Top tips for starting the journey to net-zero

Celena Fernandez, head of sustainability at KFC UKI and Dr Stephen Finnegan, director of the zero Carbon Research Institute and Managing Director of Arete Zero Carbon outline what businesses need to consider when starting out their net-zero journey.

Top tips for starting the journey to net-zero

For the majority of businesses, taking responsibility for the impact we have on the planet, and the people around us, is of paramount importance.

In recent years the hospitality industry has had to deal with a series of unprecedented crises, challenging the way it operates but also demonstrating the sector’s ability to flex in the face of change. As a result, it’s uniquely positioned to meet the demands of a rapidly changing environment.

The climate emergency is the next big challenge facing industry and therefore building a sustainable future for our business and our communities is absolutely key. In 2021, we announced our commitment to become a net zero carbon business by 2040, having outlined a clear picture of our carbon footprint. This then allowed us to map out how we intended to turn our climate goals into a reality.

It was through analysing this baseline data that we’ve been able to estimate a reduction pathway to 2040.

This requirement led to us teaming up with carbon strategists, Arete Zero Carbon, and the University of Liverpool’s Zero Carbon Research Initiative, to review all corners of the business – from supply chain to restaurant operations, through to the food sold to our customers. And it’s from here that we’ve been able to set up the core workstreams that are needed to get us to net zero with an actionable roadmap.

We know that there are challenges that still lie ahead – no one has all the answers right now and the path to get there will be different for every business in some way, shape or form. As we build know-how together, here are some critical steps that we took with our partners that helped us on the start of our journey:

1) Set your baseline

The first step is to understand the carbon footprint of your business’ activities. This will provide you with a baseline from which you can set real targets.

Our assessment followed the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol – the world’s most widely used standard for corporate accounting and reporting of GHG emissions. The GHG Protocol will help you define your emissions into Scopes 1,2 and 3.

You should also be prepared to measure your carbon footprint annually so that you capture any carbon savings made through improving business practices. All following years can be measured against your chosen baseline year.

2) Build the right teams

Once you’ve measured your carbon footprint, the next stage is to identify your key internal stakeholders and form working groups aligned to your Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions categories.

Your stakeholders should be the subject matter experts and owners of your emissions categories – which means it’s likely you’ll end up with representation from most areas of the business!

Select your stakeholders carefully – get buy in from them and those at the top, particularly from your board or leadership team who can build your ambitions into wider business strategy and ensure you have the necessary expertise and resource. Ultimately, your stakeholders will be responsible for setting the long-term targets and delivering emissions reductions each year. That’s why communicating your ambitions right from the beginning will give you and your stakeholders the best chance of working effectively together.

3) Understand your hotspots and identify actions

Present your initial findings to your working groups and work with them to gain a better understanding of what your carbon footprint really means.

Communicating where the most emissions are being generated will help prioritise actions. And mapping your Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions can also help you understand your carbon footprint more holistically; it will allow you to visualise the flow of activities, goods, and services into and out of your business. Also, dividing up your emissions based on what you have full control over, what you can influence, and what may be out of your control but still a concern, will be important to understand.

Continue to get input from your working groups on what actions can be taken to reduce emissions and prioritise them based on impact and ease of implementation.

4) Set ambitious but achievable targets

Based on the actions your working groups have identified, you’ll then be able to estimate the carbon reductions possible for each category and calculate the total carbon footprint percentage reduction that’s possible by your target year.

Finalise actions that need to be taken and set realistic targets to achieve them – you may also want to set interim five-year targets to encourage progress before your target year. You should also draw up your actions into a visual roadmap to help bring your short-, medium- and long-term targets to life.

And remember to include carbon offsetting. Even when you have made all the emissions reductions possible, we know it’s really tough to get to net zero carbon without carbon offsetting – there’ll be residual emissions that you’ll need to offset through credible and verifiable offset schemes.

5) Communicate your net-zero roadmap

Engage your employees – ensure that your people understand what your targets are, why they are important, and how they can contribute to the journey. And engage with your industry – we’re all on this journey together and there is no silver bullet, so share knowledge, speak to NGOs and other stakeholders, and gain learnings in this space. This can be through joining industry groups or forums relevant to your industry.

For us, we became members of Zero Carbon Forum to collaborate with other businesses within the hospitality sector, and also the BRC Climate Action Roadmap to collaborate with other retailers.

There is a long journey ahead for us all, and a big way to go to bring everyone along on the journey. But it is only through innovative partnerships and acknowledging the need to change that businesses can hope to make progress on their journey towards net zero and prioritise a sustainable future. And this is what we’re trying to do.

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