The number of countries announcing pledges to achieve net-zero emissions over the coming decades continues to grow. Most of the major economies of the world (accounting for more than half the world’s gross domestic product) have now set, or are in the process of setting, goals to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within decades. And it’s not just countries that are talking about net-zero, many large global companies have also made it their goal to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Before we discuss “how, corporates can achieve net-zero?”, we first need to understand what net-zero emissions mean. The simplest definition of net-zero is “Net-Zero (also known as carbon neutral) refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. We reach net zero when the amount we add is no more than the amount taken away”.
How can corporates achieve net zero?
The first thing to know here is that net-zero emissions do not mean gross zero. Net-zero emission does not mean that you do not emit any greenhouse gas (GHG), (it is practically impossible to have zero carbon emissions) being net-zero or carbon neutral means that your GHG emissions into the atmosphere do not exceed the rate at which GHG are removed from the atmosphere.
Achieving net zero is long-term progress. It doesn’t happen overnight. Today, a lot of companies are pledging to become net zero, but only a few are on the right path. The biggest reason for this is the lack of clarity. To achieve the net-zero targets, a corporation must have a clear roadmap in place. To achieve carbon neutrality, a company needs to follow these 4 steps.
- Understand your carbon footprint: You cannot change what you don’t understand. Hence the first step is to understand your carbon footprint. Be it your emissions during manufacturing, operations supply chain etc. But it should be kept in mind that calculating total carbon footprint can be a complex process as carbon emissions are both direct and associative. While calculating the direct emissions from the company’s operations such as factories, offices or the fleet is quite a straightforward process, it requires collecting fuel and electricity consumption and applying some international emissions coefficients. Calculating associative or indirect emissions can become tricky as these emissions are usually not visible at first. For example, while solar power on the surface would look completely emission-free, the carbon emissions released while manufacturing solar panels are there. Also, not all processes generate the same amount of emissions and have alternatives available, so by better understanding your company’s carbon emissions, we can prioritize which process needs to focus on first.
2. Set credible and ambitious net-zero targets
Once we have understood our carbon emissions, the next thing to do is set targets. We need to set the scope and timeline.
- Scope: it includes understanding how much emissions can be reduced from a particular process. For example, by converting our electricity source from thermal to renewables, we can completely cut our emissions for electricity demand.
- Timeline: Net-zero concepts were designed with a single aim, i.e. to reduce global warming. Hence we must achieve our targets within the time to meet climate goals (i.e. no later than 2050).
While setting our targets, we need to be ambitious and optimistic. But it is also imperative that we set credible targets backed by scientific data. We need to have realistic targets, otherwise, investors could lose faith.
3. Create programs and internal capabilities
Achieving a net-zero target will require building a carbon emissions program and the capabilities to implement it. If we talk in very basic terms, one can achieve net zero by simply balancing the input/output of GHG in the atmosphere. To achieve this balance one can peruse any one or both of the below-given methods.
- Programs to reduce carbon emissions: a company needs to invest in reducing its carbon emissions. They can achieve it by investing in renewable energy, or creating low-carbon products, making their manufacturing process more efficient, and creating low-carbon technologies that reduce their customers’ carbon emissions.
- Programs to remove carbon: For corporates, it is highly unlikely to bring their gross emissions to zero. Hence the company must promote carbon removal projects, also called carbon sinks, within its operations or in its value chain. They can also invest in projects such as Carbon Capture Sequestration and Utilization (CCSU), Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage (DACCS), or Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technology that allows capturing and storing carbon.
4. Report progress
Once you have achieved some degree of success, you must share that data with your peers. It creates a sense of trust amongst investors while also encouraging other companies to follow in your footsteps.
These four steps are required to be revised continuously. Start with simple objectives, simplify as much as possible and aim at solving the most material issues first. Aim at improving year after year using feedback from the company’s stakeholders. Achieving net zero is a long continuous process that will require us to innovate and update regularly. And even once we have reached that balance, between our carbon emissions and carbon captures, we much continue to improve further. We need to know that achieving net zero is a goal but it is not the end goal. Once we have achieved net zero we must set our eyes on the next target of being carbon negative.