‘Net zero’ is a phrase that has been in common parlance for a while now. It’s a major part of climate change policy and a stated target for many businesses and organisations around the world. Net zero focuses on completely negating the amount of greenhouse gases produced by commercial and other activities. In other words, ensuring that the balance between the amount of greenhouse gases produced and used up is equal, or as close to it as possible. The UK has set a national target to reach net zero by 2050 (SOURCE: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/net-zero-strategy

Initiatives such as reducing emissions or offsetting carbon dioxide used by planting trees, for example, go a long way towards helping an organisation pursue net zero in its greenhouse gas production and offsetting. However, the process is the most effective when it is part of a planned, targeted approach, with clear steps and stages to help the organisation move through the process more effectively. Here is an outline to help you decide which stage you are at in your journey towards net zero, and how you can accelerate your progress.

Initial calculations and assessment

All successful projects start out with a comprehensive, honest appraisal of the current situation and the things that must be done to move towards the end goal. Working towards net zero is no different. At this early stage, calculating what carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases your organisation uses – how much and what they are used for – will earn you extremely valuable information. Another term for the amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced by an organisation is its ‘carbon footprint’.

Don’t forget to include both direct emissions (air conditioning, company vehicles, agricultural or industrial machinery etc) and indirect emissions (heat, electricity, hot water). Finally, there are the indirect emissions caused by waste disposal, employees commuting in and out of your office and the environmental impact on goods and services that you provide to your customers.

Planning and monitoring

Once you have all the data at your fingertips, it is much easier to produce informed, tailored plans that will move you directly towards net zero. A good place to start with planning is to use schemes and protocols already in place. For example, the EPC (energy performance certificate) attached to your property that monitors energy output and gives an efficiency score to properties based on what type of facilities and appliances that are installed. Complying with the terms of your property’s EPC is not only a legal requirement in many cases, it also gives you an excellent idea of the type of energy saving targets that you should be considering as a priority.

Moving onto a carbon management plan is the next stage. This should incorporate the findings and actions that emerge from your EPC, as well as proactive changes to production methods, utilities management and general behaviours around use of vehicles, air conditioning, heating etc. Part of this plan should involve comparing results with previous findings, such as those from 12 months ago, and taking a detailed look into where and why data varies more radically.

plant trees as part of a strategy to net zero

Implementing offsetting activities

Next, tangible actions need to be put in place to help reduce your carbon footprint and bring you closer to net zero. Data from the initial calculations, planning and monitoring phases informs what actions to take, and which order to implement them. Key to success at this stage is offsetting carbon dioxide usage. For example, by planting trees, switching to renewable energy sources like solar or heat pumps or introducing technology to turn waste products into usable energy.

As carbon offsetting is such big news right now, organisations have multiple options to choose from that can fit seamlessly into regular operations. One aim of carbon offsetting is to make the process as unobtrusive as possible so that it doesn’t compromise business operations. Instead, it becomes a familiar, easy part of your normal commercial routine.

Final carbon calculation

Again, the most successful projects conclude with a review period, where the actions and their results are examined and analysed for their efficacy. Changes can be made, such as switching to new carbon offsetting measures, or using energy in a different way that uses fewer finite resources. Carbon calculations can be made to work out whether the changes have resulted in net zero, or at least how far along the path your organisation has come.

All improvements and carbon reductions should be celebrated and shared with stakeholders as successes along the way to net zero. This will keep you and your team motivated and act as examples of best practice to others following your journey towards net zero.