Net Zero… Is It Enough?

24 Mar 2022

Net Zero… Is It Enough?

At the beginning of March, I attended a conference for sustainability leaders and had the pleasure of listening to knowledgeable experts on subjects such as climate change, climate activism, regeneration, stakeholder capitalism, and obviously Net Zero!

Plastic in the ocean

 

We have been hearing about Net Zero commitments, especially in the run-up to the climate change conference (COP26) that took place in Glasgow in November last year. Decarbonizing our economy is essential if we want to keep this planet habitable for all the species currently living on it (including human beings). However, the issues we are currently facing are multi-fold and reach far beyond the high CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Species are becoming extinct, the soil we rely on to feed ourselves is dying, our freshwater is getting polluted, and the oceans are dying under the sheer volume of plastic dumped in them. Net Zero simply won’t cut it!

We need to think holistically and long-term to achieve the level of regeneration needed not only to clean our atmosphere but also to allow the multitude of ecosystems on our planet to survive and thrive again.

 

 

What is Net Zero?

According to the Science-Based Targets Initiative, Net Zero can be claimed when a business has reduced its emissions by 90 percent and is offsetting the rest. The SBTi aims to keep us (the world) on track so that the average temperature around the globe does not rise by more than 1.5oC. Scientists are telling us that we are already at +1.3oC…we are running out of runway, and it is critical business leaders show courage and drive the system change needed to address the crises we are currently facing.

Reducing one’s business’ emissions is a real task: it is difficult! It requires true collaboration with all your stakeholders (suppliers, employees, customers) to look at every aspect of your operations and challenge every stage of your processes. It requires commitment, resources, innovation, and the engagement of everyone to achieve this virtuous goal. Starting with your operations and in the spirit of the 360o approach, businesses need to hunt down waste even more than in the days of Lean initiatives! Energy, Water, Raw Materials are all to be preserved and reduction of consumption will automatically lead to the reduction of carbon emissions. Waste management is also an important part of your emissions control – work with the right waste management provider who will deliver the right solution and enable your organisation to participate in the circular economy by feeding back materials into production chains. Think about the current scarcity of cardboard: don’t burn it, recycle it to make more cardboard!

Ways to reduce emissions

Using renewable material/energy is also a major contributor to the reduction of your emissions.

supply chain

 

 

However, most of your emissions are likely to come from your supply chain – indirect emissions linked to the goods and services your business needs to operate. Again, choice and collaboration are essential to achieve significant reduction – choose your suppliers carefully to align your organisation with other companies sharing similar values and practices to yours. Do support all players in your supply chain to get there: share practices, co-fund major infrastructure if required (e.g. solar panels on the roof of your 3PL warehouse), train, advocate within your circle of stakeholders to bring everyone on board, and create momentum which will contribute to a quicker reduction of the emissions linked to your business.

 

Absorbing leftover emissions

And when you can no longer reduce - then contemplate solutions to absorb these leftover emissions for which there are no solutions at this point in time.

Nature-based solutions are addressing a number if not all the issues we face when it comes to the sustainability of our environment. Whether you choose to sponsor your local farm and its regenerative farming practices; support crowdfunding of a wildlife corridor; commit to the conservation of ancient woodland or partner with forest management organisations to plant the right trees in the right place under the right stewardship! All these initiatives will lead to absorption of carbon while restoring the quality of the soil, encouraging biodiversity, getting us all much further along the recovery path than carbon credits!

Involve your workforce

Cycle

 

People join businesses with purpose, employees show pride and great motivation in being part of an organisation making a real difference. All the people involved with your company are significant contributors to your total emissions: commuting, using energy for their day-to-day tasks, printing, drinking coffee, etc…bringing your entire workforce behind the Net Zero goal will help generate innovative ideas on how to do things differently: cycle to work day, no print month, no flight year. Furthermore, allowing employees to take part in the nature solutions selected by your organisation will positively contribute to wellbeing, motivation and therefore productivity, advocacy for your business, and employee retention!

 

It's not only about emissions reduction

There is so much more to Net Zero than carbon emissions reduction. There is a need to raise awareness and encourage everyone to do more, always… We should all advocate for broader ambitions, interlinking society, and the environment to drive the system change needed to save us all!

My words have been inspired by many wise people who I haven’t quoted here but who keep on influencing my thoughts and actions when it comes to sustainability. I recommend people invest some of their time to read the following:

  • Net Positive by Paul Polman and Andrew Winston
  • English pastoral by James Rebank
  • Ellen McArthur Foundation
  • Green Swans by John Elkington
  • Who cares win by Lily Cole
Muryel Boulay, Sustainability Consultant and founder of B Other Wise Ltd

Muryel Boulay is a sustainability consultant, guiding organisations on their positive impact journey. After 20 years in the food industry working for UK Household Food brands, she created B Other Wise Ltd, and her mission is to guide businesses on their journey towards positive contribution. She is encouraging clients' determination to be a Force for Good and be rewarded by a B Corp or a CSR-A accreditation, supported by a strong strategy and action plan.

Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership Alumna, B Leader, Terra Institute Certified Partner and Future Fit Certified Advisor.