Survey: Two-thirds of UK firms with net-zero targets don’t have the data to support delivery

The survey polled 311 chief executives and senior managers, each from a different business. Businesses of all sizes were included in the sample, from micro-organisations with nine or fewer employees, to large corporates with 5,000 or more staff.

Of the respondents to the survey, which was conducted by the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM) and Inenco Group, 49% said their business has set a net-zero target they believe to be “clear”. There was a fairly even split between those using the Science-Based Targets initiative’s (SBTi) framework and those developing their own roadmaps.

However, the IWFM found that just 35% of the firms in this cohort believe they have access to all the emissions data they need to track progress. 12% of the firms said they had no baseline figure, and the report on the findings warns that this evidences a trend whereby businesses want to “grab headlines” without doing the necessary work.

Concern is also expressed at the fact that just 12% of the firms with net-zero targets have had them verified by a third party.

The survey found that most firms without a carbon reduction plan are planning to implement one as a priority. Just 7% said their firm is not intending to develop a net-zero target at this stage. It also welcomed the fact that 95% of respondents stated that sustainability was important or very important to their organisation. 

However, it warns that these firms should be wary of greenwashing going forward.

“With the world’s leaders gathering in Glasgow for COP26, industry is under intense scrutiny to play its part in delivering against national net-zero targets,” said IWFM chief executive Linda Hausmanis.

“Those at the front line of delivering against these promises have a professional duty to ensure their claims are evidence-backed and not empty promises that put both the planet and corporate reputation at risk.”

Credible net-zero

Since the UK Government enshrined its 2050 net-zero target in law, it has continuously faced calls to clarify sector-specific targets and interim plans in a bid to ensure it is credible. Other nations and businesses have faced this pressure, also, and there is a growing amount of research into how robust net-zero targets are in the private sector.

A recent survey from Microsoft and Goldsmiths University, which covered 1,707 UK-based business leaders and more than 2,100 of their employees, found that just 41% of organisations represented are credibly prepared to transition to net-zero by or before 2050. Common challenges included a lack of embedded strategy and poor guidance from central government.

Similarly, South Pole’s survey of 200 firms across five continents this autumn found that 40% of the net-zero targets assessed have no specific deadline and more than 80% are not backed with verified science-based targets.

The SBTi last month unveiled the world’s first standard for corporate net-zero emissions aligned to climate science. The launch of the Net-Zero Standard came shortly after the initiative outlined plans for increasing its minimum target-setting requirement to 1.5C, from ‘well-below’ 2C at present.

Sarah George

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