There’s a lot of noise around climate action and it can be hard, especially for SMEs with limited resources, to tune it out and continue to ethically pursue an ambitious climate goal.
Especially whilst delivering business as usual and navigating a constantly changing landscape of climate initiatives, best practice, and legislation. It’s enough to put many off, but don’t be discouraged, if we can do it, so can you!
RedEye have recently received PAS 2060 recertification, retaining our carbon neutral status on our journey to Net Zero, and I thought it might be helpful to share some of the challenges and learnings we faced since we were first certified last year, and some tips you can leverage to make your own journey as smooth as possible.
Tell me again… what is PAS 2060 certification?
To better understand what PAS 2060 is, it helps to put it in context with the plethora of climate initiatives out there.
From the SME Climate Hub pledge to B-Corp and Science Based Targets, these initiatives encourage companies to make a climate pledge and get started on reducing their emissions.
Many of these initiatives, such as the SME Climate Hub, provide a great foundation by summarising the basic requirements, commitments, and principles.
They also get people talking and create communities that can support your journey, sharing advice and ideas on how to tackle tough reduction projects.
However, these initiatives are designed to engage, and they typically don’t provide a lot of clarity over the details, including the methodology you should use, or action required to reduce your carbon footprint and reach carbon neutrality, and eventually Net Zero.
PAS 2060 is an auditable standard rather than an initiative. Becoming certified against the PAS 2060 standard requires additional rigour and validation of your process, including your GHG inventory (the record of your emissions including their source and magnitude), system boundaries, emissions sources, methodology and assumptions.
This additional rigour clearly adds a level of overhead to your approach, but in contrast it greatly simplifies the process of reporting your performance against most climate initiatives or pledges that you sign up to, as the rigorous requirements of the standard typically exceed the needs of most other climate initiatives.
It’s worth mentioning that reaching Net Zero is not the same as becoming carbon neutral. The terms are often used interchangeably, and although similar there are some subtle but important distinctions.
To claim Net Zero status requires some additional actions, namely, accounting for full scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, evidence of consistent YoY reductions (typically in line with a science-based target of 1.5°C) and using offsets that reduce by sequestering the CO2 in the atmosphere rather than avoidance activities.
However, becoming certified carbon neutral is a logical first step on the journey to Net Zero and, as far as I’m aware, there is currently no official Net Zero standard, with PAS 2060 being the primary means of certifying carbon neutrality.
Having an annual independent and comprehensive review of our emissions accounting and reporting framework has been a rewarding process, and certification continues to provide ongoing value by allowing us to understand and communicate, with confidence, our progress both internally and externally.
5 early checkpoints on the road to net zero
The additional rigour required to achieve certified Net Zero status presents many challenges. Consequently, I thought I would highlight some things you can do to prepare, should you be embarking on this journey yourself.
1) Be clear about your operational boundaries
An operational boundary represents the point at which the operating policies of a business have minimal or limited influence over the operation of a certain process or system.
These boundaries often present themselves when assessing your scope 3 emissions, such as a scenario where you may have limited influence over the operation of a third-party supplier.
The Green House Gas Protocol set the standards to measure and manage emissions. In their own words, “The GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard provides the requirements and guidance for companies and other organizations preparing a corporate-level GHG emissions inventory.”
Although the standard itself is long and fairly complex in places, it is a valuable resource for understanding where you can appropriately draw boundaries for your own system (see section 3 of the GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard).
For SMEs, the Control Approach and more specifically the Operational Control Principle is one of the primary means of identifying these boundaries, and the protocol states that “Under the operational control approach, a company accounts for 100% of emissions from operations over which it or one of its subsidiaries has operational control.”
This sounds simple enough but, when you dive into the details, it can cause some confusion over where to define your boundary and what to include in your inventory.
The main thing to keep in mind is that wherever you define your boundary, define it clearly and document your rationale in any statements you make.
Changing your boundaries mid-way through your journey, to exclude something that was previously included or vice versa, is not straightforward and requires a full recalculation of previous inventories to ensure consistency in approach and a statement of why those changes have been made.
In doing so this could materially change the reductions that you’ve previously achieved and lead to other knock-on implications.
Consequently, it’s worth investing the time and discussions up front to clearly establish these boundaries and the reasoning behind them.
2) Areas of large emissions can overshadow small wins. Focus on these first
It may seem counter intuitive due to the amount of effort involved to change core business processes, but strategically focusing on your areas of largest emissions early in your net zero journey has several benefits:
- 1) It ensures your largest areas of emissions aren’t neglected just because they are challenging.
- 2) It can help you to realise your most significant reductions earlier on in your change cycle, which is far better for the environment and your momentum.
- 3) It minimises the need to engage the entire business early in your journey by focusing on core initiatives (such as office downsizing or managing your electricity consumption), while you are still working out the finer points of how to measure, plan and report on your business’s emissions.
- 4) Smaller areas of improvement won’t be lost in the context of larger changes. Once these larger changes have been implemented these smaller, often directly employee-led initiatives, become a much larger proportion of your overall footprint, and can better engage the rest of your business by highlighting the impact they can have on the journey.
Discussing and planning these large changes early can have a lot of beneficial knock-on effects and even if they seem insurmountable at the time, they must be tackled at some point, so it pays not to ignore them.
Some typical examples include:
- How can we reduce our office space?
- How can we reduce our operational electricity consumption?
- How can we transition to green energy sources?
- How can we reduce our fuel consumption?
- How can we reduce waste?
3) Plan early and well ahead
The requirements of most climate initiatives include having a plan of attack, and investing time up front to identify as many opportunities as you can for reducing emissions and prioritising them over the commitment period in line with a target annual reduction can really help to shape what you think is achievable and when you think you can achieve it, in order to successfully meet your goals in a stress-free manner.
4) Assign ownership and introduce an annual and mid-year review
Having someone senior own the transition to Net Zero internally gives accountability, and introducing formal reviews at the start and mid-way through each year can help to maintain momentum by spotting and addressing any roadblocks to achieving your goals.
Examples of roadblocks might include:
- Changes to data sources and accuracy that prevent you from reporting consistently.
- Changes to systems and processes that haven’t considered the environmental implications.
- Changes to legislative requirements that impact your goals.
- Changes to business growth that impact your intensity.
5) Use a standard or framework to help you
PAS 2060 is ultimately a standard designed to help you accurately measure, report, and reduce your emissions in a recognised and verifiable way.
Identifying and recording your emissions is a complex process, it involves engaging with suppliers, employees, management, and customers.
It involves consistent data collection and processing over a sustained period. Regardless of whether PAS 2060 is the right fit for you, or whether you feel it is overkill for your organisation, it pays to have a recognised framework and toolset to help you organise the many moving pieces in play, in what is a detailed and analytical process.
Where to begin?
Just getting started? There are many resources available across numerous initiatives, such as reporting frameworks, standards, GHG emissions calculators, government conversion factors and example net zero plans.
The SME Climate Hub is a great example of a recognised initiative packed with resources and a community that can help you get started.
Also, if you are a tech company in the UK, you could also consider joining Tech Zero which has an active community and aligns its pledge with the reporting requirements of the SME Climate Hub previously mentioned.
Identify some resources that suit your stage in the journey, consider some of the above tips, and get started!
Piecing it all together is a bit like solving a puzzle, for a time it can look like a complete mess, but once it all comes together it reveals a cohesive picture that everyone in your organisation can take pride in.
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