The path to net-zero: Climate change is here, and businesses must act now

The ambition to reach net-zero carbon emissions has grown from an emerging trend to a mainstream requirement for countries and companies across the world, explains Capgemini’s global head of environmental sustainability, James Robey.

The path to net-zero: Climate change is here, and businesses must act now

In 2019, the UK became the first major economy to pass legislation to bring greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. To do so, UK companies of all shapes and sizes will require a radical transformation in every aspect of their value chains, starting with their procurement and IT operations, covering their people policies and ultimately redefining many of their business models.

What does this look like in practice? And how can companies get started? Or make sure they’ve not missed a step in the rush to deliver results?

Focus on authentic and meaningful change

Achieving the radical transformation to reach net-zero requires genuine commitment from leadership together with deep transparency of vision and purpose. This enables organisations to unlock authentic and meaningful change without the risk of the “greenwashing” so commonly seen in the last few years.

Disclosing detailed and comprehensive information about the scope of emissions being targeted and offset mechanism selected is critical – too often organisations make vague and unsubstantiated statements about their carbon goals making it impossible for them to be held to account.

Leading organisations are open and honest, and welcome the opportunity to explain their goals and the thought-out logic behind them. Certainly, at Capgemini, we have always strived to be fully transparent on the precise scope of our carbon ambitions, stating clearly what is included and excluded.

Accelerating your transformation

Starting on the road to net-zero begins with the establishment of a clear executive governance body supported by the appropriate cross-functional operations committee.

Cross functional is critical here, as achieving the level of transformation required will not happen in operational silos. Executives at all levels need to commit to carbon targets with incentives aligned to encourage collaboration in pursuit of strategic goals, goals which must in turn be cascaded throughout the business at the local level.

With adequate governance in place, the next step on the net-zero journey is creating a detailed understanding of the organisation’s core impact areas; typically this will include supply chains, energy, and operations.

For many organisations, their supply chains will be one of the largest components of their carbon impacts. While not always straightforward, calculating an accurate and complete initial baseline measurement of these emissions will enable procurement teams to engage with suppliers to identify opportunities for meaningful carbon reductions.

Reducing operational impacts

Turning to a company’s operations, one central element to the transformation has to be sustainable IT.

A good place to start is with the deployment of a holistic sustainable IT strategy covering the entire IT lifecycle, from design and use through to the ultimate disposal of computer hardware and software applications. Unfortunately, however, according to Capgemini’s Sustainable IT report although 43% of executives say they are aware of their organisation’s IT footprint, only 18% have a comprehensive sustainable IT strategy in place. So there is a lot of room for growth in this area.

The application of eco-design principles to IT architecture can play a central part both directly reducing an organisation’s IT emissions as well as decreasing operational impacts.

As fundamental as IT is for business, so is the energy that powers it – over the next five years, energy efficiency must become a core focus for companies together with the transition to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.

With rising and volatile energy prices expected to continue into the future, this dual focus will both de-risk the cost of energy and reduce a major critical part of organisations’ carbon impacts. Reaching zero-emissions electricity is a significant first step for organisations and we see an increasing number committing to RE100 (100%t renewable electricity) initiative.

Applying data, analytics and emerging technology in a transition

Business leaders have always needed the right analytics, data, and tools to drive successful change.

Reaching net zero is no different. However, for most organisations collecting, processing and delivering insight-driven sustainability data is still difficult.

Based on nearly 15 years of sustainability data collection and analysis, Capgemini is unlocking the potential of carbon data. In fact, adopting a data-driven approach to net zero goals is increasingly enabling companies to quickly identify changes in their carbon impact leveraging technology such as machine learning to test the feasibility of potential sustainable projects.

In the engineering and manufacturing sectors, the creation of digital twins (digital models of entire production processes) is delivering deep practical insights and significant carbon reduction opportunities.

At the heart of a company’s change – its people

Finally, but crucially, a company’s people are critical to its net-zero transition. Starting with clear direction from leadership, companies need to engage their people in the journey starting a real dialogue about the necessary change and everyone’s role in the endeavour.

At Capgemini, we have been running a global “Climate Circles” campaign where our executives meet with small groups of employees to share information and co-create ideas about our collective journey.

With the UK already experiencing ever less predictable weather patterns, there has never been a better time to leverage technology and human innovation to tackle the complex sustainability challenges needed to drive toward a real net-zero future.

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