SG’s Journey to Net Zero: The What & The Why

By Jen Heil | September 28, 2021

A couple of months ago, we announced the launch of our Impact Assessment Project, which we are undertaking to help improve our business practices and ensure our ethos and values are reflected in how we work. As part of this project, we recently participated in the Journey to Net Zero programme with the Business Growth Hub and here we share some of the valuable insights we’ve taken from that experience. 

‘Net Zero’ is one of those terms that has become so commonplace in the media, and even in everyday conversations, that it can seem like everyone is an expert in it. Whilst it’s positive that such an important topic has become so talked about, there is also a danger that the real meaning of Net Zero becomes muddied and misunderstood. When I attended the first session of the Business Growth Hub’s Journey to Net Zero (JTNZ) programme, it was therefore reassuring that they created time and space for exploring the jargon, breaking down the misconceptions and confusions that are all too easy to get lost in.  

What is Net Zero?  

When we started planning our Impact Assessment Project, one of our first priorities was that we were completely transparent about the process and that we communicated clearly and honestly what we were doing, why and how. Understanding, and being clear about, the language we use is a vital element of that.  

The definitions given at the beginning of the JTNZ programme, shared below, provide what we hope is a clear explanation of the language that will frame our work in this area: 

  • Net zero – when the amount of GHG emissions going into the atmosphere are balanced by the same amount removed (involves a degree of offsetting to balance out emissions) 
  • Carbon neutral – often used interchangeably with climate neutral and net zero, although there can be subtle differences in meaning. Climate neutral and net zero usually cover all greenhouse gas emissions, but carbon neutral sometimes only relates to CO2 emissions. 
  • Net positive – when an organisation is having a positive impact overall, i.e. by removing more greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere than they emit, or having positive impact on the environment through other means, such as biodiversity. 
  • Carbon negative – when a business removes more carbon emissions from the atmosphere than they emit. 
  • Carbon positive – confusingly has the same definition as carbon negative and the terms are both used to mean the same thing. 
  • Zero carbon – Reducing emissions to absolute zero (without offsetting). In practice, this is extremely difficult for most organisations to achieve overall but it is possible for some processes or activities, such as zero carbon power through renewable energy. Zero carbon may refer to either carbon emissions only or greenhouse gas emissions as a whole. 

Given the overlap of definition between these terms, it’s no surprise that confusion can easily arise. Understanding what is actually meant by Net Zero is particularly key, as in 2019 the UK set legally binding targets to “bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050”. Whilst the focus for meeting these targets is often on required action from government and big businesses, it is essential that we recognise the role of small businesses in meeting this goal. 

Why does Net Zero matter for small businesses? 

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) make up a staggering 99.3% of UK businesses and account for just under half of all UK business emissions. It’s therefore undeniable that SMEs have a vital part to play in making progress towards Net Zero.  

But the importance of reducing emissions as an SME goes far beyond legal (and moral) obligation. Today’s eco-conscious consumers are more likely to engage with businesses that have strong environmental credentials. And taking steps towards Net Zero now is also essential if SMEs are to future proof against future risks and be able to demonstrate their climate commitments within their respective value chains. 

There are countless benefits to engaging with this journey, including: 

  • cost savings;  
  • achieving green credentials, which can help to win more work;  
  • improved staff retention and attracting new talent; and  
  • opportunities for innovation 

What is often lacking from the various webinars and training courses in this area is how SMEs should go about taking action, especially given the lack of time and resources that can pose a significant challenge. The Business Growth Hub’s Journey to Net Zero programme shone in this regard, providing practical, realistic steps that can be taken and emphasising the journey aspect of this process. 

 

In our next blog, we share how we’re going to be putting these lessons into practice here at SG, as we embark on our Journey to Net Zero.  

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