A roadmap to Net Zero: The how? and why? of carbon reduction for your business
The climate crisis is the most pressing issue of this generation, says Sustainability Project Leader of Comply Direct Ltd, Liz Wood, (PIEMA, PhD)
The climate crisis
The climate crisis is the most pressing issue of this generation. Global emissions and temperatures are continuing to rise and reaching record levels, and the disastrous consequences of this on our climate, oceans, and biodiversity are already clearly visible. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report published in 2018 detailed the devastating impacts on the world if global warming reached over 1.5 degrees warming above pre-industrial levels. Impacts include coral reefs ceasing to exist, annual heatwaves causing wildfires and droughts, ice sheets collapsing, the wipe out of species, and millions of lives at risk.
More recently, the IPCC published its 6th Assessment Report on the Physical Science Basis of climate change. This built on the previous report as a code-red for humanity, highlighting the scale of the climate emergency and the need for countries and governments to take rapid action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The findings showed that warming is projected to hit that 1.5 degree threshold between 2030 and 2035, no matter the scenario. Only drastic action to reach the net zero carbon emissions target within the carbon budget will limit the impacts and enable warming to decrease. This report comes at a crucial time ahead of the Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021, where participating nations will need to agree to take actions which are proportionate to the scale of the climate crisis. Signatories to the Paris agreement will need to raise their ambitions for mitigating climate change in line with these findings.
Although the 6th Assessment Report provides perhaps the most concerning outlook yet, we are in the midst of a generational opportunity for organisations to take action to minimise their environmental impacts and maximising the sustainability of their business operations.
Roadmap to Net Zero
Net zero means reducing emissions as much as possible whilst acknowledging that where greenhouse gas emissions still occur, they must be offset entirely through long term carbon capture or storage. The UK’s legally binding net-zero target by 2050 will likely mean further requirements for businesses will be introduced in the coming years. A recent poll conducted by O2 and the British Chambers of Commerce, found that just 1 in 10 SMEs are measuring the carbon footprint of their operations, with one of the main challenges being a lack of in-house understanding or expertise.
A roadmap to net zero can be broken down into 4 stages
Measure: This is calculating how much carbon an organisation or product generates and is commonly referred to as a carbon footprint.
Target: Once a carbon footprint is calculated, organisations might want to set a target to reduce their footprint over time, as well as consider working towards a Science Based Target or a commitment to Net Zero.
Reduce: Carbon specialist consultants can help organisations achieve their targets via provision of carbon management plans with specific actions and suggestions based on the latest technologies available, as well as for insight into future developments and onsite audits by energy professionals to recommend specific areas for improvement.
Offset: Offsetting plays an important role in achieving carbon neutrality or Net Zero, as many organisations have unavoidable GHG emissions, so they use offsets to compensate them. An external consultant can help to procure high quality, third party verified offsets to use alongside reductions in emissions.
What is a carbon footprint?
The first step in achieving carbon reduction goals is to calculate an organisation’s carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is a measure of the emissions produced as a result of an organisation’s operations.
The calculation of a carbon footprint is normally done based on carbon emitted over a specified period (usually a year).
It involves calculating the total emissions released to the atmosphere, either directly, which means greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from GHG sources owned or controlled by the organisation (eg. via gas in boilers located at the company sites), or indirectly, which are GHG emissions that are a consequence of an organisation’s operations or activities, but that arises from GHG sources that are not owned or controlled by the organisation.
For carbon footprinting, it is necessary to split GHG emitting activities into 3 different scopes:
Scope 1: Direct emissions
These include emissions from activities owned or controlled by an organisation that release emissions into the atmosphere. They are direct emissions where carbon emissions go directly into the atmosphere. Examples of Scope 1 emissions include emissions from combustion in owned or controlled boilers, furnaces, vehicles.
Scope 2: Energy indirect
These include emissions released into the atmosphere associated with consumption of purchased electricity, heat, steam and cooling. These are indirect emissions that are a consequence of an organisation’s activities, but which occur at sources not owned or controlled. For example, when purchasing electricity, the emissions happen indirectly at the power station.
Scope 3: Other indirect
Emissions that are a consequence of an organisation’s actions, which occur at sources not owned or controlled and which are not classed as Scope 2 emissions. Examples of Scope 3 emissions are business travel by means not owned or controlled by an organisation, waste disposal which is not owned or controlled, or purchased materials.
Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG)
Companies are more frequently coming under increasing pressure from investors, regulators, employees and customers to not only monitor and reduce their carbon emissions, but to also incorporate this into a wider sustainability strategy, accounting for all ESG factors.
ESG stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance and is a framework used by organisations to evaluate their success beyond short-term profit, aiming to create positive social and environmental outcomes.
Not only does ESG assess a company’s environmental impact and stewardship via environmental criteria, it also evaluates how a company manages relationships with and creates value for stakeholders via social criteria, and addresses company leadership and management philosophy, practices and policies via governance criteria.
The action required is clear. It is crucial that organisations of all types and sizes look to address the discussed areas urgently to increase chance of global warming decreasing back below 1.5 degrees.