Climate scientists agree that the world must be carbon neutral by the middle of this century, for us to keep climate warming under 1.5C and avoid the climate crisis turning into a catastrophe.
For the world to be carbon neutral, there must be no net carbon released into the atmosphere. We can only achieve this by cutting our carbon emissions as much as possible and finding ways to deal with unavoidable emissions through carbon sequestration.
The science is undeniable but what does this mean in practical terms for the UK’s businesses? We spoke to Simon Pickering, Ecotricity’s Principal Ecologist, to find out more about carbon neutrality and why organisations of all sizes urgently need to set a date to eliminate their emissions.
Why is it important that businesses change the way they operate?
It’s essential, both for the survival of humans on the planet and for the survival of businesses themselves, that we move to a carbon neutral economy. The actual business cost, never mind the cost to the wider economy and the planet, of letting temperatures rise will be beyond the capacity of any company.
Businesses are an important part of the carbon balance, they’re responsible for significant amounts of carbon and other greenhouse gases emissions. And there’s now a real drive for businesses through Business Declares and Race to Zero to drive carbon emissions down.
There’s also an increasing pressure for businesses to only work with other businesses that have made a commitment to carbon zero. And there are some big finance houses that are now beginning to pull money out of investment in companies that aren’t making a dramatic change in cutting their carbon emissions.
Does this apply to small businesses as well as multinationals?
For any small business, it’s important that you both go for carbon neutrality and adapt your business so you can cope with the changes that are going to come in terms of the climate.
The economic opportunities of switching to a carbon zero economy are absolutely enormous. Companies still dealing with carbon intensive businesses are going to be left behind, so there’s this business imperative to be one of the leaders and get that market advantage of moving forward.
It’s also important when it comes to securing financing – finance houses want to invest in businesses that are going to survive and move forward with zero carbon.
Why did Ecotricity declare a climate emergency in 2019?
Ecotricity exists to make Britain greener through energy, transport, food and giving land back to nature. We’re planning to be carbon zero by 2025, an absolutely brutal target which we aim to meet.
We announced this at the launch of an organisation called Business Declares in 2019, which takes a much more radical approach than Race to Zero and many other business initiatives. One of the driving factors for the declaration was the 2018 International Panel on Climate Change report, which said that we’re not doing enough to ensure that the world doesn’t increase its average temperature by 1.5C, we need to do more.
How are Ecotricity reducing their carbon emissions?
We’ve dramatically reduced our carbon emissions. First by avoiding doing things that result in lots of emissions and then by adapting things, such as changing the heating system in the building, making it more efficient, adding insulation in operations and buildings. We only have [AI1] [AI2] fully electric or hybrid pool cars.
We minimise or eliminate flying for business use, although occasionally there may be no other option. For business journeys, the priority is: you walk, you cycle, you get public transport, then you get an electric car.
Obviously, we’re powered by 100% renewable electricity and carbon neutralised gas. We’ve[AI3] increased the amount of recycling we do and reduced our water use. Forest Green Rovers, the carbon zero football club that we’re closely partnered with, is recognised by the UN as the greenest football club in the world.
We’re ISO 1400 registered – the international standard for an environmental management system. So, our whole operation is monitored to a really high standard every year.
What advice would you offer to other businesses and organisations?
My advice is to follow the model of: Monitor and Account for your emissions, and then Avoid doing things and if you can’t avoid doing them, Substitute. The quickest and easiest thing to do it switch your energy supply to a deep green supplier, like Ecotricity.
Transport is another big one – switching your vehicles to electric or hybrid is very important .
The very last point is to look at carbon sequestration but the key is to reduce your emissions in the first place and that will often bring financial savings as well.
The important thing is to make a commitment at board level and integrate it into all your systems and all your thinking. If you commit now to a target of being carbon zero by 2030, you’ll be able to work towards it without any nasty shocks along the way. For instance, it may not wise to swap all your existing vehicles instantly, but you can build it into your programme as they come to the end of their life.