Pursuing a Real Net-Zero

Six months since its launch, the 'Pledge To Net Zero' initiative already has over 40 organisations from the environmental sector demonstrating their own leadership in the transition to a Net Zero carbon economy.

Pursuing a Real Net-Zero

This is about the whole sector being able to ‘walk their own talk’ and driving real emission reductions in their own business models. But how is this happening and what are the opportunities? 

Pledge To Net Zero is itself a collaboration, with knowledge and practice exchange being central to the scheme. Participants, who in some other situations are competitors, are now actively sharing their learnings and carbon reduction approaches. Examples include one participant’s approach to develop internal carbon pricing, successfully reducing carbon-intensive travel and promoting working from home and remote conferencing. Covid-19 has escalated this but having made the pledge, participants have an increased reason to capture some learning points. There is a clear and wide intent to not drift backwards or to completely return to business as usual (post-crisis).  

Energy and fuel use within offices and fleets is an important area for progress. Science-based reductions do allow ‘zero-carbon’ GHG accounting for so-called green electricity and consequently reviewing contracts and power purchasing is important. However, there are many things to watch for. 

Avoiding and reducing consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions should remain top of the GHG management hierarchy. There are many well-known efficiency measures and, importantly, new and emerging technology options. On power tariffs, many will also point to the importance of ensuring credible ‘green’ purchases, perhaps citing the use of PPAs or even direct connections ahead of tariffs with little additionality and unbundled green energy certificates.  Energy use is far more than an exercise in tariff switching, with many efficiency and cost savings to pursue. 

Although carbon offsetting and other compensation measures do not contribute to science-based reductions, they can make an important contribution within net-zero.

In an extension of the ‘polluter pays’ principle, carbon offsets can be used to support an internal carbon pricing approach.  They can also help in programmes of communication and engagement and in messaging benefits beyond carbon.   They certainly will have an important ‘net-zero’ role in addressing residual emissions following science-based reductions.  

The Pledge webpage will be collecting a range of information that can support participants on their journey and indeed, one of the three pledges itself encourages ‘mentoring and support for smaller signatory companies’. Important recent resources include webinars; 1) a guide to pledging, with reduction examples from WSP’s early experiences; and 2) a guide to setting a science-based target with three case studies across different sized organisations and businesses.  

Net-zero is a powerful challenge but is in no-way unobtainable. As we emerge post-Covid-19, we face a real opportunity to #BuildBackBetter, learning from others and to step-change our own business transitions.

Nick Blyth, FIEMA, CEnv, is Policy Lead at IEMA, the largest professional body for environmental practitioners in the United Kingdom and worldwide. Pledge To Net Zero is an initiative led by the Society for the Environment (SocEnv), the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) and the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC), together with leading environmental consultancies, WSP and AECOM.

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