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Green leadership: paving the way to a net-zero future

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s how much our actions affect the planet. The world needs green leadership more than ever, but who will step up and deliver?

Over the past few years, we have seen a snapshot of the 20th century, with the global pandemic, inflation, and war. However, a worrying aspect is that we don’t seem to be learning the lessons that history has taught us and nowhere is that clearer than in regards to climate change.

Being a leader in times of turmoil and instability takes courage. Especially as we appear rudderless when it comes to a unified direction, with people unclear as to who should lead this revolution towards a greener planet.

This means companies must show strong leadership in their sustainability efforts as they continue to find better solutions that can achieve net-zero targets. According to Alison Taylor, Executive Director of Ethical Systems, Advisor at Business for Social Responsibility, and adjunct professor at the NYU Stern School of Business, there are a number of things leaders can do to ensure their organsations are positioned to be the green leaders our world so desperately needs.

“We need to honestly assess impacts and take actions to address them,” she says. “Actions should be based on climate-specific goals that align with minimising quantifiable Scope 3 emissions.” 

Furthermore, industry leaders need to think proactively, as they have a much larger responsibility than individuals when considering the social and environmental impacts of doing business.

Sustainability: not just a buzzword

This will also boost your bottom line, if done correctly: “Sustainability has been treated as the paramilitary wing of your marketing department,” continues Taylor, “but it’s important to actually be doing something, rather than merely greenwashing your marketing function.”

Demonstrating innovative strategies and strong decision making that supports environmental goals helps leaders to futureproof, too. Business and leadership strategies already reflect more urgent sustainability demands: in 2019, Deloitte found that over 63% of businesses surveyed had resource and sustainability goals in place, with more than two-thirds stating that there’s strong customer demand to increase commitment to good environmental practices. Employees increasingly demand this from their workplaces as well. 

Fundamentally, focusing on reducing your company’s emissions inventory before using offset is more efficient.

Rodrigo Castro, Head of Research at SustainCERT

In the wake of Covid-19, businesses and elected officials alike have to step up and address so many challenges and course-correct where necessary. For Rodrigo Castro, Head of Research at SustainCERT, this means “committing to science-based targets following the net-zero standard framework, which will require you to take a holistic and transparent approach and set both short and long term targets. In addition, it requires businesses to look beyond their own internal operation boundaries to include their whole supply chain. Consequently, it is an objective way to incentivise collective action across the whole value chain.”

This also means leaders have a responsibility to strive for net-zero targets. 

“Fundamentally, focusing on reducing your company’s emissions inventory before using offset is more efficient,” says Castro. “This requires you to understand the emissions inventory within your organisation, an area where you have complete flexibility of action.”

Castro adds that it’s also important to “look into value chain impacts and engage your partners in driving down the emissions for production processes and products, as accounted for in Greenhouse Gas Protocol Scope 3 emissions”, which represent the largest portion of emissions inventory in many companies. 

Lastly, developing a “plan in alignment with 1.5-degree emissions pathway requires you to take a strategic view when transforming your business to become net-zero in accordance with Science-Based Target indicators (SBTi)”. Leaders must also rise to the challenge of guiding their organisations toward efficient ways of operating. 

Charging toward a cleaner future

For business leaders, thinking about corporate climate action plans might be easier when informed by Covid-19 learnings, which temporarily cut both fossil CO2 and road emissions by 6%. 

Nevertheless, building for the future must begin now. For Castro, this means building an emissions tracking system that helps industry players engage their supply chains by facilitating investment in projects that issue verified environmental attributes.

“Supporting the transparent accounting of emission reductions and removals, and avoiding double counting and claiming,” is of utmost importance so that information “included in Scope 3 reporting by engaged actors at their value chain stage, from raw material production to the consumer” is transparent for all stakeholders. 

And it’s about time: radically scaling back the devastation of natural resources and regenerating what we’ve already lost is the only way we can hope to make a difference. It will require every one of us to try our utmost, but we need the leadership to be in place to drive this change.

Written by
Em Seikkanen
Contributing Writer at Spoon Agency