Net zero greenwash?

Net Zero. Offsetting. Decarbonisation. Carbon Neutral. Climate Positive. It’s a veritable thesaurus of terms that aim to describe what happens when a company commits to reducing its carbon footprint. But much like an earlier debate over the credibility of absolute versus intensity-based emissions reduction targets, the question at the core remains, “does this action really reduce emissions, long-term, in addition to what the company would have done anyway?” Many net-zero targets rely on offsetting or technologies that are yet to be commercialised or even discovered.

At the same time, what once seemed impossible is now normal. A good example is the commercial viability of renewable energy: in many places, wind and solar are now the cheapest options on the grid. For a deeper dive on that topic, read a fascinating article by WRI (one of the partners in the Science-based Targets Initiative) that debunks misconceptions about the viability of wind and solar.

What’s a company to do? How should you manage uncertainty alongside ambition? Here’s our advice:

  1. Set a science-based target, and get it validated. Science-based targets are grounded in sector scenarios that align corporate action to the Paris Agreement goals. Are they perfect? Are they easy? No. But if you want to understand whether or not your actions will add up to a real difference, you cannot do better than these targets.
  2. Along the way, set short-term emissions-reduction targets. Even if you set a challenging long-term target, give yourself some short-term accountability, too. Set your action plan purely based on planned emissions reductions, rather than relying on future technologies.
  3. Don’t be afraid of offsets; but do your due diligence. The world of offsetting has changed dramatically since the Kyoto Protocol introduced a compliance carbon market that included offsets. But there are still high-quality projects to be found, and these can help ensure your plans don’t stray into greenwashing territory. Two examples are financing high-quality Power Purchase Agreements and seeking out carbon offsets with environmental and social co-benefits. If you have time, WWF’s “Blueprint for Corporate Action on Climate and Nature is a thorough guide.

If you would like to discuss how Luminous can help you with your carbon reduction targets, please get in touch.