The “net zero emissions” initiative has recently become extremely popular with companies big and small. Companies ranging from PWC, to Ford, to U.S. Dairy have announced their intention to reach net zero emissions by 2030 or 2050. Net zero is also being promoted by activists and politicians like Greta Thunberg and President Joe Biden. So, what exactly does “net zero emissions” mean? In this article, we will break down what net zero is all about and some of the methods companies use to reach it. In addition, because committing to net zero at your company is a big decision to make, we are including some steps you can take and questions you can ask yourself to help determine if net zero is an attainable goal for your organization.
What Is Net Zero?
Net zero emissions, sometimes referred to as carbon neutral, refers to finding a balance between the amount of emissions your company produces and the amount of greenhouse gasses absorbed naturally by the environment or removed via technology like carbon capture and storage (CSS). Achieving net zero requires you to balance the amount of greenhouse gases you emit with the amount you remove. Net zero does not mean you produce zero emissions – it means you lower your emissions enough that they are no longer contributing to climate change.
Common Ways to Reach Net Zero
As mentioned above, many companies are progressively acknowledging their responsibility in regard to climate change and have started to take action, often prompted by consumer and investor interest in sustainability. That said, organizations are turning to a variety of methods to achieve net zero. (Keep in mind that no company has become fully net zero yet, so there’s no way to tell if the methods below are the silver bullets to reaching net zero.)
- Offsetting. Offsetting refers to removing emissions either naturally (planting trees) or technologically (CCS) as a means to reach net-zero.
- Green tariffs. Green tariffs are programs in regulated electricity markets offered by utilities that allow large commercial and industrial customers to buy bundled renewable electricity from a specific project through a special utility tariff rate. This provides these larger energy customers an option to meet their varying net zero, sustainability and renewable energy goals.
- Renewable energy credits (RECs). Renewable energy credits are tradable, non-tangible commodities that represent proof that 1 MWh of electricity was generated from a renewable energy resource. RECs are ideal for environmentally conscious organizations that want to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
- Distributed energy resources (DERs). Rooftop solar panels are the most common and fastest-growing type of DER, but other types also exist, like electric vehicles (EVs) and battery storage. DERs are the centerpiece of the clean and resilient energy future that many policymakers and constituents want to see. DERs can help your company meet its emissions goals while lowering energy costs.
- Energy and sustainability management software. Energy and sustainability management is probably the most hands-on way to reach net zero. It involves using energy & sustainability management software to identify areas of inefficiency in your building(s), then implementing efficiency projects to decrease energy used/wasted. The result? Lower emissions across the board for your company and an ease of reporting your successes.
Is Net Zero Right for My Company?
It’s difficult to think of a company that wouldn’t benefit from net zero. Both investors and consumers like to know that the companies they support are sustainable and care about the fate of the world. And remember – net zero is a long-term goal. Think of net zero like getting in shape – it takes a healthy lifestyle and consistent trips to the gym to get fit, and it takes a combination of sustainable choices to reach net zero.
Those choices can be as small as switching to LED bulbs in all your buildings/facilities or as large as deciding to purchase RECs or participate in offsetting. If you’re considering getting on the path to net zero, here are some steps you can take and questions to ask yourself:
- Sit down with the C-Suite, board members, and/or investors. It’s important to gauge where everyone in your organization stands in regard to net zero. Net zero is a company-wide commitment, and not one to be taken lightly.
- Ask yourself, “Does my company have the funds and resources available right now to undertake this venture?” While net zero involves reducing emissions and thus lowers your utility bills, is your company in a place where you can afford to institute efficiency projects like updating your HVAC system or switching to electric vehicles? You might find that you want to wait to declare a net zero goal and instead focus on introducing smaller sustainability goals (like unplugging office appliances when not in use).
- On a related note, make a list of the top ways your company could be reducing emissions. Then imagine how you would address each item, starting with the small stuff and working your way up. This will give you a good idea of how difficult net zero will be to achieve at your company.
- Ask yourself, “How do I want to achieve net zero? Do I want to use a more hands off approach (purchasing RECs or offsetting), or do I want to go in and reduce the emissions of my buildings or switch to a more sustainable supplier/manufacturer?
- If you make the decision net zero is right for you, ensure you have an energy management platform to consolidate your energy usage and emissions data. Using a manual method of data consolidation (like Excel) will make the process much for difficult.
EnergyWatch can help you achieve your sustainability and net zero goals, no matter how big or small. EnergyWatch’s energy and sustainability management software WatchWire can:
- Provide you with interval data monitoring to determine areas of inefficiency that are increasing your building(s) emissions
- Measure your water, GHG emissions, and energy use
- Help you measure and verify the effectiveness of your efficiency projects
- Benchmark your efforts against national averages
- Streamline sustainability reporting with integrations to all frameworks, like LEED ARC and ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager.
In addition, EnergyWatch makes procuring RECs easier by providing market expertise and ensuring supply contract decisions are optimized for future operations at your facility. WatchWire will track your contracts to ensure their performance is meeting expectations. WatchWire also helps measure and verify the efficiency of your DER(s), for example, if you decide to install solar panels on your building(s), WatchWire can track how much they are saving you in terms of utility costs and emissions.
To learn more about WatchWire, check out the WatchWire Fact Sheet. Or, if you want to discover more about increasing sustainability at your company, browse through our e-Book, “Utilizing Sustainability Reporting in the Journey Towards Net Zero.”