4 steps to prepare your business for a carbon-neutral future
Climate change poses an increasingly urgent threat to us all–every individual, company, city, and nation. Its effects are compounded in the world’s poorest regions, amplifying global inequality.
The longer it takes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the more extreme the climate impacts will become: from rising sea levels to forest fires and extreme weather patterns. The world needs action now, leaving us with a collective responsibility to scale up our actions and move faster to protect our planet for future generations. Every business can contribute by committing to a carbon neutral future and taking steps now to dramatically reduce their emissions.
Driving carbon neutrality not only mitigates climate change, it also makes good business sense. It can help to reduce energy costs, boost efficiency, and attract talent to a company.
As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution–a time of emerging technology and extraordinary innovation–companies around the world have a new opportunity and responsibility to use their voices and innovative capabilities to address these climate issues. The urgency is greater than ever to bring transformative thinking and solutions around mitigating climate change to the forefront.
Now is the time for business leaders to lead the charge in building a carbon-neutral world. Here are four steps to get started:
Step 1: Acknowledge your company’s environmental impact
Businesses should assess their emissions and energy footprint and analyze the impact they pose to all stakeholders. Once the assessment is conducted, all internal stakeholders involved in decision-making processes need to be educated on the findings and communicate on next steps. It is about transparency and cross-collaboration in shifting the direction for change that will drive the most immediate impact.
For many companies, becoming net-zero is a critical part of any sustainability strategy. Currently, the private sector accounts for more than half of the world’s electricity consumption. A zero-energy building produces enough renewable energy to meet its own annual energy consumption requirements–thus reducing its use of non-renewable energy. By switching to a carbon-neutral approach, companies can make a real impact, transforming the global energy market and aiding the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Step 2: Create a north star–and a viable roadmap to get there
Before creating a clear roadmap, businesses need to determine their end goal or north star. Let’s take pledging to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Once that north star is determined, you need to have a roadmap and a systematic approach to achieve it. One such approach is an iterative process known as Avoid, Reduce, Mitigate.
Avoid: Actively seek ways to avoid generating carbon emissions. Strategic decisions that create inherently less carbon-intensive products and operations fall under this category. Using a single instance of a software application to serve multiple customers–also known as “multi-tenant architecture”–is one way to Avoid. Platforms based on this approach can be up to 50 times more carbon- and energy-efficient than on-premises software. Achieving this also includes designing energy-efficient buildings and data centers, as well as making the decision to site operations where there are cleaner electric grids.
Reduce: Where emissions can’t be avoided, look for opportunities to reduce consumption and your company’s carbon footprint. You can do this by investing in green office spaces, for example, or retrofitting one of your existing building to be more energy efficient.
Mitigate: Emissions you can’t avoid or reduce you can balance or offset by investing in projects that help avoid and reduce carbon emissions elsewhere. For instance, purchasing carbon credits. Each credit represents the removal or avoidance of one metric ton of carbon dioxide (or its equivalent) from the atmosphere. High-quality carbon credits are a viable way to take immediate action and drive a material reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions, and can have very high social impact as well.
One high-quality carbon credit project we are working with at Salesforce is Proyecto Mirador. Operated via the nonprofit Cool Effect, the project replaces open, wood-burning cookstoves in Honduras with a more efficient alternative. This decreases emissions and deforestation while improving human health through better indoor air quality. Each cookstove reduces carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 15 metric tons over its five-year life.
Another approach would be to support the development of new renewable energy projects through mechanisms like Virtual Power Purchase Agreements. As part of Salesforce’s commitment to reach our goals of 100% renewable energy and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, we signed three such agreements for a combined 144 megawatts of wind power. These are helping to offset a significant portion of our electricity consumption for years to come.
Step 3: Embed the strategy company-wide
If senior leadership doesn’t prioritize the company’s net-zero agenda, then individual business units won’t either. The result may be fragmented, decentralized, and not necessarily aligned with top-level goals. Businesses should ensure that their sustainability goals align with long-term growth strategies, and financial and operational priorities–and that everyone in the business is informed and comfortable with the approach.
For instance, establishing an internal price on carbon, potentially through the purchase of carbon credits to reach carbon neutrality, creates a financial incentive to support decisions throughout the business that avoid and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as specifying high-efficiency IT equipment or rooftop solar.
Step 4: Collaborate with others
The transition to a low-carbon economy will not happen overnight and certainly not by one individual or company. Decarbonizing electricity systems will take time and trillions of investment dollars. It will require collaboration, as well as regulatory changes and technological advances. Every individual, institution, government, community, and corporation has an essential role to play.
Reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions may seem daunting, but there’s no need to go it alone. Businesses can glean ideas and gain support for their journey by teaming up with other initiatives that share similar goals. These include organizations such as the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, which helps companies understand the benefits of moving to renewables, connects large buyer demand to renewable energy supply, and helps utilities better understand and serve the needs of all energy buyers.
Collaboration also offers opportunities to develop solutions and respond to sustainability challenges that might be too complex and costly for a business to develop on its own. The not-for-profit organization, the B Team, is currently exploring a host of ways that businesses can take collective action to scale systemic solutions for climate change. It has also called on global leaders–from policymakers to CEOs?–to commit to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
There is no finish line for a more sustainable future, but the time is now for businesses to come together to drive positive change. Bold action is needed to get us there, and becoming a net-zero company is a concrete way to take action.
Suzanne DiBianca is the chief philanthropy officer and executive vice president of corporate relations at Salesforce.