What Makes a Great Net Zero Business Strategy?


What are the sustainability leaders of some of the biggest names in business doing about their net-zero plans? Following his recent workshop, Re_Set Director of Sustainability Rick Benfield shares the thinking.

Actions speak louder than words. This has never been truer than when it comes to net zero. After COP26, commitments and promises abound, but the question for leaders now is how to ensure that these ambitions are effectively translated into action.

This was one of the topics discussed in detail by some of the biggest names in business at edie SPARK! workshops held in Birmingham on November 30. Hosted as part of Edie’s Net-Zero campaign in November, the event enabled energy and sustainability change makers to connect, collaborate and seize the moment of net-zero.

Sustainability experts from companies such as Currys, CBRE and Grosvenor joined me on the panel. The discussion was open, collaborative, and there was broad agreement that when it comes to reaching net-zero, no company is yet an expert.

And that’s OK. It is an exciting time as experts from various industries all seek to learn from each other as they begin to develop and shape their net zero plans.

So how do these companies plan to turn ambition into action? Below are the key areas we discussed on what leaders should focus on.

What are the key components required for a great net-zero strategy?

1) Understand your future footprint

While it is important to understand past emissions and current track records, there is a risk that this approach will only alleviate the problem. Instead, we believe companies should project their emissions forward and link them to their business strategy and growth plans. For example, as part of the development of Primark Cares’ sustainability strategy, Re_Set worked with Primark to develop a projection profile for 2030 in line with ambitious business growth targets.

2) Align your ambitions with scientific goals

There is now a range of industry-accepted goals that can be used to lock in ambitions. Much like skipping the future projection profile above, if you use weaker definitions of net-zero it can lead to accusations of greenwashing. SBTi’s Net-Zero Standard, for example, is the world’s first framework for setting corporate net-zero goals in accordance with climate science.

3) Integrate net-zero into your company’s overall strategy

Like durability more broadly, we believe net zero can’t just be a bolt-on. It is important to identify the main operating model changes needed to achieve the net zero goals. For large manufacturing companies, this can be a big business and needs to be integrated into mature lean processes and customer journeys.

4) Apply laser focus to your supply chains

These will or will destroy your ambitions, so providing vendor support and guidance is crucial.

5) Avoid, Reduce, Innovate

When identifying solutions and preparing for your net-zero roadmap, we recommend that you think of three levers that can be used to stay on track. First of all, To avoid by changing designs and integrating carbon into your decision-making process. Secondly, Reduce, using efficiency gains and switching to renewable energies. Finally, Innovate: through collaboration in green finance, clean technologies and broader movements such as regenerative agriculture.

6) Convince the board

CEOs and boards must understand the scale of the challenge to achieve net zero. To do this well requires a significant transformation, driven from the top down and integrated throughout the organization. Consider establishing net zero as a standing agenda item at the management level, assign management oversight to the net zero transformation, and assess the net zero incentive structure. Danone started linking its managers’ bonuses to carbon reduction targets in 2009. What can you do?

7) Be transparent
As with any major change program, communication is key. Share your strategy, both internally and externally, as well as the milestones that are committed to being achieved.

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Rick Benfield is the Director of Sustainability at Re_Set, one of the leading Next Generation Strategy Consultants for Innovation and Sustainability. Re_Set is powered by the Springwise innovation intelligence platform. Sign up for Springwise sustainable source bulletin to receive a bi-weekly curation of green innovations, or contact the Reset team of consultants to find out how innovation can help accelerate your business.

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