Doing more is not enough, we need to do better
With talks about climate change permeating the business world, an increasing number of companies are setting sustainability targets with the goal of Net Zero in mind. But what exactly does that entail? More importantly, what does it fail to include?
Having a Net Zero goal is committing to the 1.5°C pathway by 2050, reducing GHG emissions as much as possible and using offsets for the residual emissions. Net Zero is the minimum goal – internationally agreed upon and recognised by the Paris Agreement and the IPCC. Businesses need to set their sustainability practices and ambitions in a way that minimises (or neutralises as a last resort) their GHG-emitting activities. Thus, Net Zero is effectively a carbon compliance target.
But Net Zero is no longer enough.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) states that even if all countries met their Net Zero pledges, it would only limit warming to 1.7°C. To effectively tackle climate change, a greater resolve missing in Net Zero is needed. Net Zero should only be seen as a starting point rather than an end goal. For businesses, this means doing better, being more environmentally responsible and proactive.
The ideal situation would be to achieve Absolute Zero, the point where there are no emissions produced. This requires societal change; for everyone to participate and take responsibility.
This is where goals such as Climate Positive, Carbon Negative and being a Carbon Leader come into play. Carbon Positive, a marketing term, is also used but should be avoided because it’s confusing! They all have the same meaning: going beyond achieving Net Zero and removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and helping others to do the same.
But merely committing to an aim is not sufficient. Ownership and action are what matter.
We propose that businesses be Carbon Responsible. This provides a better framing for an organisational mission. It’s less abstract. An aim can be a passive concept attached to a plan; looking at sustainability in an active frame inspires and demands steady, sustained and ongoing effort rather than a one-off push.
Carbon Responsible as a concept dictates that businesses are conservative about their own carbon impact but to also be aware of their impact on the wider community – their ability to influence and change sustainability practices across their supply chain or impact local biodiversity.
With widespread greenwashing and scepticism around the sustainability plans of businesses, taking ownership and responsibility for environmental impact in a wider sense will not only prove the importance of sustainability in the business strategy but also set an example for others. It adds a human element that is easier to relate to not only in the customer or public’s perception but also for employees to internalise and commit to.
Businesses should aim for Carbon Negative or Climate Positive, but Carbon Responsible is a way of living and working for everyone.