The EU has built an entire body of legislation around its ambition of becoming the first carbon-neutral continent, the consumer goods giant Unilever is working towards being carbon positive by 2030, and about 240 cities around the world have pledged to be net-zero within the next decade.
We can all agree that this all sounds great, but what do these terms really mean? How can you adopt these ambitions into your business?
What is what in sustainability?
If there’s an issue in the way sustainability is communicated, it is in how vague claims can be.
Without going any further, look at the word “sustainability”. It is overused and misused and this leads to it being misleading quite often.
Concepts like carbon neutral, carbon positive and net-zero are more precise than sustainability, but you want to be careful when you use them in your internal and external communications. Use one of these bad boys incorrectly in your marketing strategy and you might be accused of greenwashing, even if you had the best intentions in the first place – if reading this gave you a kick of anxiety, we offer training on ethical marketing that can help you navigate these complexities.
So this is what you need to know:
- Net zero means that the greenhouse gas emissions created (often CO2) from an activity are offset through carbon removal, resulting in a final balance of zero emissions. Something you should know here is that carbon removal has a bad rep, sometimes seen as a diversion from other important issues such as emissions reduction. However, removal is the only way we can get to carbon neutrality, but this is a topic for another day.
- Climate neutrality includes the ambition of net-zero GHG emissions and adds that of neutralizing any other negative environmental impact. This can include, for example, poor waste management that leads to the degradation of natural habitats, water overuse that puts pressure on ecosystems, and any kind of resource overexploitation.
- Carbon positive and carbon negative are two concepts that the private sector often uses interchangeably. Generally, they describe an activity or organization that goes beyond net zero by removing extra CO2 from the atmosphere (carbon removal technologies, tree or coral planting schemes,…), resulting in a “cleaner” balance where there’s less CO2 than before.
- Climate positivity adds to the idea of the “cleaner” balance the element of creating a positive impact on the environment. The difference between a net-zero business and a climate-positive business is that the former focuses on “doing less bad”, while the latter works on “doing more good”. This can be done through biodiversity repopulation schemes, regenerative practices and the implementation of circular business models.
- Net positive refers to any organization that “improves well-being for everyone it impacts and at all scales—every product, every operation, every region and country, and for every stakeholder, including employees, suppliers, communities, customers, and even future generations and the planet itself” (more on this concept here). This is one step beyond climate positivity: we’re not only talking about doing good for the planet, but also people within and outside a business.
How can businesses have a positive impact?
Every business has an impact, no matter what industry it is or how hard it tries to remain neutral, it will have some sort of direct or indirect undesirable environmental impact. Maybe you own a small produce farm that only produces seasonal fruits and vegetables and sells them locally, but you might be using a bank that has investments in fossil fuels, or a fertilizer that has produced methane to get to your field. Every human activity has an environmental consequence.
Your role as a conscious business owner or manager is to make sure you minimize these side effects of your activity and take responsibility for them.
In the book titled “Net Zero”, Andrew S. Winston lists five elements that define a net-positive organization:
- Responsibility for all impacts
- Long-term planning for the benefit of business and society
- Searching to benefit all stakeholders positively
- Shareholder profit as a result of responsible operations, not as a corporate goal
- Partnerships for systemic change
The road to good business
Here at Moiety, we help businesses that want to have a positive impact, regardless of where they are on their journey. Any company embarking in this journey needs to be aware that this is a long-haul journey. It is also key to understand that each business will have a unique roadmap corresponding to its needs, aspirations, particularities and resources.
That being said, there are a few questions we want you to ask yourself.
1. What do you know about your impact?
We can guarantee that it goes deeper than you think.
It’s important that you’re aware of your direct emissions (generated at the office or by your cars, for example), but also other emissions that are indirect (what you finance through investments, disposal of your products, logistics, the electricity you use,…). These are called Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. You can read about them here.
2. What makes your industry (un)sustainable?
Some industries are greener and more ethical than others by nature, so it’s crucial for you to know the industry standards so that you know what to expect.
You’re in luck: Moiety counts on the counsel of industry experts that will help you understand the social and environmental impacts of your field and navigate best practices and barriers. You can book a call with us to start learning about it.
3. Is your business plan aligned with your sustainability priorities and goals?
You won’t get very far if you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and how.
Do you want to become net-positive? Do you prioritize zero waste operations over any other matter such as GHG emissions? Is becoming net-zero your mid-term goal? No matter your level of ambition, each step of your business strategy needs to be aligned with it. In most cases, this means that you will have to rethink your business model.
4. What you’re willing to invest in your sustainability strategy?
As much as we like to daydream about a perfectly sustainable business ecosystem, sometimes we need to be entirely objective and pragmatic. After you have clarity about your roadmap and your priorities, this is where you need to decide how much money you want to put towards sustainability, and you should be able to track the ROI of your efforts.
We know this was a lot of information, but we want to give you one last thing to think about: why are you interested in implementing sustainability into your business?
It might be for regulatory reasons, to attract customers and talent, or because you truly care about having a positive impact. All these reasons are valid, and finding yours can be the first step to changing your business for the better.