4 tips to avoid common Net Zero pitfalls in the corporate world
January 22, 2022
Andrew Walker is Amber's Commercial Director. He works closely with our clients to put their Net Zero pledges into practice. Drawing on his experience and expertise, he has a written a quick 'how-to' piece on avoiding the major pitfalls in the corporate sustainability space.
Net Zero isn’t something that you just put a project team in place with a view to somehow magically achieving it by 2025. This is something which requires a short, medium, and long-term approach.
In my experience talking to C Suite executives over the past year, I see people falling into the same pitfalls in thinking time and time again – often with the best intentions.
Without an appreciation of the challenge to be overcome, it can be hard to set a reliable strategy. So, here are my four tips on how to avoid them – and to really push on with your business’ drive towards Net Zero.
Acknowledge this is a business marathon
There are some organisations where the board has stated an ambition – normally to achieve Net Zero yesterday – and then smaller, more localised teams have their own slightly different goals.
Those teams have had no attachment or buy-in to board strategy, and therefore don’t possess a solid understanding of: “This is what I'm doing, and that team over there is doing something different to help us achieve this same goal.”
If you are in a decision-making post within your organisation and looking to act, remember that achieving Net Zero is all about efficiency and engagement.
Say there are 50 actions which would make your business more sustainable, don’t allocate them to your different teams all at once.
Start with five, and once those actions are complete, assign the next five. Incremental challenges are what most people are used to, so don’t insist on drastic action and results immediately.
While commonplace in some areas of the private sector, the ‘one and done’ approach to problem-solving is hugely detrimental.
Just because a company has employed a sustainability director doesn’t actually mean that their co-directors can just go about their everyday business like normal.
If that sustainability director is doing their job properly, they will be a constant challenge to your thinking; even if considering your carbon impact isn’t something you do at the minute, they will make sure that it is.
Why is this important? Because not every sustainability goal will be commercially sensitive; not every action will be glamorous or PRable. But that doesn’t make them any less necessary.
So, work as a team. Instead of asking yourself why your team is saving X amount of carbon when another team is already doing the same, consider the difference you could make together.
Set incremental goals ready for smarter tech
What's the timeline you're looking at in terms ushering in necessary technological changes?
One of the important things to consider here is the speed at which these advancements come about. Take energy efficient lighting, for example.
At first, we saw the CFL bulb introduced to market as a potential energy saver; but while the CFLs used between 50 and 80% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, you had to turn them on the night before you wanted use them. Then arrived LEDs, a more effective bulb which used 90% less energy than traditional bulbs.
Will there be further improvements in lighting technology? Sure. Should that prevent any business from adopting the best there is at the moment? Absolutely not.
In the world of energy technology, there will never be a single silver bullet to solve all our problems forever. So, similar to the advice I gave above about allocating actions incrementally, deal with every innovation as it comes –while also keeping an eye on the bigger picture.
As energy prices go up, using Capex to support your attempts to save energy will become more and more sensible. With the price of carbon going up, and incentives to remove it from the atmosphere getting larger, technologies will become more reliable and cheaper.
That’s not an argument to say we should all wait until green technology becomes more affordable. We all have to work with what’s at our disposal right now; as the longer we leave it, the harder it will be to reach Net Zero.
Don’t rely on outdated and unbalanced ROI metrics
Say you spend £10,000 on an energy efficiency project.
If you save £1,000 per year on your energy, that investment is paid back in 10 years. But working out the cost savings and cost avoidance when you don’t know what carbon levies are coming – and you don’t know where energy prices will be – is difficult.
So, finance teams will need a new way of measuring ROI if they are to maintain momentum on their carbon journey; they will need a better way of assessing whether this is a good investment for their organisation.
We realise that it’s sometimes necessary to reduce costs, but you’ve got to consider where the optimum place to make those cuts is.
Many would pinpoint a sustainability budget as preferred area for cuts but remember that delaying investment is only going to push those carbon problems downstream.