NET ZERO FOR BUSINESSES - what it means and what you should do
If you’ve paid any attention to the news recently the chances are you saw a Net Zero commitment of one sort or another being announced. Countries, businesses, football matches, everybody’s at it.
For businesses in particular it’s become a way of showing you’re serious about climate change. And that matters - businesses should be looking to become Net Zero ASAP. But what does it actually mean to be Net Zero as a business and, more importantly, how do you get there?
What is Net Zero?
Net Zero means that the greenhouse gases that you produce (carbon dioxide, methane and the like) do not exceed the amount you remove from the atmosphere. This means that your business makes no ‘net’ contribution to climate change, because all your emissions have either been reduced or compensated for elsewhere.
The concept is important because it’s part of a bigger plan, which is the global Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. All the experts worth listening to agree that to achieve this, and avoid severe environmental consequences, we need to reach Net Zero as a society by 2050, but as it stands we’re way off track.
Making a Net Zero commitment
So how do you go about making and meeting a Net Zero commitment as a business? At Carbon Jacked we’re specialists and support organisations to do this day in day out, but here are the basics:
1. Measure your carbon footprint
Measure, measure, measure. It’s pretty simple, if you don’t know what your emissions are, you can't reduce them effectively. The first step towards becoming Net Zero, and really for taking any kind of meaningful action on sustainability, is to measure your carbon footprint.
What to measure – for a Net Zero commitment you need to measure all of your emissions, which means your entire supply chain (or ‘Scope 3’ in carbon accounting jargon). This needs to be in line with the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, which is the international framework for carbon accounting.
How to measure properly – it means using experts to get a detailed and accurate assessment. This doesn’t mean going online, putting a couple of figures into an online calculator and taking whatever pops out, which is actually one of the worst things you can do. You wouldn’t sign off your finances without an accountant, and nor should you sign off your emissions without a specialist. Every business is different, so don’t let somebody convince you the one size fits all approach will work.
2. Set your target
Once you’ve measured your carbon footprint, you need to set your Net Zero target. In the (rather unhelpful) jargon, your target needs to be ‘science-based’, which is to say it needs to meet the scientific requirements for limiting global warming in line with the targets set out in the Paris Agreement. In practice, this means the timelines and scale of your commitment needs to match with what the scientists think is necessary to achieve the commitments of the agreement. This is generally seen as a 50% reduction by 2030 and an 100% reduction by 2050, at the latest, from a chosen year (often called a 'base year').
3. Reduce and then remove
The final component of Net Zero is how you get there, and this is where the crucial distinction between ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘Net Zero’ comes in. Carbon neutrality also means balancing out the emissions you produce, but a business could become carbon neutral overnight by purchasing carbon credits equivalent to their emissions without taking any steps to avoid the emissions in the first place.
To be Net Zero, you need to reduce your emissions as much as possible over time (typically at least 90-95%), and carbon credits can only be used to compensate for the emissions that are truly unavoidable, with much stricter requirements around the types and amount of credits that are acceptable.
Joining a Net Zero initiative
There are an abundance of Net Zero initiatives and pledges around, so it can be pretty confusing as to what you should actually sign up to. The starting point is ‘Race to Zero’, which is the UN-backed global campaign for Net Zero. This serves as an umbrella organisation and there are various campaigns that sit beneath it. Typically, you’d join the most relevant of these campaigns depending on your size, industry and location.
Get in touch
If you're thinking about how your business can become more sustainable or reach Net Zero and want some guidance, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set up a chat.
With thanks to Caterina Raimondi, Postgrad LSE Environmental Policy and Regulation, for research and drafting contributions.
- Neighbourhood Botanicals, the first carbon negative beauty brand - an overview of our work can be found here, and covered in Glamour and Harper's Bazaar and Evening Standard
- Coat Paints, the Carbon Positive Paint Co. - an overview of our work can be found here, and featured on Yahoo and in Country & Town House magazine
- Europe's first Carbon Negative wine - an overview of our project to launch Europe's first carbon negative wine can be found here
- Our article for the Independent - After every crisis, carbon emissions continue to grow at an alarming rate. We can't let that happen
- Our interview with Starling Bank - Carbon Jacked: Reducing carbon footprints in business
- Our article for HR Magazine - The rise of environmentally friendly employee benefits
- Our article for the International Institute for Sustainable Development- Getting Businesses Back on Track with the SDGs
- Our article for Adventure Uncovered - Carbon Jacked: why go ‘carbon neutral’, and why stop there?
- Our participation in the Get Nature Positive campaign, which was recently featured in the Financial Times