Adam Savitz, sustainability director EMEALA at Johnson Controls asks can we reach our net zero goals?

If we needed an example to showcase the brutal reality of what it will take to get to net zero, recently we’ve unfortunately learnt that the funding needed for climate disasters has risen more than 800% in 20 years.

A study of 2,000 sustainability leaders revealed the average target date set for organisations to implement or mature their sustainability programmes is 2024. As the deadline approaches, this gives businesses only two years to implement a strong strategy in order to scale up efforts. There are large concerns that despite pledges and best intentions, many organisations are creating their sustainability strategy through a high degree of guesswork, without a real actionable roadmap to success.

Earlier this year, a House of Lords committee concluded the UK will likely miss net-zero targets without urgent action. Ultimately, the issues do not just simply lie in whether it’s possible to change at the speed required. A lack of technology and software deployed to track data is preventing companies from monitoring results and accurately measuring progress. It’s difficult for businesses to fix something they don’t know is broken, so it is hindering businesses in making important progress.

There are the available technologies to work towards net zero goals, it’s just a case of implementing it correctly. With the looming deadline of 2050 (or earlier for many companies), private and public sector organizations must accelerate by selecting a partner who can design, digitalise, and deploy an effective net zero program. The challenging economy is pushing businesses to act fast, and will inevitably impact the way in which businesses approach sustainability. Businesses have to gamble on whether they want to cut costs now, or invest in future investment.

The war in Ukraine and the energy crisis are [MB2] also hindering the ability for businesses across the UK to reach net zero, as prices soar to new heights. If businesses make an effort with energy efficiency solutions, costs can be lowered over time. To add insult to injury, a shortage of experts and problems with scaling up are large obstacles for businesses at the start of their net zero journey, as well as those firmly committed to their roadmap.

The real energy security can only come from a strategy that cuts costs and carbon. The best place to start is energy efficiency, as technology today can dramatically cut energy consumption and emissions while boosting the bottom line. A major acceleration of effort to upgrade buildings will ultimately bring more secure communities and a stable climate.

Assisting businesses with acting sustainably

Embracing sustainability creates opportunities for businesses far beyond efficiency and compliance. Organisations that implement and succeed in their sustainability targets will reap the rewards of stakeholder, investor, employee, and customer trust while gaining a competitive advantage.

Our research with Forrester found while addressing regulatory requirements and reducing cost through efficiencies were investment drivers, the top driver to prioritise sustainability performance is attracting customers who make decisions based on sustainable corporate values (70%). It is clear companies who can deliver on their sustainability targets will set themselves apart from the rest and win against those not succeeding in the market.

However, failing to achieve publicly stated targets may leave organisations in a worse spot than before. Customers, investors, employees, partners, and shareholders have increased expectations for companies to match words with action. [MB3] It is why companies cannot fall short of their goals and must clearly demonstrate any progress they’ve made - not only for their own success, but to limit global warming and mitigate the effects of climate change for everybody’s futures. The only way to press forward is to make realistic and achievable goals and then set out a clear strategy to ensure success and act on it by investing in efficiency, optimisation, and onsite and offsite renewables. After all, actions speak louder than words.

Design, Digitalise, Deploy

Design, digitalise and deploy to achieve net zero: no two buildings are the same, meaning [MB5] no two net zero roadmaps should be the same either. In the race to decarbonisation, it is important to have a plan. Reaching net zero is assisted through three key areas: design, digitalise and deploy.

Sustainability initiatives target challenges such as decarbonisation, the move to a circular economy and increased health and safety performance, while most digitalisation programs have productivity boosts, lower costs, and enhanced operational predictability as their main goals. However, businesses should begin looking at solving these two issues holistically. Render sustainability and digitalisation as a Venn diagram, and you’ll quickly see the area where they intersect - efficiency.

The first step for a large company aiming to decarbonise its operations is to reduce demand – energy efficiency measures and optimisation. From there, businesses could lower consumption which is increasingly important in today’s climate and could play a decisive factor in improving brand loyalty and customer retention as the world looks to businesses for leadership.

Sustainability is no longer a choice, it’s a necessity. As of now, the spotlight theme of sustainability is decarbonisation, including nature/biodiversity and inequality. The 2010s were the warmest decade yet recorded, with 2016, the year in which the Paris Agreement was signed, ranking as the hottest 12-month period ever.

There’s no shortage of incentives for companies to quickly address their sustainability goals, for both business achievements and the health of the planet. “Sustainability premiums” act as motivation for enhanced Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) credentials, making firms more attractive to investors. Ultimately, it’s the planet that comes out on top, as we can reduce the threat of a climate catastrophe and get closer to our net zero goals. We need to act now - instead of talking the talk, it’s imperative that we also walk the walk.