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How to achieve net zero emissions: checklist for businesses

Scottish businesses are showing a growing interest in reaching net zero carbon emissions. This article explores the trend. Get insights from our team of sustainability specialists on what it takes to reach net zero. Read our 10-step checklist to ensure your strategy is as effective as possible.

What is net zero?

The United Nations (UN) has stated that, to avoid significant climate change, global warming must be limited to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. 

Many agree that countries can meet this target by achieving net zero global emissions by 2050. Reaching net zero means balancing greenhouse gas emissions produced with those removed from the atmosphere. 

Scotland is leading the way with a legally binding declaration that it will reach net zero by 2045. 

How your business can reach net zero

For your business to achieve net zero, its activities, supply chain, products and services should result in no net impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.  

For most companies, this will require a serious effort to remove carbon from processes, as well as carefully chosen and certifiable carbon offsetting schemes that balance out any residual emissions.  

Many Scottish businesses have joined the UN’s Race to Zero initiative to show their commitment. 

Learn more about the international Race to Zero campaign opens in a new window  

The growing interest in net zero

Scotland recently hosted COP26 in Glasgow, which has driven interest around net zero and sustainability. But, more importantly, business leaders and workers are aware of the dangers of climate change and increasingly recognise the need for immediate action.  

These companies know that much of the responsibility lies with businesses. They want to ensure they’re part of the solution.  

In our conversations with the business community, one common attitude we’re seeing is that this is the last chance to make the right choice for future generations. 

Business benefits of moving to net zero

There’s also a strong business case for focusing on net zero.  

Businesses we work with are increasingly asked by investors, funding bodies, customers and staff about their net zero goals and actions. There’s a real risk of losing business because of market changes driven by global net zero efforts.  

Reducing emissions can also boost your profits. McKinsey has found that supplying goods and services to enable the global net zero transition could generate £1 trillion for UK businesses by 2030. 

There are some easy wins – low-cost solutions that bring financial and sustainability benefits. These include:  

  • Waste reduction 
  • Energy efficiency (LED lights and ‘switch off’ management)  
  • Reduced business travel (especially since businesses have already adapted to video conferencing) 

No company wants to be left behind or to miss new market opportunities. That’s why net zero and sustainability are becoming as important as factors like quality and price. 

What are the main obstacles?

It's important to recognise the need for serious financial investment in more large-scale opportunities, like:

  • Renewable energy
  • Heat decarbonisation
  • Product eco design  

But deciding where to start and finding the right solutions is, itself, an obstacle. Many low carbon solutions, particularly around heat and transport, are only now becoming commercially available. They also don’t bring the return on investment required by many companies.

To create a full carbon footprint and decarbonisation plan, you’ll need time, expertise and real commitment – all while managing competing business needs. 

Unfortunately, this means net zero progress can sometimes be slow, with many companies unsure where to start.

How can you overcome these obstacles?

Our Sustainability team understand the barriers to reaching net zero. We also know which steps you can take to overcome them. With our expertise and networks, we can help you: 

  • Improve your carbon literacy 
  • Calculate your carbon footprint 
  • Create a decarbonisation strategy 
  • Access the best available technologies 
  • Find sources of funding 

We also provide resources to support your business in its sustainability ambitions. Our Net Zero Accelerator Tool will help you understand how well net zero is embedded within your company and how you can improve your strategy. The tool looks at areas like: 

  • Calculating impacts
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs) and targets 
  • Action planning 
  • Gaining commitment from the business 
  • Working with others 

Checklist for building your net zero plan

A good starting point is to calculate the carbon footprint of your business. A carbon footprint is a report that details the greenhouse gas emissions your business produces.  

Businesses typically include their direct emissions (for example, fuel burned at the site) as well as indirect emissions (those produced by the suppliers that generate your electricity, heat and cooling). Some also choose to include other indirect emissions created by activities like staff travel and waste disposal.    

Read our guide for more information on carbon footprinting 

To make real progress, you’ll need the support of those who can drive the most change. This means it’s crucial to ensure there’s commitment to reducing the company’s footprint and achieving net zero at the highest level of your business.  

You can start by including your net zero strategy in your board, director or management team meeting agendas.

Once there’s commitment and agreement around working towards net zero, you can start creating a more concrete plan. This is a good time to:  

  • Set targets and timescales 
  • Measure current performance
  • Build in KPIs

These practices won’t just help you report on your efforts – they'll help ensure they succeed. What gets measured gets done.  

Check our guide on developing a low carbon strategy for your business 

With a clearer plan for how you’ll achieve net zero emissions, you can begin to share your vision with staff, customers, suppliers and stakeholders.  

This will help ensure everyone understands the goals and new direction of your business – allowing for the smoothest transition.

Reaching net zero requires a group effort – globally, locally and at a business level. In most cases, employees will be keen to join in. They can even become key drivers of your overall strategy.  

You can involve staff with activities like: 

  • Informal toolbox talks 
  • Suggestion schemes 
  • ‘Green champion’ awards 
  • Sustainability awareness training

Once you have a carbon footprint in place, you can begin to identify which parts of your business are producing the most emissions. This will help you design a strategy that makes the best possible use of your company’s resources and time.

It’s key not just to focus on your operational carbon footprint. The products and services you provide to your customers will also have an impact.  

Consider carrying out a carbon lifecycle analysis of your products. This can even give you a competitive edge with customers, investors and funders.

The growing, cross-sector adoption of sustainable practices means you don’t have to work alone. There will be lots of opportunities to connect with networks, suppliers and other businesses that have net zero strategies of their own – resulting in a greater overall impact.   

The key is to communicate with potential and existing partners as early as possible so you can decide how best to coordinate your efforts.

One benefit of measuring and tracking your progress towards net zero is that it’s much easier to describe your strategy and successes to the company, customers and stakeholders. 

Accurate reporting can really set your net zero programme apart from those of your competitors. A clear picture of your progress is a powerful way to make net zero a marketable part of your corporate identity.

As a net zero leader, Scotland has an excellent network of support for businesses looking to become more sustainable. 

A great starting point is to contact our Sustainability team. We’ll provide you with free expert support to help you build a net zero strategy that works.

Got a question?

If you’re interested in learning more about business sustainability, our team are here to help.

Contact us