We’re on a global mission to achieve specific environmental goals, and we’re on a timeline. Goals set in 2015 outlined a 15-year timeline to achieve certain human and environmental goals by 2030. The U.N. Member states adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a commitment to end poverty, improve education, address water shortages, eliminate inequalities and focus on the climate, among the 17 designated targets. With companies carrying much of the burden to make the required changes in order to achieve these goals, they need to have a plan, and quickly.
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While it’s a challenge, it’s certainly possible. Many companies already manage their day to day operations at a net-zero level. Plus, customers, governments and communities are collectively demanding greener products. Catering to those demands puts companies in a good light with many customers, specifically the next generations who are dedicated to conscientious purchasing, even if it comes at a higher cost. So how can a company even get started with such a seemingly insurmountable task? The same way we tackle anything in life: with a plan.
Related: Triple Zero is going above and beyond decarbonizing
Evaluate current operations
This step requires a comprehensive look at the supply chain, transportation, packaging, waste, material selections, manufacturing, storefront footprint, shipping practice, and more. In order to make changes, a company has to identify current operational standards.
Measure carbon footprint
For each category of the business, it’s important to know exactly where the business stands from an environmental stance. How much plastic is used in product packaging? How far are supplies and finished products being shipped? Are buildings run on renewable energy? There are many online tools and even entire businesses that offer consulting to measure carbon footprints accurately.
Without an accurate measurement, it’s impossible to define, let alone achieve, net-zero status. Basically, the process involves choosing a base year that represents typical operations. Then the company will use defined measurements to evaluate the company’s total emissions. These are broken into scope one, two and three emissions, which are addressed with an individual plan for each business. These are science-based solutions so accurate data collection is essential, as is setting realistic and attainable goals backed by detailed plans of action.
Map out initiatives
All plans need a goal list, complete with timelines. For a company to become net-zero, it will need both. The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has developed the first global science-based standard for companies to set net-zero targets. This provides businesses with the tools they need to follow the roadmap to net-zero. Along the way, it will achieve near-term and long-term goals, investing in different initiatives along the way. The plan will look different for each business, but in general it will typically start small and rise to the bigger, pricier adaptations.
Take, for example, a clothing business. The initial steps could remove plastic from all packaging, replacing it with recyclable paper products instead. Then it would look at the supply chain, shifting to fair trade, organic, natural or recycled materials that are produced responsibly. It might also find local suppliers to eliminate transport emissions. Next, it will transition manufacturing lines to solar power or other types of renewable energy.
With all this information at hand, specific targets are then set for each category of business operations. The company will choose a target year and use science-backed calculations for the actions required to achieve the desired reductions. This process applies to both near-term and long-term targets. Again, the SBTi and net-zero consulting firms are available to guide businesses along the way. The SBTi even outlines wording for targets to ensure specificity.
An example might read, “Company X commits to reduce emissions from forestry and land-use and agriculture 80% by 2035, from a 2019 base year.” Or, “Company X commits to reduce scope 3 emissions from upstream transport by 85% by 2040.”
Use carbon offsets
Even the most diligent business leaves a carbon footprint. One way to balance out the equation is to pay for carbon offsets, which simply means investing in activities such as planting trees. The carbon absorbed by the trees then counterbalances the carbon produced by the business. Early in the transition towards net-zero, many companies rely heavily on carbon offsets. The goal, however, is to eventually earn net-zero status as an entity without the need for offsets. That’s when the environment can start to get ahead. Especially when a business is net-zero but still contributes to causes such as stopping deforestation or restoring wetlands.
Maintain and re-evaluate
Major overhauls to a business are rarely easy. While the target goals are set at this point, that doesn’t mean they are always achieved. Constant monitoring and adaptations are required to keep the business on track towards net-zero goals.
Net-zero is achievable
As the saying goes, “Getting started is the hardest part.” When the topic comes up at a board meeting and everyone is wringing their hands at the costs involved, remember, the goal is to halve emissions in the next eight years and to eliminate them before 2050. That means businesses don’t have to get it done overnight, but they do need to start today.
Like the SBTi stated, “The climate and ecological crises require bold and decisive action from companies. Decarbonizing a company’s value chain in line with science and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 is increasingly becoming the minimum societal expectation on companies.”
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