Commitments to becoming net zero are now commonplace amongst companies and governments around the world. But what does net zero mean and how can you achieve it?
Whether you work in the public or private sector, or have a passing interest in the news, it’s highly likely you will have come across the term ‘net zero’. Companies from Amazon and Apple to Ford and Nestle have made commitments to become net zero by years ranging from 2025 to 2040, while more than 130 countries have pledged to reach net zero emissions before 2050.
Over the past year there’s been a significant acceleration in companies and countries pledging to become net zero, as shown by the recent Net Zero Tracker1 report. Gathering information about the climate pledges of more than 4,000 entities, including cities, countries and publicly trading businesses, the report found that a third of companies tracked by the researchers have announced plans for net zero by the end of 2020, including almost half of fossil fuel companies.
But while this is clearly a positive indication of businesses taking some responsibility for the climate situation, the report’s authors have reservations about the amount of pledges that lack basic details about how they will be achieved or verified. According to the report, “an alarming lack of credibility still pervades the entire landscape.”
What does net zero mean?
To examine how far these pledges will go to combating climate change, it’s useful to define exactly what net zero means. According to the UN, it means cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere by oceans and forests2.
The main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide, which stay in the atmosphere for a very long time – methane for around a decade, nitrous oxide for 120 years, and carbon dioxide up to 1,000. These greenhouse gases contribute to global warming by preventing heat from the sun returning back into space, gradually increasing the temperature of the Earth and its atmosphere.
Human activity is a large factor in the increase of greenhouse gases and the warming of the planet. With coal, oil, and natural gas continuing to power many parts of the world, carbon dioxide emissions are currently at a staggering 31.5 Gt per year3. Meanwhile, oil and gas extraction, coal mining and waste landfills account for 55% of human-caused methane emissions, with 32% of human-caused methane emissions attributable to cows, sheep and other ruminants4.
First steps towards net zero
The transition to a net zero world is one of the greatest challenges faced by humanity. It requires a complete reset by governments, companies, organisations and, most importantly, consumers in the way we produce, consume and move around. Since the majority of emissions come from the energy sector, changing how we create and use energy holds the key to real change.
Whether your company is a multinational corporation or a local SME, there are a number of steps you can take to achieve net zero status. The first is conducting an emissions audit – defining the areas of your business and its value chain that have the most impact in terms of carbon emissions. These are defined as Scope 1, 2, and 3. According to Greenhouse Gas Protocol5, Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions from owned or controlled sources, Scope 2 are indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy, and Scope 3 are all indirect emissions that occur in the value chain of the reporting company.
Once you have this baseline audit, you can establish near and long-term net-zero targets and a net-zero strategy. According to the Net-Zero Standard6, near-term targets should cover emissions reductions for the next 5-10 years, roughly halving emissions by 2030, and long-term net-zero targets should see a reduction of 90-95% of emissions by 2050.
Now comes the crucial stage of reducing emissions across your entire value chain. This is achieved by efficiency measures, increased stakeholder collaboration, renewable energy, and investments in business transformation. Of course, how this is done depends entirely on your business and its operations, but the time and effort put into this stage will define the success of your transformation.
How Carbon Balanced Paper can help
The final stage of your net zero journey is offsetting the remaining 5-10% of emissions. Here, Carbon Balanced Paper can make a significant contribution. Carbon Balanced Paper offers the opportunity to carbon balance your paper and print services, reducing your carbon footprint and impact on climate change.
Once certified, organisations can use the highly recognisable World Land Trust logo on their print, communicating their support and corporate responsibility. The total amount of CO2 balanced and land area preserved is quantified in a unique certificate, which an organisation can use in its environmental reporting and marketing.
In the eight years it’s been running, more than 5,000 brands have used Carbon Balanced Paper to offset their carbon emissions, including Unilever, Nat West Bank, Neal’s Yard, Dulux and Specsavers, helping to protect land and forests that have offset over 50,000 tonnes of CO2.
Contact us for assistance and simple steps to help with measuring your organisational footprint.