5 Steps to a Net Zero Objective for Your Organizations
What is Net Zero and how you can start your transition today
March 7, 2023
Net zero has become a hot topic in recent years, as the world races to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb the impacts of climate change.
But what exactly is net zero, and why is it so important?
Net zero refers to the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere by natural processes such as oceans and forests. In other words, net zero is about balancing the number of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere with the amount removed from it. It is more than just reducing emissions, and it involves a complete transformation of how we produce, consume, and move about.
The goal of achieving net zero is critical in the fight against climate change, as science shows that limiting global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels is necessary to preserve a livable planet.
How can we achieve net zero?
Net zero can be achieved through a combination of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This calls for a complete transformation of the energy sector, which is currently the source of around three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions.
Net zero can achieved in different ways such as:
- Decarbonizing the energy sector: Replacing polluting coal, gas, and oil-fired power with clean and renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar power, would dramatically reduce carbon emissions.
- Improving energy efficiency: Implementing energy efficiency measures, such as using LED lights, improving building insulation, and upgrading appliances and equipment, can reduce energy use and emissions.
- Switching to low-carbon transportation: Encouraging the use of electric vehicles and public transportation, as well as investing in low-carbon transportation infrastructure, can help reduce emissions from the transportation sector.
Protecting and restoring carbon sinks (anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases – for example, plants, the ocean, and soil) and developing carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies, also called CCUS, are also other alternatives to achieve net zero.
Five steps to a net zero objective for organizations
But no matter which alternative (or alternatives) we choose, achieving net zero will require a concerted effort from governments, businesses, and individuals and will involve significant investments in clean energy and energy efficiency technologies, as well as changes in behavior and consumption patterns. And as we know, solutions need to be adopted now.
Here’s a high-level presentation of the steps required for organizations seeking to reach a net zero goal. (These steps are obviously not universal and should be adapted as required)
Step 1: Understand your current emissions
The first step towards reaching net zero is to understand your current level of emissions. This is achieved through a comprehensive assessment of a company's greenhouse gas (GHG) baseline and footprint. The assessment provides a measurement of the company's GHG footprint, which is essential for setting achievable targets for net zero.
To calculate your current emissions, you can start by identifying all the sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in your operations and supply chain. This is typically broken down into three categories:
Scope 1 emissions: These are direct emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by the company, such as the combustion of fossil fuels in boilers and vehicles.
Scope 2 emissions: These are indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, heat, or steam that is consumed by the company.
Scope 3 emissions: These are all other indirect emissions that are not included in Scopes 1 and 2 and are produced outside of the company's direct operations but are still linked to the company's activities. This includes emissions from the production of raw materials, transportation of goods, and use of products after they are sold. Accurately measuring Scope 3 emissions is somewhat difficult and perilous because those result from activities outside the direct control of the organization. Double counting is almost inevitable with Scope 3 calculations between adjacent organizations. If all organizations would manage Scopes 1 and 2 in a highly responsible manner under and ESG umbrella strategy, Scope 3 would be limited to transportation and community services.
Once you have identified the sources of emissions, you can then quantify the emissions by collecting data on energy consumption and other relevant information, such as fuel consumption and production volumes. This data can then be used to estimate GHG emissions using standard methodologies and emissions factors.
Step 2: Work with executives to establish organizational buy-in
Leadership drives responsibility: Effective governance guarantees that accountability for reaching net zero permeates throughout your organization, beginning with top-level leadership. Guidelines should be established to facilitate decision-making that aligns with the organization's long-term goal of achieving net zero. To establish organizational buy-in for reaching net zero, it's important to involve key decision-makers and stakeholders within the company, including executives. Educating executives, making it relevant, involving them, and communicating regularly are all great examples of how to work with executives to build a shared vision and establish organizational buy-in for reaching net zero.
Step 3: Plan and set ambitious goals
Setting goals is a crucial step in the journey toward net zero. First off, you must start by defining your purpose. Indeed, determine the purpose of your net-zero journey and the outcomes you want to achieve. This will help you stay focused and motivated. Next, you must identify your starting point: Accurately assess your current GHG emissions baseline to determine where you stand and how you want to tackle this project. This information will help you set realistic and achievable goals. This will allow you to set SMART goals: meaning Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This will help you track your progress and keep you on track. It's important to note that once those objectives are set, you must review and adjust them throughout your journey.
Step 4: Analyze the economic feasibility
When setting net-zero goals, it's important to consider not only the environmental impact but also the economic feasibility. This involves analyzing the costs and benefits of various decarbonization strategies and determining which options are economically viable for your organization. This may involve assessing the costs of reducing emissions, investing in renewable energy, or implementing energy-efficiency measures. By considering the economic feasibility of your goals, you can make informed decisions that balance environmental and financial considerations and ensure that your net-zero journey is sustainable over the long term.
Step 5: Transparency: communicate and get stakeholders involved
A crucial aspect of the net zero journey is transparent and effective communication with all stakeholders, including employees, customers, and suppliers. This helps build support and engagement with the transition and demonstrates the company's commitment to achieving its net zero goals. It also helps to involve stakeholders in the process, allowing them to understand the challenges and opportunities associated with the transition and to provide feedback and suggestions that can help inform and shape the company's plans and goals. Effective communication and stakeholder engagement will help building trust in the company's net zero journey and ensure that all stakeholders are aligned.
In conclusion, the journey toward net zero requires a comprehensive approach that considers various aspects of a company's operations and value chain. It starts either with a thorough assessment of the company's GHG footprint or with specific pilots of the best practices that can be planned across the organization.
Achieving net zero will require companies to embrace change and invest in new ways of operating, but it is a critical step toward creating a sustainable future for generations to come.
Finally, if the steps laid out in this article makes sense for your organization, the vadiMAP solution will help foster the entire conversion of your real estate assets, until fully converted.
Contact us now to learn more and start your transition today!
- Taking the first steps toward net-zero emissions (McKinsey Sustainability)
Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 (Government of Canada)
Net-zero hub: Resources for turning strategy and commitments into action (PWC)