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Net Zero: Finding solutions to common barriers

By Grace Melville
11th December 2019

The role of business in the UKs ambition to reach its 2050 net zero goal is critical. Whilst legislation and government action can be slow, businesses can act today and position themselves as leaders in the fight against climate change. Being part of the solution to climate change is a powerful position to be in and one that businesses can wield to benefit themselves and the planet.

We created ‘Net Zero: The Guide for Business’ to empower organisations with the tools to start their net zero journey with a strategy that is credible and ambitious. Download the guide today.

The Context

Business leaders should now accept that there’s no credible alternative to having a decarbonisation strategy. All organisations, where private or public, need to be capable of making the transition to a zero-carbon economy in the next two decades.

In 2019 net zero became the guiding principle for action on climate change. The simplicity of this phrase is seen by many as a helpful antidot to the complexity of communicating climate science, while others see it riddled with loopholes.

For large, complex businesses the pathway to net zero is often unclear. Net zero can mean different things to different people, and it can be difficult to cut through the jargon to determine what a credible definition of net zero is for your business and, more importantly, how to get there.

The Event

Sustainability leaders from some of the world’s leading corporates came together to hear best practice, share advice and debate the definition and the route to achieving net zero.

The keynote speakers on the day were an all-star, all-female panel from CDP, National Trust and Yorkshire Water. Both of them are responsible for creating change and taking on the challenge of net zero.

The first-hand accounts from National Trust and Yorkshire Water gave valuable insight into the realities of setting a net zero target and implementing the measures to get there.

Both organisations are vastly complex with intricate supply chains and many stakeholders with different requirements. This made them ideal for the audience to gain real, actionable advice into how to approach the common barriers many companies face to net zero.

Common barriers and solutions to net zero

It became clear that across the industries present, almost all shared the same problems when it comes to building a credible strategy to net zero. The amplified the need for having cross industry conversations as net zero will not be achieved in isolation, collaboration is not just ideal, it is crucial to making net zero become a reality.

Challenge One: Securing commitment to a net zero future and communicating this vision meaningfully.

The standout piece of advice from our panel was to tailor your message to the specific wants and needs of the stakeholder that is in front of you. A CEO, CFO or Facilities Manager will all interpret the impact of a net zero strategy differently. Do your research, understand their pain points but more importantly focus on what they will gain from supporting the transition to net zero.

Challenge Two: Understanding Scopes 1, 2 and 3 emissions and being clear on what emissions sources are included in your target

What emissions to include within your reporting boundary is the first decision a company will need to make. This boundary should be ambitious and aligned to established standards as a minimum, such as the Science Based Targets initiative and carbon neutral standard like PAS 2060. By aligning your strategy to these frameworks you’ll create a pathway for your business that is credible and measurable.

Data is a common barrier however finding out where your company’s emissions are right now is key to then being able to determine a realistic reduction target.

Challenge Three: There is no concrete pathway to net zero, it’s unknown and could lead to reputational damage if executed poorly

Lizzy Carlyle, National Trust, gave sound advice for this problem, ‘lean into the uncertainty of net zero’. Businesses need to become more comfortable with not knowing all the answers right now. The uncertainty and the challenges that come with should be seen as opportunities for innovation and transformation rather than barriers.

It’s crucial to develop a credible emissions reductions and carbon removals pathway when committing to be net zero, but it’s important to accept that some elements will be unknown right now. . A net zero strategy may stretch to 2030 or 2050, so don’t be afraid to start small and build from there.

Challenge Four: Carbon offsets – what’s credible?

There is some debate over the credibility of offset schemes and the viability of them to have a meaningful impact on climate change. Carbon removals in the form of offsets can form part of a credible strategy as long as they’re considered after a reductions pathway has been defined. Once you’ve done this then the extent of carbon removals required to balance remaining emissions will become clear.

Whilst standards and certification schemes exist there is concern that selecting low quality carbon removals projects will undermine the credibility of the overall strategy. The advice is therefore to approach offsets with caution, do the due diligence and don’t treat them as an easy way out.

In order to maximise the quality of your offsets consider the following factors which choosing a scheme: timing, geography, assessment criteria to measure offsets, and whether there is opportunity to use insetting (especially for companies with land related activities).