Opinion: to reach net zero, let’s cut the carbon jargon

Carbon jargon‘Carbon jargon’ is making decarbonisation more disorientating for businesses, says Dan Crowe, optimisation manager, Inspired Energy.

The prime minister has announced plans to embark upon a ‘green industrial revolution’, earmarking investment to decarbonise our power, heating, transport and buildings to reach the UK’s 2050 net zero targets.

Since the ambitious goal was set last year, more and more organisations have announced their own sustainability plans, despite a lack of clarity from the government around what businesses are expected to do to help achieve net zero. In the meantime, a whole new glossary has been created, from carbon negative to circular economies. But isn’t this carbon jargon making decarbonisation more disorientating?

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Inspired Energy’s recent research into business attitudes to net zero found 97 per cent of manufacturers already have carbon reduction strategies in place – unsurprising, considering the need to reduce high energy costs and compete in an increasingly sustainability-minded supply chain. Yet only half of organisations felt they fully understood the term ‘net zero’ and two thirds were confused by this carbon jargon.

One of the biggest issues is that without any net zero roadmap or guidance from the government, businesses have been left to interpret it for themselves. Businesses told us net zero involved carbon offsetting, carbon reduction or carbon elimination – similar-sounding phrases that vary wildly in their impact on an organisation’s footprint. (Carbon offsetting involves taking action to compensate for emissions in other areas, compared to bringing emissions down or getting rid of them entirely). None of the definitions are ‘wrong’ – put simply, net zero means achieving an overall balance between emissions produced and taken out of the atmosphere – but without an overarching framework to follow, businesses are left with room to interpret it as they choose. In fact, almost two thirds of businesses feared their own targets could be seen as greenwashing and 86 per cent believe net zero is in danger of becoming a meaningless statement without consistency in approach and measurement amongst businesses.

No business left behind

An all-encompassing roadmap to net zero for businesses may be some time away, so it is therefore vital that the carbon jargon surrounding it does not prevent businesses from planning, measuring, and making progress on decarbonisation.

As Make UK’s energy and climate change lead, Brigitte Amoruso, explains in our Cutting the Carbon Jargon report, the lack of clarity around net zero could hinder efforts to achieving it. She states: “As the manufacturing sector is looking to recover from Covid-19, preparations for resilience provide more than ever the opportunity to integrate net-zero principles and targets into long-term business plans. Making this a reality will be key to a successful and sustainable economy and to our future wellbeing.

“There are currently various ways to approach net zero, which is confusing, particularly as manufacturing businesses are at various starting points on their path towards it. Without a clear and consistent mandate and guidance from the Government, the net zero ambition risks becoming meaningless.”

A science-based approach

Net zero requires a long-term strategy, and organisations should not need to wait for government guidelines to get started. Despite the lack of formal standards, businesses can adopt Science Based Targets (SBTs) to create meaningful emissions reduction goals that stand up to scrutiny. All organisations have a different carbon footprint and will follow a different path to reduce it, but SBTs ensure businesses specify how quickly and by how much they plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To do this, businesses need a firm grip on their emissions data – businesses can confidently achieve this by assessing their emissions within the international Greenhouse Gas Protocol scopes 1, 2 & 3. Once a clear baseline has been established, a clear strategy can be created, taking into account what projects and action may be required to achieve it (and what financial and resourcing requirements are needed to deliver it).

Whilst businesses clearly need a consistent approach with no room for interpretation, ambitious and achievable goals can still be set. Finding ways to cut through the carbon jargon – helping organisations of all sizes to define and develop their net zero ambitions – is vital to achieve national targets but also to avoid any business being left behind from the environmental, financial and reputational benefits of sustainability.

Dan Crowe, optimisation manager, Inspired Energy