45% of UK businesses yet to set net-zero targets, survey reveals

The report detailing the survey findings is free to download

The results of edie’s first Net-Zero Business Barometer were published this week, providing a temperature check and progress update regarding the decarbonisation of organisations across the UK. Hosted in association with Inspired Energy, the Barometer survey attracted 161 responses from in-house sustainability, energy and carbon professionals at UK organisations of all sizes and sectors*.

This first edition of the Barometer was open to respondents during June 2021. Respondents were asked to answer 20 questions relating to their organisation’s low-carbon transition to date and plans for accelerating progress towards net-zero over the coming 12 months, with the impacts of Covid-19 in mind.

Towards the beginning of the survey, professionals were asked whether their employer had publicly announced a net-zero target yet. 52%, or 83 individuals, said this was the case, compared to 45% claiming that their organisation had not yet done so. The remaining 3% were unsure.

Of the professionals working for organisations that already have a public net-zero target, deadlines are varied. Three respondents claimed that their organisation will reach net-zero in operational terms by the end of 2021 or sooner, while two are leaving the deadline to 31 December 2050 and including Scope 3 (indirect) emissions.

On average, 2030 is the most common deadline – equating to 36% of the organisations that have set a net-zero target. In fact, just over half (55%) of respondents working within organisations with a net-zero target said that target was set for 2030 or sooner. Targets for this decade typically exclude Scope 3 emissions while targets for 2040 and 2050 typically include them.


Policy barriers

The UK’s net-zero target will, ultimately, require every organisation to achieve no net carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. However, there is not yet a legal requirement for businesses to set and publicly announce their own targets. Moreover, in the absence of the Net-Zero Strategy – the policy package, due ahead of COP26, that will outline decarbonisation pathways for all high-emitting sectors –  may well be choosing to await further guidance.

The green policy segment of our Barometer survey began with a simple but crucial question: Will the UK ultimately meet its own 2050 net-zero target? Opinion was split but slightly weighted towards the optimists – 57% of respondents have faith that the UK will meet net-zero by mid-century, while 43% do not.

Respondents who said they do not believe the UK’s 2050 net-zero goal will be met were then asked where they currently see the biggest policy gaps. The lack of a clear Net-Zero Strategy was seen as the biggest challenge by many, with anonymous respondents speaking of “a lack of bold, overarching policy” and a belief that “the Government is not taking the issue seriously”.

Of those that mentioned specific sectors for this question, buildings and heating were the most common areas believed to be suffering from ‘policy gaps’.

With the publication of the Heat and Buildings strategy now more than six months behind schedule, time will tell whether the sustainability profession will receive the clarity and support it so clearly desires ahead of COP26 in November.

What’s next for the Net-Zero Business Barometer?

edie’s Net-Zero Business Barometer will be repeated bi-annually, allowing for year-on-year comparisons and the identification of key net-zero business trends, covering topics including target-setting, technology pathways, green skills and policy support. 

This Barometer has been sponsored by Inspired Energy and developed in association with edie’s Net-Zero Leaders Club – a purpose-driven community which connects, informs and inspires energy and carbon professionals to accelerate the net-zero transition through an annual programme of informative industry events, exclusive policy and technology insights, and unrivalled collaborative opportunities. Find out more about the Club and its membership offering here.


* Survey methodology & respondent base

This report is based on a survey conducted online, via edie.net, in June 2021. The survey, comprising 20 questions, received 161 responses – of which, 55% were in-house sustainability/CSR managers, 17% were in-house energy/carbon managers and 28% were other in-house professionals who held some level of responsibility for managing and/or delivering their own organisation’s decarbonisation strategy.

Of the 161 respondents, 87% were UK-based, with those based in Europe making up most of the remainder. Respondents represented a diverse range of sectors, with construction, manufacturing, the public sector and suppliers of environmental products and services among the biggest cohorts. When it comes to the size of the organisations represented, 27% were large (5,000+ employees); 24% had between 1,000 and 4,900 employees; 14% had between 250 and 999 employees; 14% had between 50 and 249 employees; and the remaining 21% was an even split between small (10-49 employees) and micro (1-9 employees) organisations.

edie Staff 

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie