How Do You Create a Net-Zero Strategy?

Nicole Lummis
July 8, 2024

Today, businesses and organisations need to create a net-zero strategy to align with the UK government’s plans for a greener economy. The goal is to hit net-zero emissions by 2050 and the IPCC’s report on remaining within 1.5°C of average global heating to mitigate the worst effects of climate change and protect development for all. 

Businesses are now eager to position themselves as leaders within the movement towards carbon neutrality, rising to the calls of investors and consumers. Creating a net-zero strategy starts with understanding your impact, setting objectives to reduce impact and then creating a robust and realistic plan of action. 

  • What Is a Net-Zero Strategy?
  • Calculating Impact
  • Setting Credible Net-Zero Targets
  • Renewable Energy Sourcing
  • Net-Zero Strategy Options
  • Offsetting Emissions

 

What Is a Net-Zero Strategy?

A net-zero strategy is a plan dictating how a business or organisation will decrease their entire greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, alongside related environmental impacts such as waste production or water use. 

From the outset, businesses must calculate their total GHG emissions and then reduce and offset that number. Credible net-zero strategies will reduce emissions as much as possible without resorting to half-hearted attempts or greenwashing practices. 

Calculating Impact

The total GHG emissions an organisation creates acts as the baseline for future progress. In most cases, businesses will need to work with dedicated third-party providers to accurately calculate their rate of emissions. 

There are many carbon calculators you can use to roughly determine impact. However, these will never be fully accurate. Only an accurate measurement can inform a fully-developed net-zero strategy. 

Setting Credible Net-Zero Targets

Corporate neutrality targets vary the world over, be it how they’re achieved or the time it takes to get there. The main thing businesses and organisations need to get right is setting a science-based reduction target and describing how much value chain emissions will be decarbonised. 

A credible net-zero target requires engaging internal stakeholders and transforming business models to be successful. Targets can be described as:

  • The amount of carbon emissions which will be eliminated.
  • The amount of carbon emissions which can be compensated for or reduced as there may be emissions for which no mitigation procedures have been identified. 
  • The amount of other emissions, such as methane, which can be reduced but don’t necessarily fall under the mantle of ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘net-zero’. 

Organisations looking to effectively set net-zero targets can utilise the Science Based Targets ‘Foundation for Science-Based Net-zero Target Setting in the Corporate Sector’ report.

Renewable Energy Sourcing

Without energy, organisations wouldn’t be able to exist. In 2019, 17% of total annual carbon emissions (454.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) was directly attributable to the business sector. That’s a significant amount - around 76 million tonnes. 

A large percentage of this will be caused by where energy is sourced. Fossil fuels use is the leading cause of man-made climate change. So by switching to renewable energy sources, a business can drastically reduce its footprint.

Today, renewable energy is cheaper than ever. In fact, they’re increasingly cheaper than traditional energy sources, such as coal. Since 2010, the cost of new solar photovoltaic cells has fallen by 82%. Similarly, during the coronavirus pandemic, investments in fossil fuels fell by 30%.

Renewables are popular and more accessible than they ever were. In the UK alone, there are numerous energy suppliers businesses and organisations can transition to, such as:

  • Green Energy
  • Octopus Energy
  • Bulb
  • Ecotricity
  • Ovo Energy

 

Net-Zero Strategy Options

A huge part of ensuring a net-zero strategy can both be developed and succeed is intelligent design. This kind of design is crucial when capturing reduced GHG emissions across a business or organisation and helps to prevent further emissions even during future growth. 

Intelligent design practices can be seen in the three main sections of any net-zero strategy:

Analytics

In the analytics stage, intelligent design can be leveraged by:

  • Creating science-based targets for emissions. Organisations can opt to join the Science Based Targets initiative to gain support on this. 
  • Implementing environmental, social and governance (ESG) screening.
  • Assessing the capabilities of leadership.
  • Analysing an organisation’s materiality and any future trends regarding sustainability or economics may directly impact a net-zero strategy.

 

Solutions

Solutions cover the actual ideas that can be put in place to secure a net-zero strategy in company policy. It can consist of:

  • Innovation regarding products, services and eco-friendly design.
  • Strategy considerations for greener buildings and on-site facilities management.
  • Solutions for increasing circularity in business and end-of-life strategies for company assets, such as e-waste remarketing and recycling. 

 

Implementations

During implementation, businesses and organisations can secure:

  • Public/marketing communication campaigns alongside internal learning and training.
  • Engagement with supply chain providers.
  • Integrating new management systems.

 

Offsetting Emissions

Carbon offsetting is the act of developing other ways of compensating for carbon emissions. An example of this may be tree-planting, where emissions produced over one year would be offset by planting enough trees to sequester the same amount of carbon.

Many businesses are initially swayed by this idea - especially if it’s done through planting trees (a great way of creating green spaces and promoting biodiversity). However, carbon offsetting is quite controversial.

The key issue is time: A planted tree may take 20 years to sequester the amount of carbon an offsetting scheme promises will be offset. Quite frankly, the global economy doesn’t have the luxury of time when mitigating the challenges of runaway climate change. 

Similarly, some offsetting projects are guilty of being complicit in attacks on the world’s indigenous populations, with 500 million acres of land being acquired in ‘deals brokered on behalf of foreign governments or transnational corporations’ that has left indigenous and poor communities at risk of losing their land. 

Essentially, while offsetting may seem like an attractive, ‘quick-fix’ option, it isn’t a viable option for implementing a net-zero strategy. 

Further Additions to a Net-Zero Strategy

A net-zero strategy will never be actualised in a way universal to all businesses. While many strategies will have similarities, the unique nature of an organisation or business will require different approaches.

There’s a wide variety of strategic changes a company can make:

  • Implement green practices on site, such as recycling programs, carpooling, cycling schemes and efficient waste management. 
  • Ensure buildings are operating in an energy-efficient manner. This may require improving insulation, heating or ventilation systems, alongside using energy-efficient lighting.
  • Utilise on-site power generation, such as solar panels. For larger sites in specific geographical locations, a wind turbine could offer pronounced benefits, such as energy production and revenue generation. 

 

New call-to-action