COP27 saw world leaders descend upon Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh resort in force for two weeks in November.
The stakes? Just the future of most life on earth, as international delegations sought to decide on the next steps in the struggle against climate change.
The Egyptian hosts had promised that this would be an “implementation COP”, focused less on vague, grand statements and more on the detail of how the Glasgow Climate Pact – agreed at last year’s COP26 with the aim of ensuring that global warming remains no higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius – can be met.
But with the notable exception of agreement on an international “Loss and Damage Fund” to help developing nations affected by climate change (a vague, grand statement – given that the agreement says nothing about where and who the funds will come from…), reactions to the COP27 summit have been generally ones of disappointment.
Major advances on Glasgow – particularly on fossil fuel wind-down – were notable by their absence. Indeed, there were even fears that there would be a retreat from what was agreed last year, but thankfully these proved to be unfounded.
So where does all this leave businesses working towards their net zero targets?
That’s what we’ll look at in this blog.
What is the 1.5 Degrees Climate Pledge?
The “1.5 degrees” figure has been bandied around so much that it’s easy to forget what it actually means – so here’s a quick refresher:
- Scientists have calculated that the average surface temperature of the earth has risen by around 1 degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution began
- The 2015 Paris Agreement (adopted at COP21) committed 196 parties to a binding agreement to limit global warming to “well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels”
- In 2019, the UK government amended the Climate Change Act 2008 to increase its commitment from an 80% reduction of national greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared to 1990 levels to 100%, or “net zero”.
- The 2021 Glasgow Climate Pact committed signatories to much tighter carbon reduction targets by 2030, with measures to achieve that in place by the end of 2022.
- In summer 2022, the UK Committee on Climate Change reported that emissions have been cut by 47%, but that current plans would not deliver net zero by 2050 – with home energy efficiency, agriculture, and land use singled out as particularly under-developed.
This all might sound very high-level and beyond the power of individual companies to affect.
But of course, the UK’s journey to net zero is made up of the achievements of hundreds of thousands of individual businesses, supported – or prodded along – by government action.
So it’s up to each and every business to make its own contribution by working towards decarbonisation.
Here are five areas where your business can make a difference.
5 Things Your Business Can Work On To Achieve Net Zero
#1 Use Science-Based Guidelines to Set Targets across Emissions Scopes
The Greenhouse Gas Protocol divides emissions into three scopes:
- Scope 1 – direct emissions from a company’s activities or property
- Scope 2 – indirect emissions from the generation of energy used by a company
- Scope 3 – indirect upstream and downstream emissions across a company’s value chain
Scope 3 emissions are particularly tricky to benchmark and measure, as they often concern other businesses. But there are lots of free tools that can help your business assess what your emissions across these categories are. For example:
- Greenhouse Gas Protocol’s Many Calculator Tools
- The Carbon Trust’s Carbon Footprint Calculator
- SME Climate Hub’s Cool Climate Calculator
#2. Aim for 50% Decarbonisation by 2030
In practice, that means “prioritise the quick wins”:
- Switch to a green or renewable energy provider
- Look at improving building insulation and energy efficiency
- Move your fleet to electric vehicles
- Minimise business travel, especially air travel
- Stop using disposable items, like paper cups and plastic bags
- Keep printing to a minimum or move to a paper-free office
- Set up recycling bins around your premises
- Make sure your suppliers are committed to Net Zero too
- Engage your employees and get them contributing
- Review lighting and HVAC systems, as these are massive energy users
All small things, but over the course of the 28 years left until 2050 their impact will add up!
#3 Publish Net Zero Transition Strategies
Be open about what you’re doing and you’ll find others are willing to help. Celebrate your wins and publicise what you’re doing in your annual report and CSR reports.
Not only is this required for a growing number of public procurement projects, but it’s great PR when you show that you take Net Zero just as seriously as other business goals.
#4 Commit to Transparent Reporting
It’s also vital to keep proper track of what you’re doing, so you and your stakeholders can assess the progress that’s being made.
And that’s where Thrive comes in. Not only can we provide consultancy to help you develop your targets and processes, but our software platform helps you to capture, analyse and showcase the impact your efforts are having.
And our software is the only platform approved for use with The Impact Evaluation Standard, a framework that includes combating climate change as one of its five central pillars – which makes it ideal for integrating with Net Zero planning and tracking – and which is fully aligned with the Social Value Model.
#5 Minimise Offsetting
Of course, Net Zero isn’t the same as absolute zero. That’s where offsetting comes in.
Offsetting activities can include:
- Tree planting, reforestation, and conversation
- Converting waste to energy
- Investing in community energy efficient projects, beyond the scope of your own direct impact
- Trading in emissions credits (effectively, paying for the carbon removal carried out by others)
However, offsetting should be seen as a last resort – as a way to compensate for unavoidable emissions that can’t be eliminated.
Four Examples of Good Practice
If you’re struggling for ideas on how your business can reduce carbon emissions, the good news is that many companies are publishing detailed plans of their own, which you can use for inspiration.
Here are a few great examples.
#1 Laing O’Rourke
Most of constructor Laing O’Rourke’s emissions relate to purchased materials, particularly diesel and concrete. It’s therefore understandable that these are areas prioritised in their Carbon Reduction Plan.
- All electricity is purchased from REGO-backed renewable sources
- Company cars are in the process of being switched to hybrid and electric models
- Heavy plant is being converted to run on biodiesel and HVO
- Solar cells are due to be installed at manufacturing plants
- Commitment to the ConcreteZero initiative, which aims at creating a global market for net zero concrete, and to specify lower-emissions concrete
- Investigation of hydrogen power for sites and plant
#2 Atos IT Services
Atos’ highly ambitious plan commits it to achieving net zero by 2028, with 50.2% of that achieved by 2025.
Their efforts concentrate on:
- Reducing office space by 34%, by encouraging more home and remote working (from 31% of Atos’ workforce pre-Covid to between 40 and 60%)
- Moving to 100% renewable electricity suppliers
- Switching the group’s car fleet to electric vehicles as current leases expire
- Incorporating a carbon pricing mechanism, attaching a value to TCO2 emission reductions that will impact the operating margin results used in the bonus payout calculation
L’Oreal was one of the early adopters of SBTi-approved objectives, subjecting their efforts to external standards of rigour in 2017.
Since then, the company has:
- Cut the CO2 emissions of manufacturing plants and distribution centres by 87% against a 2005 baseline, while increasing production by 37%
- By 2030, all of L’Oreal’s sites will be carbon neutral. By the end of 2021, 58% had been achieved
- By 2030, L’Oreal’s strategic suppliers will have cut their Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 50%, relative to 2016
- Carbon emissions from the use of L’Oreal’s products had been reduced by 12% by the end of 2021, with 25% due to be reached by 2030
In September 2021, Tesco committed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035, and net zero (including supply chain and products) by 2050. Like L’Oreal, a large proportion of Tesco’s emissions come from downstream, by customer use.
So while their efforts to date have focused on energy use (particularly refrigeration) and transportation, Tesco’s future carbon reduction plans address:
- Working with WWF to help suppliers adopt low carbon alternatives – such as methane-reducing feed additives and alternative feedstuffs for livestock farmers
- Increasing the availability and affordability of plant-based meat alternatives
- Reducing food and packaging waste
- Since 2020, Tesco has launched two sustainability-linked bonds, a kind of borrowing linked to sustainability performance
If you’d like to find out more about reducing and tracking your carbon emissions, this is something we’ve written about in other blogs. Check them out on the links below!