The net zero challenge: How to counter inaction


net zero

Steph Housty, sustainability & marketing manager at packaging compliance scheme Ecosurety, shares her views on the critical steps businesses need to take in the net zero race.

As I write this, COP 28 negotiations are unfolding and we are waiting with bated breath to see if governments will take any significant decisions to address the current climate crisis. We desperately need governments across the world to unite, putting individual agendas aside, to save the environment and quality of life for future generations.

However, we can’t wait for governments to act and reduce human-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for us. Citizens and businesses are the other two players we need to win the net zero race.

Lots of organisations have started to make commitments to reduce their GHG emissions, some of them have solid plans in place to achieve them, but most are still work in progress. Why? Because it is complicated.

The elephant in the room: Scope 3 emissions

Scope 3 emissions

The first step in the net zero journey is to calculate your carbon footprint to understand where your GHG emissions come from and what are your hotspots. For most businesses, the largest part of their carbon footprint comes from indirect emissions resulting from their activities – i.e. their scope 3 emissions, such as purchasing goods and services, business travel, employee commuting or waste disposal.

That’s where the difficulty starts. These emissions are by definition indirect, which means businesses can’t directly control them, as opposed to energy usage or owned assets for instance.

However, that’s also where the opportunity lies. In the same way that governments can’t achieve net zero alone, businesses can’t achieve net zero on their own. So, what are the keys to unlock net zero inaction?

Awareness, awareness, awareness


You can’t fight what you don’t know. The first step for an organisation to reduce its CO2e emissions is to make sure that all levels in the company – board, managers and employees – understand the carbon dioxide costs and impacts of everyday activities, and how they can reduce emissions individually and collectively.

Achieving net zero as a business is not a one-person job. You need the board and top management buy-in, engagement from budget holders and the understanding of staff that they can all play their part in reducing emissions.

Knowledge of the carbon emissions impact can’t be limited to the person or the team in charge of the carbon reduction project, you need all staff to be aware. Carbon reduction targets need to be embedded in the company’s strategy.

There are different accessible short training courses available to help understand the big picture, assimilate the key scientific climate knowledge and give direction on how to take action, such as courses by the Carbon Literacy Project or the Climate Fresk.

Some organisations in the waste and resources industry are already carbon-literate, such as Keep Scotland Beautiful or the Environment Agency. Ecosurety has developed its own Carbon Literacy course and is currently training its staff with in-house trainers.

Collaboration is not a “nice to have” option


Once your internal teams are knowledgeable about carbon literacy, you can start the conversation on topics such as solutions to collectively reduce employee commuting emissions, as well as finding more sustainable business travel options, which are often companies’ largest sources of CO2e emissions.

Another important step is to engage with your suppliers. As scope 3 emissions from the supply chain usually represent a big part of a company’s carbon footprint, collaborating with your suppliers is not a “nice to have” option but a necessity to achieve any net zero ambition.

You can start by asking your suppliers about their sustainability commitments, to understand where they are in the net zero journey, as well as asking for their carbon footprint data, to get a more accurate picture of your carbon footprint.

Working together with suppliers from a baseline year and seeking opportunities to decrease emissions year on year is essential to achieving reduction targets. As more and more businesses ask their suppliers for carbon footprint data, it will become less and less possible for suppliers to avoid the topic and not provide this data, as customers could look for more sustainable partners.

In the end, the more businesses are engaged in the net zero race, the more businesses will have to be engaged, whether they like it or not, to ensure they keep their customers happy – the virtuous circle in action!

Communicating net zero progress openly

Net zero

Finally comes the most difficult and also maybe the most important part: communicating about progress. Tackling climate change is the biggest challenge we must face as a human race. We are all learning and navigating this for the first time, and no business – as far as I know – has reached net zero yet.

To achieve our CO2e emissions reduction targets in the short timeframe we have left to respect the Paris Agreement, we need to test and learn fast. To do so, we collectively need to be more open and share progress on our net zero journey, such as the challenges we face and how we overcome them. This way we can all learn faster from each other’s experience on what works and what doesn’t. 

The waste and resource industry has an important role to play in solving the climate crisis. We all need to roll up our sleeves and rise to the challenge together.

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