What Is Net Zero?
Net zero is about achieving a balance between the greenhouse gases put into the atmosphere and those taken out. By measuring the current carbon emissions of a business and working to reduce their carbon footprint, businesses can send a message to customers and the world at large that they understand their role in curbing greenhouse gases.
This balance is also referred to as carbon neutral; although zero emissions and zero carbon are slightly different, as they usually mean that no emissions were produced in the first place.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is measured in tonnes of emissions per year. CO2e refers to ‘equivalent’ greenhouse gases that cause global warming, not just carbon dioxide.
The total annual tons of CO2 is measured on a given date to ascertain the carbon footprint of the business, then measured again, usually in a year’s time, to see the reduction achieved. The ambition is to measure subsequent years and get as close to zero emissions as possible.
Net zero looks at emissions overall, allowing for the removal of any unavoidable emissions, such as those from aviation or manufacturing. Removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere is achieved through new technology or changing industrial processes, and any remaining carbon dioxide that cannot be removed can be offset by cations like the planting of trees or other activities that naturally absorb carbon dioxide.
Achieving Net Zero Waste means reducing or reusing waste materials so that zero solid waste is sent to landfills over the course of the year. Zero to landfill schemes operate all over the UK and is achieved through reducing, reusing and upcycling waste. These processes are often referred to as the circular economy where your waste can be used by others.
Why is Net Zero Important?
The Paris Agreement has set a net zero target in an effort to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, though it is carrying out measures to achieve 1.5 degrees C. The UK has a target of a 68% reduction of emissions by 2030, 78% by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050.
This makes the UK one of the forerunners when it comes to achieving net zero and is laid out in the government’s Climate Change Act. Reaching net zero will be a huge challenge in the coming years, but it is an important step for the future with every business of every size, sector and geography needing to play its part.
What is Race To Zero?
Race To Zero is a term you’re likely to come across as you research carbon reduction activities. Race To Zero is a United Nations-led coalition of regions, cities, larger businesses and investors who pledge to begin their carbon reduction journey. It’s an interesting initiative to be aware of and to gain a better understanding of the global effort.
Race To Zero encourages organisations to publish their net zero plans and report on the steps they take. It’s quite broad brush information and doesn’t get into specifics about what small or medium size business should do, but it’s worth reading in any case.
What Can Small Businesses Do To Achieve Net Zero?
Small and medium sized businesses that want to commit to cutting emissions can follow the Meercat Roadmap To Net Zero. They can expect to see direct and indirect business benefits of doing so as they are likely to spend less on energy bills and attract customers also concerned about climate change.
Many small businesses have been, and still are, affected by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, but as they are more agile than larger companies, they can make decisions quicker and become better prepared for the future sooner. Having less resources to allocate to such issues is problematic of course, but Meercat’s cost reduction service may be able to mitigate some of this by cutting waste from overheads. All businesses, no matter their size, can contribute to the global effort in some way.
Awareness within the small business community is still quite low, but rising. From an SME’s perspective, net zero may mean a radical change in many aspects of the business, so making the shift to net zero for a small business can be daunting.
The first thing to do is to measure your current carbon emissions and begin to understand where it is being produced and what’s involved in reducing/removing it. Putting a plan together and getting agreement from the wider company is also critical to the task as it will most likely affect everyone but hopefully improve how the whole company operates.
One of the early tasks will be to look closely at the electricity and gas supplies being used. Rising energy costs are consuming more and more profits, so reducing your energy consumption is important, as is switching to a low cost, low carbon energy supplier with a green or renewable tariff. Other tasks to reduce your carbon footprint include:
- Finding a Net Zero Champion in the business to drive positive change.
- Adopting green or sustainable technology such as energy efficient lighting, building materials and systems.
- Replacing old paper based documents with digital (paperless) ones.
- Adopt hybrid working practices so staff can occasionally work from home where possible.
- Insulate your buildings and especially hot water pipes and heating systems.
- Adopt recycling and upcycling waste management schemes.
- Upgrade your vehicle fleet to electric or hybrid vehicles.
- Encourage staff to use public transport.
- Create a sustainable procurement policy and encourage your suppliers to begin their net zero journey too.
- Offset your annual emissions by undertaking projects that benefit the environment, such as planting trees.
5 Business Benefits of Achieving Net Zero
- Save money to increase the bottom line.
- Reduce your company’s carbon footprint and become more sustainable.
- Minimize environmental impacts associated with carbon emissions.
- Grow your business in a way that is good for customers, employees, and the planet.
- Build competitive advantage through differentiation and brand value.
What Regulations Currently Affect Small Businesses?
Legislation to date, has been mostly focussed on larger businesses, but this is gradually changing and the pressure on smaller businesses and suppliers to become greener and more sustainable is growing.
In November 2021, the UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow where government leaders will seek to agree and ratify further net zero plans. This is likely to gain major news coverage and the call for action will radically increase.
The UK is currently on track to meet its target of a 37% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 by 2022, but it is not on track to meet a 51% reduction by 2025 or a 57% reduction by 2030. The Government is therefore expected to “introduce more challenging measures” if the UK is to meet future carbon budgets and the net zero target for 2050.
Each business must consider their own net zero capacity based on their industry, size and any other factors that might accelerate or alleviate the process. Pressure on small businesses will increase in the coming months, but clear competitive advantage exists for those beginning their journey to net zero now.
Meercat is a low cost, low carbon procurement company with services to help you measure your carbon footprint and reduce emissions. To discuss this, please call us on 01444 416529 or email firstname.lastname@example.org