Are corporates keeping quiet about their net-zero plans?

A survey of 1,200 large businesses with net-zero ambitions has revealed a huge uptick in the credibility of their delivery plans – but also a trend towards corporates keeping targets and progress quiet.

Are corporates keeping quiet about their net-zero plans?

Conducted by consultancy South Pole, the survey provides a snapshot of the corporate net-zero movement on a global basis. its results have been published today (18 October). 

Promisingly, 72% of the businesses covered by the survey this year have stated that their emissions reductions goals are with the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi). This adds credibility to long-term net-zero plans by setting out exactly which reductions are planned in which scopes this decade and ensuring that this trajectory sees the business playing its ‘fair share’ in delivering the Paris Agreement.

Last year, just 18% of the businesses polled had applied to the SBTi, up from 11 the year prior.

South Pole has also tracked an uptick in corporate budget allocation towards net-zero delivery. 74% of businesses surveyed said their budget in this field has increased its budget for decarbonisation since the start of 2022. The proportion was highest in the US, at 83%.

However, the survey also uncovered some causes for concern. Just one-quarter (26%) of the businesses polled had a chief sustainability officer in house, or another in-house member of staff with day-to-day responsibility for delivering the net-zero transition.

Additionally, South Pole is raising concerns around ‘greenhushing’ – the practice of taking sustainability action but then not communicating this with key stakeholders or the general public. One in four (26%) of the companies who had applied to the SBTi had not published information about the new targets on their own websites or reports. This trend was particularly pronounced in heavy-emitting industries, with a significant minority (24%) of companies only publishing the climate milestones that are mandated at a national level.

South Pole’s chief executive and co-founder Renat Heuberger said the trend towards greenhushing is “concerning, as we need businesses across the world to be speaking openly about what’s behind their net-zero targets”.

He added: “The speed at which we are overshooting our planetary boundaries is mind-blowing. More than ever we need the companies making progress on sustainability to inspire their peers to make a start. This is impossible if progress is happening in silence.”

British challenges

Looking at the UK-based companies surveyed by South Pole specifically, the survey found them to be more cautious and less bold in target-setting than some of their peers in the US, Spain and other nations.

South Pole found that only companies in Japan and Sweden were more cautious with target dates than those in the UK, with the significant minority (44%) of British firms setting deadlines between 2030 and 2050.

The survey indicates that some British firms are likely being held back by the policy landscape. Four in ten of the UK-based professionals surveyed said Government policy was the most important driver for setting and delivering a net-zero target, compared with three in ten globally. 

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