Net Zero: are you ticking boxes or taking a carbon responsible approach?
How will we collectively achieve net zero by 2050?
At a high level the answer can be summarised in four key requirements:
Use less energy
Make the energy we use renewable
Protect carbon sinks
Collaborate and help others to make the above happen
Now, what does a sound and responsible corporate net zero ambition look like?
Same as above.
Let’s be more specific.
Use less energy: energy efficiency and overall sobriety on inputs are the fastest way to decarbonise our grids. Every kWh taken out of peak demand is a direct reduction of gas generation, because gas remains the default flexible supply solution when demand is high. There are a lot of low hanging fruits and positive returns in energy efficiency, with plenty of bigger steps to prepare for. Energy efficiency is not just a design and technology question. Aligning financial incentives is key, for example to solve capex/opex trade offs between an office landlord and occupier or a data centre operator and its colocation customers.
Make the energy we use renewable, which entails electrification and switching sources. Now this is a bit trickier than it can seem. The hint is in ‘the energy we use’ and the question all organisations should ask themselves is: ‘is the grid we operate in greener as a result of my procurement decisions?’ Highest impact is achieved by physical, additional and time-matched renewable power generation. Buying renewable energy certificates (RECs) is a sign given to the market at best and does not drive direct decarbonisation. However, if you are enabling new renewable developments by contracting with future projects, you are bringing additionality, and greening the grid.
Protect carbon sinks. Not all operations affect oceans, the Amazonian forest or peatland. However, pretty much all supply chains do, so vigilance is important and supporting alliances will have an impact on natural sinks, i.e. where more carbon gets absorbed than produced. Then there are the sinks that surround us. Investing and supporting conservation efforts of forests, wetlands and coral reefs are becoming increasingly common among businesses. Systematically minimising the artificialisation of soils is one that property developers are now familiar with as well.
Collaboration to make the above happen is part of a responsible approach for three reasons:
Market transformation is required: no operations will be able to handle their own emissions without deep transformation. Circularity is a perfect example: a very appealing concept but impossible in current market structures lacking market places, certification mechanisms, efficient supply chain management - all of which can be stimulated by market leaders acting jointly and aggregating demand.
Most organisations can and should drive decarbonisation beyond their own value chains: tech and innovation can offer solutions, social media can educate, etc.
Global momentum is needed to get back on track: Keep the spirit of the streets around COP26, act now.
Many organisations can settle for minimum market requirements such as SBTi by buying certificates. Responsible organisations will look to deliver across all four requirements. By doing so they will actually drive towards net zero, and build capability to operate successfully in a net zero world.