Successful initiatives in pursuing low carbon goals

The Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) defines successful decarbonisation initiatives as those that are informed by the latest scientific evidence on how to achieve the best possible outcomes across broader social and environmental systems. For example, a successful decarbonisation initiative may implement nature-based solutions or technological advancements, while at the same time prioritising measures for a socially just transition.

At their core, successful decarbonisation initiatives should work towards achieving net zero emissions and reducing global emissions in line with the science outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Paris Agreement (Material Economics, 2019). Successful initiatives should:

  • cover Scope 1 and 2 emissions and set targets for tackling Scope 3 emissions across an organisation’s entire value chain (covered in Module 1)
  • outline clear governance structures to ensure accountability at all levels and take action if, at any point, it appears that decarbonisation commitments or targets measured using standardised metrics are unlikely to be achieved
  • achieve absolute reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as the first priority and only seek to offset emissions as an interim measure and last resort.

(CISL, 2018)

The web resources present some examples of initiatives, targets and strategies that businesses are implementing to pursue a net zero goal. These initiatives are ongoing and have the potential to contribute to the acceleration of the net zero transition.

As you engage with the three resources, think about what you can learn from the targets, strategies and methodologies of each organisation, and consider if there are any lessons you can apply to your own context. Reflect on the following questions as you read through the resources:

  • What are the targets and steps that will need to be reached for the organisation to decarbonise successfully?
  • How are progress and success measured?
  • Who is involved (internally and externally to the organisation) in driving and contributing to these initiatives?
  • Do you think that any of these initiatives are, or will be, successful? Why do you believe this? What might improve the likelihood that these initiatives will succeed?

Resource 1: Unilever’s Climate Transition Action Plan

Unilever is a multinational consumer goods company with an expansive global network of supply chains, as well as numerous brands sold across the world. The organisation has recognised the need to focus on sustainable, long-term growth and the related resources, areas and communities crucial to its operations.

The company’s action plan outlines some of the steps that Unilever is taking to reduce emissions and meet its net zero goal across its operations by 2030. The organisation intends to achieve this by making additional positive or net export contributions, focusing on its energy use and reducing its other emissions.

Unilever’s efforts highlight the importance of setting science-based targets and ensuring that the true cost of carbon is factored into decision-making. To achieve its ambitious goals, the organisation must partner closely with internal stakeholders as well as drive external collaboration to encourage wider systems change.

Access the resource.

Resource 2: Ørsted’s Sustainability Report

Since 2008, Ørsted, a multinational Danish power company, has transformed from an energy company reliant on fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, to a global leader in renewables. The company is committed to providing green energy through energy storage facilities, bioenergy plants and wind and solar farms (Ørsted, n.d.).

Ørsted’s sustainability report 2021 outlines the company’s decarbonisation targets: to reach carbon neutrality in Scope 1 and 2 by 2025, to achieve an absolute reduction of 50% in Scope 3 emissions by 2032, and to have a carbon neutral footprint by 2040 (net zero across its entire value chain). As you read through this report, reflect on how Ørsted has developed decarbonisation strategies across all three scopes related to the organisation. Also consider the time frame mapped out in the report and think about what a realistic timeline for eliminating your own organisation’s carbon footprint might look like.

Download the full report and focus specifically on Pages 4–5, 10–27 and 34–35.

Access the resource.

Resource 3: Microsoft’s path to becoming carbon negative

Microsoft has made a commitment to becoming carbon negative by 2030. Additionally, by 2050, the company is aiming to remove the equivalent amount of carbon from the environment that the organisation has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded (Microsoft, 2021).

The report describes Microsoft’s approach to decarbonisation, which includes an internal carbon fee, extensive use of renewable energy and investing in innovative technologies, partnerships and complementary offsetting schemes. The company’s goal is not only to become carbon negative, but also have a positive impact on water security, waste management, and biodiversity.

Access the resource.

Further reading:

The Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting provides a comprehensive overview of the various options for offsetting, from avoided emissions to long-term removals.

Pause and reflect:

CISL defines successful decarbonisation initiatives as those that are aligned with the science of climate action and take fundamental steps to address climate change to reach net zero.

Do you agree with this definition? Reflect on what success might look like in your context and how you could strive for and measure success when pursuing a net zero goal in your business or organisation. Are there any learnings from the resources you have explored that could inform this?

Navigate to the class-wide discussion to continue your research on decarbonisation strategies and discuss your findings with your peers.


Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). 2018. Aiming for zero: A growing business movement. Cambridge, UK: The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group.

Material Economics. 2019. Industrial transformation 2050 – pathways to net-zero emissions from EU heavy industry. Cambridge, UK: CISL. Available: [2020, January 12].

Microsoft. 2021. 2021 Environmental sustainability report. Available: A [2022, May 6].

Ørsted. 2021. Sustainability report 2021. Skærbæk, Denmark: Ørsted. Available: [2022, April 19].

Ørsted. n.d. Green solutions. Available: [2020, January 12].