What we have learnt on the pathway to net zero

clock • 5 min read

Dave Worthington, managing director of sustainability specialist Verco, sets out the practical steps for companies forging a pathway to net zero

The benefit of the goal of zero emissions is its simplicity. Zero means zero and this is a much easier concept to grasp than science-based targets linked to global temperature increases. What responsible business wouldn't want to target a future where they are no longer contributing to climate change?

If the end goal of zero is fixed then the key questions are how quickly can and should you get there?

Should you take a tactical approach, making small incremental improvements now and waiting to see how government action and technology innovation play out before making major investment, or a strategic approach, acting ahead of regulation for risk mitigation and/or market differentiation purposes. Ultimately each business needs to determine their own optimal pathway to net zero having considered the various risks and opportunities.

What have we learnt?

The following are some of the insights that we have gained in developing these pathways and implementing net zero strategies for businesses across a wide range of sectors over more than 15 years, and the solutions we have developed to meet the residual challenges.

  • Net zero requires a combination of internal and external action. Governments are expected to fulfill their side of the equation, bringing forward more renewables, upgrading the electrical and EV charging infrastructure, and businesses need to do their bit by reducing their demand to a fair share. 
  • Value chain collaboration is generally the largest opportunity area with Scope 3 or indirect emissions often representing over 80 per cent of a company's total carbon footprint.
  • The pace of grid decarbonisation and vehicle electrification varies by country and region making it difficult for global businesses to adopt a consistent approach to net zero. 
  • 1.5C pathways look technically achievable out to 2030 for most businesses then become a lot more challenging. Further technological and process-related innovations are required out to 2050, making the next 10 years of R&D critical. 
  • Credibility of external action is key if costs are to be passed onto customers and investors. Increasingly we are seeing company's tax themselves on residual emissions to fund internal action, rather than run the reputational risk of funding offset projects with questionable additionality. There are good offset projects out there though which can deliver both environmental and social benefit, if sourced carefully.

Business cases can be risk or opportunity based but have to be robust, by which we mean underpinned by good quality data and evidence.

What are the key challenges?

There is a potentially paralysing list of uncertainties related to net zero and a similarly long list of net zero systems and frameworks. We have developed our Aim for Zero service to cut through this complexity to develop strategies tailored to the need of each business. The outcome is a compelling vision for net zero underpinned by a robust business case

Having developed the vision, the next challenge is to bring everyone along with you including any sceptics who could block or slow progress, and your value chain in order to address indirect emissions. The solution, via our Report for Zero service is a comprehensive data system generating performance insights relevant to each stakeholder and providing a call to action. The outcome is a collaborative approach with high levels of engagement and ownership of the necessary actions.  

Finally, how do you address the bigger ticket items in your pathway if you are locked into high carbon assets and infrastructure, or don't have the skills and resource in-house to take decarbonisation projects forward?  The solution is an expert implementation service which links projects to key intervention points and ensures that technology and supplier selections are consistent with the net zero pathway so that the necessary carbon and cost reductions are delivered. 

Five steps to net zero

  1. Engage - The scale of the net zero challenge is such that everyone needs to be on board from the earliest point possible and understand what this will mean for their role.
  2. Plan - Top down pathways need to be complimented by detailed bottom-up plans to unlock what will be significant levels of investment over the next decade including a data strategy as well as one for specific project initiatives.
  3. Build - Develop capacity and skills in the areas with the greatest impact and the necessary governance and operational structures, and critically; the data infrastructure necessary to facilitate and track performance improvements.
  4. Implement - Invest in low carbon alternatives to existing plant and infrastructure on a no regrets basis, taking early action to avoid the risk of stranded assets.  
  5. Iterate - Finally, use performance data to iterate the approach, accelerating as confidence builds.

Verco's founding mission in 1989 was to support the world's transition to a low carbon economy. We are now fully focussed on the challenge of delivering net zero for our clients and have won multiple awards for the scale of outcomes we have achieved.

Our solutions include:

  • Aim for Zero - Expert pathway strategies underpinned by our A4Z model incorporating cost and performance data from multi-million point government research projects and global energy audit and performance management programmes for major corporates.
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  • Report for Zero - Net zero performance tracking, management, data insights and visualisation and reporting for internal performance management and external disclosure.
  • Deliver 4 Zero - Programmatic net zero implementation support and resource optimisation services with performance guarantees.

These are all underpinned by a range of data services combining our own specialist software with best-in-market third party platforms to provide a comprehensive environmental data and performance management solution as well as bespoke forecasting.  

Our clients are typically sustainability leaders in their sectors and draw on our support to solve complex challenges ranging for decarbonisation of energy intensive industrial facilities and processes, to value chain and landlord/tenant collaboration on emissions reductions.    

In summary, wherever you are on your decarbonisation journey, we're here to help you achieve zero.

 

Dave Worthington is managing director of Verco.

You can download Verco's comprehensive documents which detail the key ingredients for net zero implementation from it's website - including information and practical, actionable advice for anyone responsible for net zero target setting and delivery in their organisation. Verco is also holding a webinar on 17th November - 'Carbon offsetting and insetting: how can they be used in net zero pathways?'for more information and to register please click here.

Verco is a partner of BusinessGreen's Net Zero Festival.

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