What does that look like for your business?

We’re going to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – a great ambition, and the kind of sustainability leadership for which we’ve been calling for decades. But it’s a huge challenge, and currently, our practice and policy mean we are still miles off achieving our national objectives.

Climate change is the biggest threat we face and achieving net zero will be tough. We will need all the technological solutions available to us to reduce emissions, capture atmospheric carbon and adapt to climate change impacts. We also need national & international political backing & collaboration and a massive increase in verified environmental offset projects.

But can you make a net zero commitment yourself – and achieve it? What does net zero mean for an organisation like yours?

I’m convinced that businesses and organisations can go net zero – but you need to go into it with your eyes open. Clearly no one organisation will be able to adopt all the technologies, lobby for policy, and plant enough trees to offset their emissions themselves. Your ability and appetite for any decarbonisation action will vary.

There’s no one size that fits all – but we will all need to do something. So what should you do?

Start from carbon

Firstly – you need to measure your current impacts. If you aren’t yet doing regular sustainability reporting and a carbon footprint, you need to start now.

You can’t start tackling your emissions if you don’t know what they are. The first step to get this right is to calculate your carbon footprint, and then prioritise the most material areas. The results will surprise you with data you would have never considered before – many businesses overlook areas of their operations that turn out to be significant because they’ve never examined the data properly. This could be business travel – usually assumed to be small, but if you have multiple UK sites or any overseas business, rail and flight emissions soon add up.

Carbon footprints are measured in “scopes” –

  • Scope 1 is emissions related to direct use of emissions sources – such as burning gas or other heating fuels, and vehicle use, as well as leakages from refrigerants.
  • Scope 2 indicates indirect use – principally electricity, which is generated off-site but used on-site.
  • Scope 3 includes anything up or downstream of your operations – this includes business travel, purchased goods & services, water and waste. Getting to net zero emissions for your operations will require a solid understanding of your impacts in these three scopes.

Once you’ve measured it, you can manage it.

Reviewing your carbon footprint and identifying areas to prioritise, will help you set a strategy and targets to achieve a net zero goal.

The changes we need to make

Now you need to act. Getting to net zero is going to require all of us to make changes – personally, organisationally and nationally. Each scope offers different opportunities to cut carbon.

We will be talking about net zero from different angles and perspectives. In the first series, we’re going to explore different approaches to emission reduction in each scope, starting with scope 1 and 2 – the first steps an organisation should be taking.

Below are some suggestions about how you can make your buildings more sustainable, increase energy efficiency, embrace renewable energy and reduce transportation emissions.

Scope 1 and 2 are your immediate impacts – buildings and vehicles.

Making your buildings more sustainable

I work with a wide variety of organisations to reduce their energy consumption – and energy efficiency is always the quickest and cheapest way to cut emissions. If you are looking to reducing your scope 1 & 2 emissions, consider your building energy use. This could be building fabric measures to reducing heat and cooling loss, or servicing or replacing the boilers and chillers themselves.

Onsite renewables is another option. Lighting upgrades are quick and easy – and also offers a decent payback.

Tenants can contribute too

Hard measures and capital works can be a challenge if you don’t own your buildings.

But you can still tackle building carbon emissions as a tenant. A great way is to ensure your control systems are calibrated properly and that your building management system gives you the data you need to monitor performance.

You can also work with your procurement colleagues to ensure that energy efficiency is included in your search criteria for new properties – which isn’t always a consideration.  The Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard legislation is now in force, but there is a big difference between an E-rated and an A-rated property – which will be reflected in the running costs as well.

A caveat – If you are being offered any property with an EPC of F or below – that’s illegal!

Quicker hit on scope 2 emissions

Green tariffs are a good way to go. Ensure your utility provider has a tariff that is backed by a guarantee of origin so you really are greening your electricity – or choose a supplier with their own generation asset. Businesses and homeowners are finding that some tariffs aren’t as green as they seem, so it can be difficult to ensure your electricity supply is zero carbon. You could look at a Power Purchase Agreement with a renewable generator directly if you can take a longer view of risk and return.

But be aware these are fairly protracted negotiations, and not that many companies have succeeded to date – so make sure you’re up for a challenge if you do go down that route.

Reducing transport emissions

If you have company vehicles, what vehicles do you choose?

Employees might like a free rein, but that can mean that your fleet ends up being more energy-intensive than it should be. One way to lower your emissions is to work with your lease company to shortlist vehicles with high MPG. You should also be thinking about low emission vehicles – there is increasing pressure to improve air quality as well as reduce carbon emissions, so start the transition to hybrid and electric vehicles as soon as you can.  You won’t be able to buy new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars in 15 years’ time. There are issues about the range and also charging infrastructure, so again, this won’t be suitable for everyone immediately. But you will need to work out your disposal strategy for diesel vehicles – they’ll soon be stranded assets if they aren’t already.

Beyond this, check up on maintenance processes and cleaning regimes – maintaining tyre pressure has a direct impact on MPG: for each PSI below pressure, you lose 0.2% MPG. Don’t forget logistics too – teardrop trailers can save fuel consumption due to their streamlined shape, which translates directly to reduced scope 1 emissions – sometimes up to 20%.

Let’s face it, the road to zero is a reality and we need to be ready

The bottom line is that if you want to go neutral, you need a plan – you won’t be able to do it overnight, and there’s no silver bullet. So measure your impacts, set your priorities, and map out your interventions to start driving down emissions – starting with scopes 1 and 2. We’ve given you some ideas to get you started.

Next time – how to tackle scope 3 emissions.

Stay in the loop

more than a word.

We get that change is not easy. But we must be brave, challenge old ways, set new habits, embrace new thinking.