Survey: Just 1 in 10 businesses have backed up net-zero ambitions with science-based targets

While the number of businesses setting net-zero commitments has grown rapidly in recent months, just 10% of firms have set interim science-based emissions targets to ensure they're aligning with climate science.

That is according to sustainability consultancy South Pole, which recently polled sustainability professionals at 120 companies. Companies represented hail from a variety of sectors, including FMCG, services, property, construction, finance and heavy industry.

The results of the poll reveal that almost every company has implemented plans to reduce emissions in line with net-zero by 2050 or sooner. More than one-third (38%) of respondents said their climate goals and delivery against them have remained the same throughout Covid-19, while 27% said they had set tougher goals since March.

Half of the companies surveyed have already announced a net-zero target, while a further 33% are considering this move or in the process of developing one. C-suite buy-in for setting net-zero goals was found to be high across the board.

But South Pole is concerned that many businesses could miss their long-term climate ambitions without strong, interim, time-bound targets. Only 11% of the businesses surveyed have set science-based targets approved by the SBTi – a move that requires full alignment with the Paris agreement across all scopes.

“There is a risk that CEOs and boards have adopted net-zero targets as a means to drive goodwill and manage reputational risk, but are not taking the difficult steps to restructure their business models and decarbonize their supply chains to reach these targets on time,” the report states.

The findings echo recent conclusions from Inspired Energy and Bloomberg NEF. In a poll of 104 energy managers, Inspired Energy found that almost nine in ten believe ‘net zero’ is in danger of becoming a meaningless statement unless there’s consistency in approach and measurement among businesses. BNEF, meanwhile, assessed the net-zero strategies of 30 large businesses and found huge inconsistencies.

A spanner in the works

In related news, baby food brand and B-Corp Ella’s Kitchen has this week published the results of a poll of 500 UK-based sustainability decision-makers.

It found that seven in ten have paused one or more sustainability-related announcement or initiative this year, in terms of either comms, investment or delivery.

In more than half of businesses where pauses were recorded, the workforce has had to be restructured due to the financial and logistical impacts of Covid-19. Representatives from these businesses largely said that worker health and wellbeing was now their key priority.

These results paint a similar picture to edie’s own survey of 244 UK-based sustainability professionals, conducted in the summer. In this survey, three-quarters of respondents said that the pandemic has had a moderate to severe impact on their organisation’s sustainability/CSR strategy. In comparison, just 5% said there had been no impact.

When asked to cite their biggest challenges with strategy development and implementation, the most selected answers were securing funding or boardroom buy-in (67 respondents), engagement or behaviour change initiatives (51 respondents) and supply chain disruption (28 respondents).

Ella's Kitchen published its own research to mark the introduction of a new net-zero target for 2030. It has signalled its intention to develop 1.5C-aligned SBTs in the coming months. 

Sarah George



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