On the road to net-zero: 5 steps every company has to take
Even if your company hasn’t pledged to become net-zero in emissions, you’ll have to start working towards it. An equal balance between the greenhouse gas emissions an organization produces and the emissions it removes – with one canceling out the other for a net total of zero – is a goal that many businesses feel increasing pressure to strive towards. More governments want to see promises to reach it by a certain date, more investors demand it be included in planning, and consumers prefer companies that have reached it.
That’s because achieving net-zero emissions is an obvious sign that your organization or company is serious about addressing the climate crisis. What isn’t so obvious? How to achieve net-zero emissions.
Here are 5 essential steps you’ll have to take on the road to net zero.
1. Set up a way to calculate current emissions
An organization needs an incredible amount of dedication and commitment to reach net-zero. It also needs a way to monitor and track its progress. Setting up a system for emission calculation should always be the first thing when putting together a plan on how to achieve net-zero emissions. It can also be a daunting undertaking. There are a multitude of different frameworks of sustainability reporting that collect a variety of data and factors for assessing emissions. But whatever reporting framework is used, it should be implemented through a software solution so that the data is automatically collected and organized.
Once the system is set up, it will allow you to do two things:
Establish an emissions baseline, a specific number that represents your company’s greenhouse gas emissions (either for a specific period of time or an average of several).
2. Create targets for emission reduction & mitigation
Once you have an emission calculation for a starting reference point and a system to track your company’s emissions, you can begin setting specific targets for reducing and mitigating emissions. These need to be science-based and specific, but also practical. A target can’t be too lofty or have too short a deadline to be attainable. It takes the fine art of project management to thread the needle in picking the right targets, matching them with the overall planning of how to achieve net-zero emissions so they’re actually feasible.
Identifying and adjusting targets for viability is one of the reasons you should invest in a software solution, like Worldfavor, for your reporting system. It not only does the tricky number crunching on the emission calculations, but has automated features that make monitored progress in relation to targets simple and easy.
A common strategy when creating lowered emissions targets is to also set an internal price on emissions, creating a monetary amount for the cost of their environmental impact. Seeing a financial equivalent of “cost-savings” with the emission calculations of targets can help generate buy-in from valuable stakeholders.
3. Begin reducing emissions
This is the step most people think about when it comes to how to reach net-zero. There are a lot of quick wins that you can identify and help your organization achieve. Many companies engage their entire workforce to find ways to reduce emissions and reach targets. From switching to renewable energy sources to adopting more efficient approaches, it’s surprising how much impact can be made right out the gate.
It’s vital that a system of emission calculation is set up before any reduction efforts, so their effect on emissions can be measured and analyzed, providing valuable insight for future decisions. Cutting emissions is an ongoing process. Some actions can be easily taken right away, like upgrading to more energy efficient office equipment. Others – like building up a fleet of electric delivery vehicles – require more time, money, and logistics.
After the initial success in cutting emissions, projects to help reach targets will likely take more effort, but those also tend to greater affect the emission calculations.
4. Start offsetting for emissions & emission removal projects
Although it’s probably the most controversial aspect of reaching net-zero, using offsets is still a necessary part of the process. There will be actions and operations within a value chain that can’t be replaced with alternatives that use renewables. Replacing them could be a long-term process that can’t be finished by a target deadline. There are also some that don’t have non-emitting alternatives to replace them, like using air transport.
But even with offsets, organizations (especially small and medium-sized enterprises) should launch their own emission removal projects. The demand for offsets will probably rise as more companies work to reach net-zero, which will likely drive up the price for carbon credit and offset project investments. Larger organizations could very well push others out of the offset market.Launching your own emission removal projects, from planting and maintaining an area of natural carbon sequestration to setting up a carbon capture plant, could become how you affordably balance emissions in the future.
5. Update any long-term strategies to make room for net-zero
To reach net-zero and beyond, your organization will have to update its value chain in some way. And whether that’s relocating production or working with partners to reconfigure aspects that reduce or eliminate emissions, it will affect the big picture of your organization. But to do that in a profitable way will mean adjusting the business model to some degree and making the net-zero goal a central part of the corporate strategy.
It’s important to remember that reaching net-zero isn’t the end goal. Companies that attain it will still need to calculate emissions and monitor activities to reach the next level: emitting no greenhouse gases at all. Plus, any inevitable changes a company faces, like a partnership or new product in the value chain, will require work to maintain the emissions equilibrium that’s already been reached. When it comes to operating a sustainable business, like many other noteworthy endeavors, the destination is the journey.