Starting a transition to net-zero

By Alexis Normand, below, CEO, Greenly

The term ‘net-zero’ refers to a global objective of achieving a balance between CO2 emissions and their absorption by 2050. It has the aim of removing as much CO2 as is emitted, in order to stop the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and stabilise the temperature level as a way of tackling global warming.

But, despite what many may have you believe, there’s no such thing as a net-zero company. That’s because no company can claim that their services, systems, or intended climate action have achieved a net-zero status. Any company that claims it is net-zero is greenwashing.

Instead, in the same way that individuals do, all businesses have a responsibility to contribute to the world’s collective transition to net zero. And small businesses in particular – as the ones making up the larger share of emissions – should be thinking about and focusing on their journey towards this holy grail.

What progress has been made towards net-zero so far?

In short, not enough. Different initiatives have been adopted to try and reach net-zero, for example, carbon offsetting has become popular among businesses. But offsetting isn’t enough to compensate for businesses’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, businesses must also eliminate their excess GHG emissions in order to efficiently contribute to the net-zero target.

How do we get there?

Starting your transition to net-zero needn’t be hard. Small businesses should treat carbon accounting in the same way that they treat financial accounting. Building it into the everyday running of the business, and adopting the same rigour as you would for your finances, will seamlessly make it part of your business operations in no time.

From there, focusing your efforts on just five steps can make the process a whole lot less daunting:

  1. Conduct a carbon assessment

Before committing to any actions, you need to know what you’re actually dealing with. The objective of net-zero is to encourage informed reflection on the best way to adapt your business model to environmental issues. Similar to a financial audit, drawing up the balance statement of your greenhouse gas emissions and understanding your end-to-end carbon footprint will allow you to then create an action plan for reducing it.

2. Define science-based goals

This is not about setting approximate targets – any action taken must be effective in contributing towards net-zero. And, to be effective, any action must be linked to specific objectives. The SBTi initiative (Science-Based Targets Initiative) clarifies the objectives that any company should achieve to effectively fight against climate change through the use of science-based criteria. These targets show businesses how much and how quickly they need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

3. Create a carbon roadmap

Success is dependent on everyone in the business being bought into the journey from the offset, so bring your teams in and keep them involved and motivated throughout. Develop a net-zero carbon roadmap built from achievable, incremental steps which will punctuate your journey with small, achievable wins along the way. That way, building and maintaining morale for the journey.

You won’t become a sustainable business overnight, but having a clearly defined roadmap will keep you on track and get you there quicker.

4. Optimise your ways of working

Whether you are selling a product or a service, chances are your current ways of working can be optimised with a zero-net approach. For example, do you really need your employees to come to the office everyday? What is the emission rate of your website or website hosting provider? Is your company dedicated to tracking its progress towards sustainability? And so on.

5. Focus on value chain mitigation

Most of a company’s emissions come from its value chain and its suppliers. Therefore it’s crucial for any company on a net-zero journey to carry out a deep analysis of its suppliers’ environmental impact.

There’s your starter for ten (or five, in this instance!). As mentioned, your business cannot become net-zero so don’t waste energy on trying to achieve this mythical goal. Instead, start your journey to contribute to the world’s collective goal of achieving net-zero by 2050.