Step 2, 3, 4, 5

Step 2: Set bold carbon reduction targets

Measuring an organisation’s carbon footprint is essential because that data can be used to inform and monitor carbon reduction targets. Targets are necessary in driving organisational transformation, as these outline the organisation’s aim, increasing employee awareness and ensuring that decarbonisation is an organisation-wide priority. Setting targets with a clear time frame enables progress to be monitored and measures to be put in place to meet the target.

Effective carbon reduction targets should be both aligned to the wider organisational purpose and strategy and informed by climate science (Science based targets, n.d.). This is essential for ensuring the success of organisational decarbonisation. For example, if an organisation successfully sets and works towards targets to reduce emissions but the goal is to achieve this by 2100, it will not align with the global timeframe (informed by climate science) of reducing global emissions by 2050. Additionally, if an energy company sets the target of reaching net zero by 2030, but this is not aligned to wider company purpose and fossil-fuel-intensive practices remain central to the organisation’s operations, these targets are unlikely to be met.

Step 3: Develop innovative products and processes

Organisations need to ensure that the goods or services they offer are compatible with a net zero economy. Moreover, the processes involved in creating these products also need to align with and contribute to a net zero economy, as opposed to being reliant on the technology, fuel and linear processes of the current carbon-intensive economy. This can be achieved by adopting more climate-resilient and sustainable processes, such as incorporating the practices of the circular economy into operations.

Internal organisational transformation and innovation is dependent on providing the space, ambition and permission for employees to innovate (CISL, 2018). Business leaders should clearly communicate the net zero ambition to their teams and encourage them to identify where action can be taken to reduce the organisation’s environmental impact or to innovate the design for a net zero economy.

Impact investment and continual innovation can lead to the development of net zero technologies that can reduce costs and be used for alternative purposes. Developing innovative products can drive broader transformation within the sector or wider market.

Advocate for clearer climate action

One of the key roles that business needs to play in driving the net zero transition is collaborating and engaging with policymakers. Organisations looking to play a leadership role in driving the transition towards a net zero economy need to change the way business is conducted in order to lead through action and advocate for change in the economic and political landscape (Corporate Leaders Group, n.d.a). As such, there are several ways for businesses to influence policymakers, from business action that demonstrates the need for supportive policy, to collaborating directly with policymakers.

Step 4: Lead within the sector

Ensuring that the organisation is committed to decarbonising its operations and working with stakeholders across its supply chain to facilitate wider decarbonisation is essential. Demonstrating that decarbonisation is important to the organisation and compatible with economic growth can indicate to policymakers that there is a need for supportive policy and regulation in the business sector (WRI, n.d.).

As we have seen, this ambition loop is essential to driving the net zero transition. Organisations can influence government climate policy by ensuring that they set ambitious, science-based targets and regularly provide public updates on their progress (The Ambition Loop, n.d.). Additionally, organisations can ensure that investments and assets are aligned to a net zero future, mitigating organisational risk of stranded assets, such as potentially obsolete carbon-intensive capital items. They can also signal to the public and to governments that carbon-intensive investments will not be profitable.

By taking a clear stance on climate action through business operations, targets and investments, organisations can help to provide an expectant business environment to which policymakers can respond.

Collaborate within and across sectors

While leading by example is important, organisations can also influence wider transformation by collaborating with other organisations to drive decarbonisation. This could be with other organisations within the same sector, or it could be cross-sector collaboration. There are many examples of these alliances that demonstrate the possibilities for collaborative climate action and how much further they could go if governments were to provide a supportive policy environment for businesses.

Some initiatives have established a standard or certification scheme that all stakeholders must meet in the sourcing and production of their products. This ensures that all stakeholders are complying with responsible and sustainable practices that can help members gain a competitive advantage due to customer confidence and increased credibility (ArcelorMittal, n.d.). An example of sector-wide collaboration that has established a certification scheme is ResponsibleSteelTM, which developed steel standards to encourage responsible steel production throughout the life cycle of the product. Similarly, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a global forest certification scheme that is applied to forest management and related products (FSC, n.d.). For example, controlled wood standards must be met for wood to carry the FSC label.

These initiatives are important because they can influence how a sector operates, encouraging other organisations to adopt more climate-resilient approaches to compete with the organisations in these alliances. They can also indicate the support of multiple stakeholders for regulation and policy related to higher standards and responsible action from business.

Step 5: Collaborate and engage with policymakers

Business leaders have the potential to impact policy directly by engaging with policymakers. One example is CISL’s Corporate Leaders Group (CLG), founded in 2005, with the aim of developing a stronger leadership voice from business on climate change.  “When it was founded, under the leadership of its patron HRH The Prince of Wales, it helped to reshape the consensus amongst the UK business community in support of climate action and sat at the core of a growing community of business action in Europe and around the world” (Corporate Leaders Group, n.d.b).

The CLG convenes senior business leaders in the UK and Europe who are committed to supporting and leading the transition towards competitive, resilient, sustainable and inclusive economies that will deliver a net zero future by 2050. “Through the exchange of evidence-based ideas and influential discussions with policymakers and peers, [members] advocate for robust business and policy solutions” to support the transition to net zero (Corporate Leaders Group, n.d.a).

The CLG consists of members from a variety of sectors including “infrastructure, the built environment, manufacturing, consumer goods and services, media, finance and energy production” (Corporate Leaders Group, n.d.b). “Membership is defined by a willingness to share experience and lead from the front [and] through high-level convening, quality research, and new partnerships, [they collectively] inform public policy and lead the wider business community’s decarbonisation efforts by example” (Corporate Leaders Group, n.d.a).

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It is clear, therefore, that leaders need to engage at all levels. They should facilitate transformation throughout their organisation, partner across the sector and collaborate with national and international policymakers.