but also with the wider workforce.
A new strategy will need effective engagement and open communication with employees. Make sure they are able to contribute and then explain how in order to galvanise their enthusiasm and support.
After that, it is important not to lose momentum, reporting is vital in demonstrating your commitment to reducing your emissions.
Reporting emissions, your strategy and progress provides greater transparency and accountability to the sustainability actions and strategies. It proves to stakeholders that the commitments are making an impact.
A time for action
Moving towards carbon neutrality is the future for business. The climate crisis will not abate without concentrated and extensive effort, and it will be a key focus area for regulators, companies and their workforce, and society at large. If companies make real commitments and targets, they can have a real impact.