Emissions reduction goals are everywhere. According to Net Zero Tracker, half of the world’s largest corporations are committed to reaching net zero, with more and more companies joining the cause each year.
The targets are impressive. So are the names. Microsoft has a plan to become carbon-negative by 2030. Apple has publicized its first carbon-neutral product in an advert featuring Octavia Spencer while giants in every sector scramble to have their net zero plans approved by the Science Based Targets initiative and other top standards.
These strategies are admirable and necessary. However, for the vast majority of companies, deploying investments at the scale needed to emulate the front-runners is as remote as hiring Hollywood celebrities for a promotional video.
“It is difficult to even fathom following that path,” says Jacob Ranta, Managing Director of Ecohz Inc., who led a roundtable at the REM Meeting in Washington DC last September to discuss the hurdles companies face in joining the energy transition. “Fundamentally, it makes sense, but following the exact path of sustainability leaders and the gold standards of corporate action requires teams of people. The scale, the structure – it can be quite different for most companies.”
As a result, many organizations find themselves excluded from the top tier of sustainability actors. “For most, there is not even a breadcrumb trail to follow,” Ranta adds. When it comes to reducing emissions, the will is there –– the tools are not. So, how can we ensure that companies of all sizes have the resources and support they need to progress towards their climate targets?
The energy transition: from lofty goals to incremental gains
The tools for cutting emissions are similar for almost every company. The difference lies in how they choose to employ them.
Take Google for example. The tech giant has a strategy that pursues 24/7 matching of clean energy consumption with granular, time-stamped Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) in every location. If it sounds complicated, that is because it is. Strategies like this require a high level of sophistication and competence.
However, RECs are relatively simple instruments that allow all kinds of companies to transition to renewable energy. Each REC represents 1 MWh of clean electricity and enables the buyer to claim the use of renewables.
Businesses can make the switch at their own pace. They can start by calculating their energy consumption and then purchasing RECs to document 25% of that as renewable – then 30% next year and 35% the year after that. “Take baby steps,” Ranta advises. “Be part of the solution first and do what you can. Then, over the next few years, do better as you build knowledge and momentum.”
The real issue is that these actions, although easy, are not obvious. “There is no step-by-step guide that tells companies what to do or how to even get started,” Ranta adds. “To get more people onboard, we need two things: a system that allows for gradual gains and someone who can deliver the knowledge and guidance needed to get the ball rolling. Otherwise, we risk missing most of the organizations that could act.”
Counsel, creativity, and the value of sustainability actions
No two companies are alike. Each has its own characteristics and challenges, which require unique solutions to unique sustainability problems. Often, it pays to have a guide.
“For years, we have worked with all kinds of companies, from large multinationals to mid-sized enterprises in virtually every sector,” Jacob says. “We have learned that you need to take into account the realities of each business and work on a case-by-case basis, creatively translating the experience of the frontrunners into custom-made solutions for other types of clients.”
The goal is not to follow a recipe but to enable ordinary people to act against climate change. “At the end of the day, reducing emissions is not only about business performance,” Jacob continues. “There are individuals in every company who are passionate about the environment. It comes down to showing people that it is possible to get involved.”
There is strength in numbers. The more people and organisations get involved, the greater our collective impact. “That is why we have tools like RECs and Power Purchase Agreements. Renewables need private investment, but one day, these installations will power entire communities, cities, and everything in between,” Ranta concludes. “The goal is to create a new kind of thinking about energy and let everyone participate in any way they can.”